Insurance company study links legalized marijuana to increase in car crash claims

A new report from the Highway Loss Data Institute suggests there may be a link between the legalization of recreational marijuana and an increase in car crashes in the first three states to adopt the law.

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HLDI analysts examined collision claims in Colorado, Oregon and Washington before and after recreational marijuana was legalized for the report, its first data report on how legalization has impacted crashes reported to insurers since 2014.

When compared with surrounding states (the control group), claims filed between January 2012 and October 2016 for car models between the years 1981-2017 showed a 2.7 percent increase in crash claims in the three states since marijuana sales began.

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In Colorado, the sale of legalized marijuana began in January 2014, while it began in June 2014 in Washington and in October 2015 in Oregon.

Colorado saw the biggest increase in claim frequency when compared with nearby control states such as Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming.

“We believe that the data is saying that crash risk has increased in these states and those crash risks are associated with the legalization of marijuana,” said Matt Moore, HLDI senior vice president.

But some experts, like Mason Tvert, a marijuana legalization advocate and communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, are wary of the study’s methodology.

» RELATED: Georgia medical marijuana expansion bill signed into law

Comparing crash claims in states with dense population centers to surrounding rural states such as Idaho, Montana or Wyoming are questionable, according to the Associated Press.

“The study raises more questions than it provides answers and it's an area that would surely receive more study, and deservedly so,” Tvert said.

A previous study conducted by safety experts at the American Automobile Association found no scientific evidence showing specific levels at which drivers become impaired by marijuana. Some with high THC levels might not be impaired, while others with lower levels may be impaired.

In fact, according to AAA, legal THC limits outlined by states could actually result in innocent drivers being convicted and impaired drivers released.

» RELATED: AJC poll: Expand medical marijuana in GA but not for recreational use

Kenton Brine, president of Northwest Insurance Council, an industry group representing companies in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, added that without examining citations, it would be difficult to say marijuana is a “definitive factor” in a significant number of car crashes contributing to a trend.

Currently, police have no accurate way of detecting whether drivers are under the influence of marijuana. But, according to CNN, companies like Hound Labs and Cannabix Technologies are working on creating a Breathalyzer for marijuana.

Despite the new HLDI data, Insurance Institute Highway Safety spokesman Russ Rader said the leading cause of car accidents is still alcohol-induced driving, according to the AP.

“While we have proven countermeasures, proven strategies for reducing alcohol-impaired driving, there are a lot of unanswered questions about marijuana and driving,” he said.

Read the full study from HLDI.

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