Has the Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado Increased Motor Vehicle Accidents?

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In recent years, we have for the first time seen the legalization of a substance that was outlawed since the early 1930’s. This has raised a lot of questions as to the long-term impact of such legalization. One particular area of concern is the question of the safety of driving while under the influence of marijuana’s high. At what cost to society and Colorado residents are people free to indulge in this drug? Should laws be put in place to prevent people from driving under the influence as the current laws we have regarding alcohol use? If we do regulate the drug, how much should be legal to use when driving; and how can the high be accurately measured?

Preliminary research suggests that the three forerunning states to legalize recreational marijuana, which included Colorado, are experiencing more crashes since the drug’s legalization. One significant point to note is that studies did not suggest these were fatal crashes. When specifying whether the crash was fatal or not, it appears there was no significant increase in fatal crashes in view of data collected from 2009-2015.

How do we rectify these two seemingly different conclusions? Each study considered different types of crashes. So, while there was not a significant increase in fatalities, there was a significant increase in the amount of crashes that occurred. Another important thing to note is that these two criteria leave out the consideration of what constitutes a “minor” crash. Just because a crash was not deadly, does not mean it didn’t create major impairment whether acute or chronic in the life of the person. Furthermore, how does one measure the risk of injury to other innocent people, if the person under the influence hits another vehicle? While these studies provide some basic sense of the impact of this legalization on residents of Colorado, they also pose many ethical questions and areas for further research.

Data has definitively shown that being high while driving leads to an elevated risk of car wrecks, although it is not as impairing as driving under the influence of alcohol. Obviously, any substance that potentially increases the risk of traffic accidents will be under the scrutiny of the public, as well as law makers. With the legalization of a recreational drug being a relatively new phenomenon, it is difficult to know what research will show in the long-term. There are many unanswered questions that will need to be revisited and considered in the coming years. Suffice it to say, any increase in traffic accidents is a cause for concern.

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About the Author: Alex Fisher