USA POLITICS: Rise in Car Accidents in Legalized States: Is It the Greenery?

Kate Harveston
By Kate Harveston July 8, 2017 17:18

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USA POLITICS: Rise in Car Accidents in Legalized States: Is It the Greenery?

A report was recently released showing a slight rise in the number of vehicle collisions in several of the first states to legalize marijuana. The number of reported collisions rose 3 percent in Colorado, Washington and Oregon between 2012 and 2016.

Are these figures alarming in their implication that more legal cannabis leads to increased danger on the roads? It’s a pertinent question in light of states like California and Massachusetts legalizing pot last November. An increasing number of states have made marijuana legal, either for medical or recreational use.

Cannabis Users Have Fewer Accidents Than Alcohol Drinkers
The recent study, in fact, conflicts with other studies on marijuana use and driving. A study of fatal crashes found drivers under the influence of marijuana were no more likely than any other drivers to be in vehicle accidents. This report was consistent with studies of medical marijuana users, which concluded that the substance did not hike the likelihood of vehicle accidents.

In fact, marijuana use pales in significance next to alcohol as a factor in vehicle crashes. Drivers who use cannabis have far fewer accidents than those who use alcohol. A blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.05 or above is associated with a sevenfold climb in car crashes. There is no such spike for marijuana users, whose rates of accidents are far lower than alcohol users.

The Increase’s Cause Is Not Clear
It’s easy to be alarmed by any news of marijuana being associated with a rise in car crashes. However, the study is inconclusive about whether marijuana poses a danger on the nation’s roads.

While drivers had used cannabis, for example, there is no evidence they were intoxicated by it. In fact, currently, there is no reliable way to measure intoxication from marijuana in a way analogous to breathalyzers and alcohol.

In addition, the rise was very small, and involved all level of crashes, from fender-benders on up.

Most importantly, the report is inconclusive about whether the increase was caused by marijuana use.

Researchers compared claims with an eye toward analyzing the effect of cannabis on crashes. However, those results could stem from other factors, which the researchers didn’t examine. Were the drivers young, or were they senior citizens? What were the road conditions? What were the weather conditions? Did they drive at night or during the day? Did they listen to music? All these factors can influence the vehicle crash frequency.

To be conclusive, a study would have to analyze all these factors as well.

In fact, music itself can have a negative effect on driving. Studies have shown it can lead to distracted driving, which can lead to more accidents. Researchers found that loud music — 95 decibels — slowed decision-making times for drivers by 20 percent.

No one calls for music listening while driving to be banned or criminalized, though.

Similarly, calling for recriminalizing marijuana, or outlawing marijuana and driving, on the basis of an inconclusive 3 percent increase in crashes would not be a good idea. We just don’t know what effect it has at this point.

It’s clear that no one should drive high — but it’s equally clear that no one should drive under the influence of alcohol, as well as in many other conditions that we often don’t even think about.

Given the known dangerous effects of alcohol on driving, lawmakers should be putting their energies toward cracking down on alcohol consumption and driving even more, not on cannabis and driving.

Everybody should be told that driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs is never a good idea.

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While a recent study finds a small increase in vehicle crashes occurred in states that have legalized marijuana, the study conflicts with other reports that have shown no difference. The study also didn’t prove that cannabis use caused the crashes. Other factors need to be considered. What is clear is the stark rise in accidents if alcohol use is involved. Lawmakers need to focus their energies on that, not on cannabis use.

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Kate Harveston

Kate Harveston

Political Journalist & Blogger at Only Slightly Biased
The Profile:

Kate Harveston is a young writer with a passion for politics. She holds a Bachelors in English and minored in Criminal Justice, so she is interested in anything examining law, politics and culture. Kate is a regular contributor at International Policy Digest, Greentumble, Feminist Wednesday, HelloFlo and The Liberty Project. Her work has also been featured on Bust, The Moderate Voice, Feminist Current and Ordinary Times. If you would like to follow her writing, you can visit her blog:

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Kate Harveston

Kate Harveston
By Kate Harveston July 8, 2017 17:18

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