Health Care

Legalized pot linked to increase in car crash claims, study says

Legalized pot linked to increase in car crash claims, study says

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has started a large case-control study in OR to see how legal cannabis affects the risk of injuries in collisions.

The topic has dominated discussions in legislative committee rooms from California to MA and also on front porches across the country, as activists gathering petition signatures have gone door-to-door trying to sway potential voters in legalization efforts. That also reduced the racial disparities in the stops, according to a new analysis of police data, but not by much.

Researchers looked at traffic data in two states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana: Washington and Colorado.

A first-of-its-kind study released Thursday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that collision claim frequency was "about 3 percent higher than would have been expected without legalization".

Trade group Cannabis Business Alliance didn't mince words in its criticism of the Highway Loss Data Institute study, claiming that it was "just another attempt to incite reefer madness". The Colorado selling of legal recreation pot begins in January 2014, later in Washington by July and in OR by October.

"Worry that legalized marijuana is increasing crash rates isn't misplaced", asserted David Zuby, executive vice president and chief research officer of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

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"What we found was that crash risk has increased since the inception of legal retail sales", said Moore.

Colorado saw the biggest estimated increase in claim frequency compared to its control states, according to the institute.

It found a 3 percent increase in collision claims in those states compared with Wyoming, Idaho and Nevada, where it is not legal.

Colorado has seen a 14% increase; Washington has seen a 6% increase; and OR has seen a 4% increase.

Trying to gauge how high is too high behind the wheel has long perplexed states. CNBC reported that field sobriety tests to check drivers specifically for marijuana do not exist. And there's another question: What's a reasonable cutoff?

"The discussion of there being a whole lot more drugged drivers that really are added to the drunk driving plague - that plagues every state - was nearly like a foregone conclusion", he said.

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The study revealed more drivers involved in crashes are admitting to using marijuana.

Boyer, from the Marijuana Policy Project, said driving while impaired by any substance is already illegal and "if you can't walk the straight line, you should have the book thrown at you".

Traffic searches by highway patrols in Colorado and Washington dropped by almost half after those states legalized marijuana in 2012, concluded a report by Stanford's Open Policing project, which analyzes police data in an effort to show patterns of police behavior with the public.

Year-over-year changes in crash fatality rates in the two recreational pot states were similar to those in Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin, said lead researcher Dr. Jayson Aydelotte. Previous studies, even one from the federal government, have been unable to find anything conclusive.

"This is a concern and it's a concern worth monitoring and looking at over time", Moore said. By now, eight states and Washington D.C. have legalized recreational cannabis for adults.

So there have been more auto crashes in legal states, but there's no reason to believe marijuana is the culprit.

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