Stoned Society: Marijuana Related Car Crashes Becoming A Serious Problem In America

By Pamela Glass | Monday, 25 July 2022 16:45
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Car crashes and deaths are on the rise in U.S. states that have legalized recreational marijuana, a new study finds.

"Marijuana, like alcohol and just about every other drug, changes how you feel and behave. That's the purpose of a drug. And that changes how you drive. We all need to realize that driving after using marijuana is a bad idea," announced lead researcher Charles Farmer, vice president for research and statistical services at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

His team discovered that after marijuana legalization, the rate of car crashes with injuries increased by almost 6%, while fatal crashes increased by 4%. The researchers noted that no increase in these crashes was seen in states that hadn't legalized marijuana.

These results are consistent with prior studies, Farmer announced. "It's becoming clearer that the legalization of marijuana doesn't come without cost. But marijuana legalization is still a novelty, and there's hope that these early trends can be turned around," he went on.

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Farmer believes there are ways to help prevent the consequences of driving high. "Maybe, with the right education and enforcement strategies, states that are either considering or in the process of legalization can avoid the increase in crashes," he stated.

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For the study, Farmer and his colleagues looked at five states that legalized recreational marijuana for people 21and older (Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, and Nevada) and compared them with states that did not legalize pot (Arizona, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming).

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They discovered that after legalization, the rate of car crashes with injuries jumped almost 7% before retail pot sales began. After-sales started, the crash rate dipped slightly (less than 1%), yet the rate of fatal crashes shot up roughly 2% before and after retail sales started.

Often, drivers under the influence of marijuana drive slowly, the researchers noted. They may not be able to avoid a crash, yet their lower speed may make the collision less deadly, Farmer stressed.

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In previous studies, Farmer's team discovered that marijuana use affects reaction time, road track, lane keeping, and attention, all of which can make a crash more probable.

Farmer doesn't think marijuana legalization is the only cause of increasing collision rates, and the study can't prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship. And unlike alcohol testing, there are no objective measures of impairment linked to marijuana, so it's not possible to accurately account for the role marijuana plays in car crashes, he stated.

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The changes in crash rates varied by state: Colorado had the biggest jump (18%) and California the smallest (6%) after both legalization and the beginning of retail sales.

Nevada's rate fell (7%). For fatal crashes, increases occurred in Colorado (1%) and Oregon (4%), while declines were found in Washington (2%), California (8%) and Nevada (10%).

Alex Otte, national president of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), stated, "We know that driving impaired by any drug, alcohol, marijuana or otherwise, is 100% preventable. It's not an accident. It's not a mistake. It's a choice."

"What's needed is to change the culture so people understand that it's not safe to drive after using pot," she said.

"We hear all the time in pop culture things like, 'Maybe I'm a better driver when I'm high'," Otte stated. "I think people just aren't aware, as much as they are with alcohol, that there is such a risk associated with driving under the influence of marijuana or other drugs, and I think a lot of it comes down to awareness."

In the future, Otte wishes there will be ways to quantify pot's effects on driving, like there are for alcohol.

"We know that roadside tests and things like that to help an officer determine if that person is safe to drive are so important and so needed," she announced.

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