Is Marijuana Legalization Impacting Auto Accident Rates?

Justin Weinstein

Last Updated: April 29th, 2022 at 4:16 pm
Read Time: 3 Minutes

Across the country, there doesn’t seem to be a topic quite as hot as marijuana legalization. More states have begun moving forward with legislation that legalizes marijuana, either for medical use, recreational use, or both. However, concerns continue to rise about the safety of marijuana when it comes to drivers consuming the substance prior to getting behind the wheel.

We all know of the dangers of driving while under the influence of alcohol. Driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05, completely below the legal limit of .08, increases your odds of wrecking your car by 100 percent versus someone who hasn’t had a drink at all. At a BAC of 0.08, your crash odds have roughly tripled.

So, will marijuana have this same effect? Today we take a close look at how marijuana legalization could impact auto accident rates.

Examining Claim Rates in Marijuana States

On June 22, 2017, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) published a study examining whether rising marijuana use is causing an increase in car crashes in states that have legalized the drug.

The study, conducted by the Highway Loss Data Institute, compared insurance claims for vehicle collisions in states that had recently legalized marijuana, including Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, with claims in neighboring states that hadn’t. The study analyzed claims filed between January 2012 and October 2016. It found that within that time period, collision claim frequencies in the states that had legalized marijuana were about 3% higher than would have been anticipated without legalization.

Control states for this study included Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Montana, and Idaho. During the time frame between January 2012 and October 2016, Wyoming and Utah permitted limited medical marijuana use, Nevada and Montana allowed medical use of marijuana, and Idaho did not have any marijuana legalization laws. Likewise, researchers compared present data with data from Colorado, Washington, and Oregon prior to legalization.

The team also looked at collision claims filed between January 2012 and October 2016 for 1981 to 2017 model vehicles, as well as factoring in elements such as weather and seasonality. While the 3% increase in reported auto accidents is small, it is significant.

What an Increase in Marijuana-related Accidents Can Mean

After the publication of the study, Matt Moore, senior vice president of the IIHS Highway Loss Data Institute stated, “The combined-state analysis shows that the first three states to legalize recreational marijuana have experienced more crashes.” Does this mean that every state will follow suit?

The answer here is truthfully, no one knows. For some, the 3% increase was too small to be significant. For others, it was a sign that marijuana legalization could correlate to more auto accidents. However, from a personal injury standpoint, it is important to realize that it’s not just the legalization of marijuana that will cause accidents. It’s the decisions people will make.

Factors that could lead to a spike in marijuana-related accidents include:

  • Impaired driving due to marijuana
  • Impaired driving due to the combination of marijuana and alcohol
  • More drivers on the road due to marijuana tourism

As the state of Florida still debates the pros and cons of marijuana legalization, at Weinstein Legal we urge you to remain safe on the road. If you or someone you love has been injured in an auto accident caused by a distracted driver who was under the influence of marijuana or alcohol, contact Weinstein Legal today.