Don’t Fear the Reefer
Any seasoned stoner knows that cannabis doesn’t really make you wreck your car. It’s just not alcohol, and that’s still true no matter how hard you pretend.
The trouble has been with convincing tremulous state legislators, who understandably don’t want to be responsible for unleashing a new torrent of blood on our highways. After all, it became very obvious, very quickly, that alcohol was a problem on the roadways.
But many of the ladies and gentlemen responsible for writing laws are greenhorns when it comes to the green. After all, plenty of them never dreamed of anything else but growing up and becoming just as successful in public service as they could be — and smoking weed often doesn’t factor into that ambitious life plan.
But, you see, in a “representative democracy,” these folks are in charge of representing ALL of us, not just the cookie-cutter ones, and not just the ones who resemble their legislators.
For those of us idealistic or stubborn enough to believe that laws governing public conduct should be fair, the fact that current “impaired driving” laws often ensnare people who aren’t impaired at all by their cannabis use remains one of the glaringly obvious flies in the otherwise smooth ointment of mainstreaming marijuana.
That’s why it is so irksome when pseudoscience is misused to pass bad legislation, or to justify it once it has passed. That’s why so many of us in Washington state, for example, fought long and hard against the “per se” DUI limit of 5 nanograms active THC per milliliter of blood, since there is almost no correlation between that particular level, and impairment, for almost anyone who has smoked pot more than a couple of times.
And that’s why it was so damn aggravating when one recent study, citing insurance data, was used to supposedly indicate weed causes more car accidents in legal states. It is, therefore, quite gratifying that another, more accurate study has just been released, showing that states with legal cannabis have seen no increase in fatal car crashes.
Researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute were responsible for the faulty study that last week claimed green states are seeing more car crashes than are states still enforcing marijuana prohibition.
But a separate study in the American Journal of Public Health, also, ironically, published last week, completely blows those spurious claims out of the water. The AJPH study shows that states with legal weed have had no increase in either car accidents or fatalities.
Scientists are the University of Texas-Austin analyzed data from the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System to study deaths due to auto accidents in Colorado, Washington, and eight other “control” states that haven’t legalized marijuana. The team also looked at all available non-fatal crash data reported by the same 10 states.
In both instances, researchers found absolutely no correlation between legal marijuana and car accidents.
Not Statistically Different
“We found no significant association between recreational marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado and subsequent changes in motor vehicle fatality rates in the first three years after recreational marijuana legalization,” the study’s authors concluded. “[W]e also found no association between recreational marijuana legalization and total crash rates when analyzing available state-reported nonfatal crash statistics.”
Three years after recreational marijuana legalization, changes in motor vehicle crash fatality rates for Washington and Colorado were not statistically different from those in similar states without recreational marijuana legalization.
That’s why at the same time researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute are urging, based on numbers from Washington and Colorado, that lawmakers reconsider the advisability of legalization, cannabis advocates are pointing to the University of Texas study to refute those same claims.
“These conclusions ought to be reassuring to lawmakers and those in the public who have concerns that regulating adult marijuana use may inadvertently jeopardize public safety,” said NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano of the Texas study. “These results indicate that such fears have not come to fruition, and that such concerns ought not to unduly influence legislators or voters in other jurisdictions that are considering legalizing cannabis.”
According to Armentano, a prior study published last year by the same journal reported that the enactment of medical marijuana legalization laws is associated with a reduction in traffic fatalities compared to other states, particularly among younger drivers.
Marijuana Is Safer
One auto insurance site, in fact, reports that marijuana users are safer drivers.
Fatal accident rates have fallen noticeably over the past two decades, overlapping the same time that a majority of states have legalized cannabis for either medical or social use. In 1996, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that there were an estimated 37,500 fatal car crashes on US roadways. This total fell to fewer than 30,000 by 2014.
“Dave,” truck driver offered an interesting comment on Armentano’s article on the NORML Blog:
I did a driving study of my own over 1.5 million miles.
I found that driving the semi truck in all the lower 48 states is exactly the same while stoned. All the roads are similar, the signs are all in English, the speed limit goes up and down. I have found that I check the mirrors more often while stoned and generally go 2 miles per hour below the speed limit.
Meanwhile… The people driving the cars are FLYING past me doing maybe 100 mph, blabbing on the phone, texting, reading, doing makeup or eating, but they are not paying attention to the driving part.
The conclusion of the study is that driving while stoned is far safer overall.