In 2012, Washington and Colorado become the first US states to legalize recreational cannabis use. One great concern with this legalization was the fear that more people would drive while under the influence. Since 2012, multiple studies have been done that have tried to determine if legalization created more danger on the roads.
Spike in traffic fatalities
Immediately, scientists ran into a problem. There is no way to definitively determine if a person was driving while under the influence of cannabis. While law enforcement can use breathalyzers and other tests to determine exactly how inebriated a driver is after they have been drinking, there is no such test available for cannabis use. There are obvious physical signs to look for, but nothing as concrete as BAC.
So, scientists turned to traffic accident data. A study was recently published in Addiction magazine regarding a spike in traffic accident fatalities that occurred immediately after a state legalized cannabis. This increase was about one accident per 1 million residents. One of the co-authors, Tyler Lane, suggests that this increase was likely due to the influx of new cannabis users who may not have known or cared about the increased danger of driving while under the drug’s influence.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to get a straight answer about whether cannabis legalization contributed to an increase in traffic accidents, because the body of research itself is inconclusive. For every study that suggests that cannabis did cause an increase in the rate of accidents, there’s another that says it didn’t. More research needs to be done, and more data needs to be collected, before we can determine whether cannabis legalization increases the risk of accidents, and to what degree.
Impaired driving is impaired driving. Period.
Regardless of the legality of cannabis, it’s dangerous to operate a car or any other vehicle while under the influence of any drug. Just because cannabis is legal in Washington state does not mean you should drive while under its influence.
The dedicated legal team at Nelson Langer and Engle in no way supports operating a car or any other vehicle while under the influence of cannabis or any other mind-altering drug.
If you or a loved one were involved in an accident with a driver operating under the influence of cannabis, contact us today.