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How Legal Marijuana Is Impacting Car Accident Rates In Washington

Updated on: 2/22/2019

Legalized recreational marijuana in Washington has been linked to an increase in car accident claims, a recent study shows. Research conducted by the Highway Loss Data Institute shows a 2.7-percent spike in collision claims in Washington, Colorado and Oregon since legal recreational marijuana sales began when compared with surrounding states.

Marijuana advocates have disputed the study. A state like Washington has dense population centers and is being compared to rural states such as Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. Meanwhile, a recent study by the American Journal of Public Health draws a different conclusion.

The AJPH found that there has been no increase in vehicle crash fatalities in Washington and Colorado, relative to similar states, since legalization. Legal recreational marijuana sales in Washington began in July 2014.

The studies looked at different things -- collision claims versus the rate of fatal accidents involving marijuana, legalization in neighboring states versus states with shared characteristics -- and both have their strengths.

Drivers Under The Influence

Driving under the influence of any drug -- including marijuana -- is illegal in all 50 states. But because of a lack of adequate methods to test for impairment of the drug, there are no legal limits on marijuana while driving as there are currently with alcohol. 

While it is well established that alcohol increases accident risk -- nearly one-third (29 percent) of all traffic-related deaths in the United States in 2015 were caused by alcohol -- the evidence for marijuana is less clear. A 2016 study by AAA’s safety foundation found that THC limits in states with legal pot actually result in innocent drivers being convicted.

Further studies and improved testing technology is likely needed to discover the full scope of marijuana’s impact on drivers, though authorities recommend that a designated driver be used if possible.

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