Legal marijuana use is increasing the number of car crashes, according to a June 2017 report issued by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute (IIHS). In the first major study since marijuana was legalized in several states in 2014, the IIHS found three states with legal marijuana for recreational use -- Oregon, Washington, and Colorado -- now have car accident rates at a 3 percent higher rate than they would if marijuana was not legal.
The report states an increase in the number of people who admit to driving after using marijuana, a substance which is also being found in more people who are involved in crashes. The study used control states that had not yet legalized marijuana for recreational use. In Colorado, the frequency of marijuana-related car accident incidents was 14 percent higher than control states.
Compared to a substance like alcohol, it is more difficult and complicated to determine exactly how and when marijuana impairs a person’s judgment. According to Live Science, marijuana impairment occurs when THC enters fatty tissue in the brain, and THC levels may be at their highest before impairment even occurs. Some states with legal marijuana laws, like Colorado and Washington, punish drivers with a certain amount of THC in their blood with a driving under the influence charge. Others, like Alaska and Oregon, have no clearly defined legal marijuana limit and rely on police officer feedback when determining charges.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety makes a strong case for the correlation between marijuana use and impairment, with a 2016 study showing fatal crashes with driver marijuana use doubled in Washington after marijuana was legalized. The National Institute on Drug Abuse shows side effects from marijuana use may include an altered perception of time, anxiety, panic and delusions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states marijuana use slows reaction time and decision-making ability, and impairs coordination.
Side effects become more extreme the more marijuana that is consumed. Because effects are felt at a delay, users may intake large amounts of marijuana, which can impair driving more.
Because laws vary from state to state, marijuana use is not determined in all car crashes, and some states don’t even have minimum punishments for THC in the body, drivers must be aware of the driving risks posed because of legal marijuana use and work to ensure their own safety as much as possible. Here are some precautions to take.
The uncertainty of how substances like marijuana affect drivers makes getting on the road today riskier than ever. Know the dangers that are around you every time you drive, be conscious of driving behavior of others, and do your best to stay calm if you’re in an accident.
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