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Vehicle accidents up in Colorado, other states with legalized recreational marijuana

20 October 2018

Operating a vehicle under the influence of marijuana is illegal in all 50 states.

IIHS and HLDI are set to present two studies Thursday on collision crashes in states where marijuana is legal at the Combating Alcohol- and Drug-Impaired Driving summit at IIHS' Vehicle Research Center in Ruckersville, Va.

"We looked at both our insurance collision claim frequencies as well as police crash reports in those states where they have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and what we're seeing is about a 6 percent increase in collision claim frequencies in those states", David Harkey, the president of the IIHS and Highway Loss Data Institute, said.

States are quickly moving towards legalizing marijuana.

New research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows an increase in crashes in states where marijuana is legal, including Colorado. Sales began in October 2015 in OR and in July 2017 in Nevada.

Analysts controlled for differences in the rated driver population, insured vehicle fleet, the mix of urban vs. rural exposure, unemployment, weather and seasonality.

"And if they find it, then they might refer it to law enforcement".

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Researchers say impairment by alcohol has always been an issue, but there's growing concern when it comes to prescription drugs and marijuana. "States exploring legalizing marijuana should consider this effect on highway safety".

A positive test for Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the primary psychoactive component of cannabis, doesn't necessarily mean the driver was impaired at the time of the crash.

Unlike alcohol the amount of weed in a person's system doesn't consistently correlate to their impairment.

"We know a lot of states are considering making recreational marijuana available", Harkey said. Policies and procedures for drug testing tend to be inconsistent, and many states don't include consistent information on driver drug use in crash reports.

Researchers say that it is hard to "quantify the net effect that marijuana legalization has on real-world traffic safety outcomes" in part because some studies "did not carefully match control drivers to crash-involved drivers or failed to control for concurrent alcohol use".

About 6 in 10 Americans support marijuana legalization, an October poll found, and thus more states will probably legalize recreational use - meaning there will probably be more drivers on the road under the influence.

Vehicle accidents up in Colorado, other states with legalized recreational marijuana