Does the Legalization of Marijuana Cause More Car Crashes?

The question of whether marijuana should be legalized has been debated around the country for several years now. Ten states, including Oregon, have fully decriminalized marijuana usage, and more than 20 others permit medical uses.

As Oregon residents know, when discussing legalization, both opponents and proponents can cite studies and statistics purportedly favoring their side of the argument. But where do the studies stand now that legalization has occurred in a number of places? Are there more motor vehicle crashes, and if so, can they be blamed on pot? We’ll explore those issues in this article.

Oregon, Colorado, and Washington Crash Data

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) performed an analysis of motor vehicle crashes between January 2012 and October 2016 in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington because they were the first states to legalize marijuana. The review is based upon crashes that are reported to insurers. In an effort to make the statistics more meaningful, the HLDI compared the three states’ crash rates to neighboring states that had not legalized recreational marijuana use.

Ultimately, the analysis demonstrated that the three states that legalized marijuana reported more crashes. Colorado’s crash frequency was 14 percent higher than neighboring states. Washington’s crash rate increased by 6.2 percent. Here, in Oregon, the report estimates a crash frequency increase of 4.5 percent higher than neighboring Idaho, Montana, and Nevada.

The following year, the IIHS studied the same three states, plus Nevada. Results again showed that crashes increased between 5.2 percent and 6 percent.

Other Studies Complicate the Issue

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) continues to research the link between marijuana and crash rates. One study provided mixed results when other factors, such as demographics and gender, were accounted for. And the issue will continue to be important as the number of drivers using marijuana continues to increase. The NHTSA reports that from 2007 to 2014, the number of nighttime weekend drivers who tested positive for THC increased a whopping 48 percent.

Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana Is Illegal

Regardless of one’s interpretation of data or feelings about marijuana, it remains illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana or any other drug. Pursuant to 2017 Oregon Revised Statutes Section 813.010, it is illegal to drive “under the influence of intoxicating liquor, cannabis, a controlled substance or an inhalant.”

Nevertheless, we have seen many cases in which drivers both violate the law and ignore their responsibilities to fellow Oregonians by choosing to drive while under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs.

Civil Remedy for Personal Injuries

All drivers in Oregon are required to exercise reasonable care while driving. When the standard of care is breached, a driver is considered to be negligent. If the driver’s negligence causes harm to another person, the injured party may pursue a civil personal injury action against the negligent driver.

Driving under the influence of an intoxicant, such as alcohol or marijuana, is negligent and endangers all of society. When that negligence causes harm, the injured party is entitled to recover damages.

Call with Questions

If you are a loved one has been injured in an automobile or semi-truck crash due to the negligence of another, please call us with any questions you might have. We know how traumatic crashes can be on victims, including when a crash is caused by an intoxicated driver.

The experienced personal injury lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield have investigated many accidents over the years. We are experienced negotiators and litigators. Most of all, we believe that holding negligent drivers accountable for their actions is an important step in protecting all of society.


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