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Does Driving While High Create More Crashes?

26 June 2017

Their study sifted through years of insurance claims related to collisions and found that accidents rose 16 percent in Colorado, 6.2 percent in Washington state and 4.5 percent in OR after those states okayed recreational marijuana.

Additionally, researchers found when comparing these states to immediate surrounding states with similar crash frequency patterns, claims were 14 percent higher in Colorado, 6.2 percent higher in Washington and 4.5 percent higher in Oregon. "We were concerned that the impairment that might result from the use of marijuana would affect crash rates", said Matt Moore, senior vice president of the Highway Data Loss Institute.

The legalization of marijuana in the United States is happening slowly, and with that, some are moving to stop this new trend in its tracks.

The institute's new analysis of real-world crashes provides one look at the emerging picture of what marijuana's legalization will mean for highway safety as more states decriminalize its use.

The group used neighboring states - Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming to name a few - as controls with the states that legalized pot and did before-and-after comparisons.

The study did not say if the increase in collisions in the three states were directly caused by high drivers.

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Now, states have found it hard to determine how high is too high when around the steering wheel. However, researchers have been unable to definitively connect the use of marijuana and vehicle crashes. IIHS analyzed claims from January 2012 to October 2016 in those eight states for vehicles from model years 1981 to 2017, controlling for various other factors (urban versus rural exposure, for example). The team reported its study results in today's (June 22) issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

According to a 2013 study by the American Civil Liberties Union, blacks across the nation were almost four times more likely than whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession in 2010, despite data that suggested they use the drug at about the same rate.

Less than a month ago a crash in Renton, Washington left a child severely injured and police suspect marijuana and alcohol were to blame.

This logic is something to consider when states consider or adopt legal marijuana laws.

"Their findings might be in the same direction as ours", Julian Santaella-Tenorio, a Ph.D.candidate in public health at Columbia who led the earlier study, told Live Science.

The numbers vary by state, but in Washington, there's been a six percent increase compared to other western states.