Can Legal Marijuana Reduce Drunk-Driving Accidents?
One of the main concerns that opponents of marijuana legalization have is that intoxicated driving will be increased by pot users. There has not been solid evidence supporting the claim that legal marijuana leads to more cases of impaired driving. On the other hand, some states that have already legalized marijuana have found that marijuana legalization did not increase DUIs overall.
We analyze the data from the states of Washington and Colorado to see how legal marijuana has impacted their number of DUI’s.
Shortly after the recreational marijuana laws were passed, the media was flooded with headlines about marijuana causing more car crashes in Washington. The actual non-click bait news was that more people involved in fatal road crashes tested positive for THC. What many of them failed to mention was that the drug tests seek THC metabolites that can linger in the system days after your last toke. This means that the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s research on drivers involved in fatal crashes does not conclude that marijuana is causing more fatal accidents it might just mean more people are smoking weed. After residents of Washington found out marijuana was going to be legalized marijuana may likely became more acceptable and therefore used more. I’m sure the number of plumbers who smoke marijuana also increased after legalization passed but this just means more people in the state have THC in their system, it doesn’t mean marijuana is causing more fatalities on Washington roads.
When this research was released and spread across the media, dispensaries in Washington had yet to open. In fact, after dispensaries were opened the number of marijuana-involved fatal crashes decreased. The number of drivers who died in Washington from traffic fatalities in 2010 before legalization was 460. In 2014, 2 years after marijuana’s legalization in Washington, there were 462 fatalities. The number only increased by 2 despite the fear-inducting headlines such as Washington Marijuana-Related Traffic Fatalities Double After Pot Legalized.
These articles also fail to mention that many of the drivers involved in marijuana-related fatal crashes were also found with alcohol or other drugs in their system. If the number of drivers who were found to have over a .08 Blood Alcohol Level AND marijuana in their system were omitted then the number of marijuana-related traffic deaths has actually gone down from 2010 to 2014 in Washington.
The media on Colorado’s drugged driver fatalities has been the opposite of Washington’s headlines. “Since marijuana legalization, highway fatalities in Colorado are at near-historic lows,” the Washington Post reported. However, shortly after Colorado’s recreational marijuana laws took effect, the fear of stoned drivers spiked. Despite these fears, the number of traffic fatalities from 2012 to 2013 decreased in Colorado. From 2013 to 2014 overall traffic fatalities also dropped.
The research that suggests more access to weed is resulting in safer roads is more concrete than the data claiming stoned drivers are causing an increase in traffic fatalities. However, the data on Colorado’s traffic fatalities decreasing doesn’t necessarily mean that pot use decreased traffic fatalities, but it does confirm that it doesn’t seem to significantly increase it in any states with legal marijuana.