Across the country, there have been an increase in car accidents and fatalities caused by car accidents. According to the Chicago Tribune, a new study was released that attempts to link the legalization of marijuana to the increase in accidents in states that have allowed for recreational use of the drug. The results of this study by the Highway Loss Data Institute claim that there has been a 2.7% increase in car accidents in Oregon, Washington, and Colorado since they legalized marijuana.
However, many skeptics of this study indicate that the study did not consider other factors that could have led to this spike in accidents, such as the increase in the number of vehicles on the roads in those states. In fact, other research has established that behaviors such as distracted driving are bigger factors in the increase of crashes nationwide.
While AAA and others indicate that the legalization of marijuana does create a risk for accidents if users drive while under the influence, there are no studies that show a correlation between the legalization of marijuana as a definitive factor in the increase of accidents.
According to additional reports on this subject, the amount of fatalities across the entire nation has been dramatically increasing in the last few years, with an overall 15% increase in fatal car accidents in the last two years. This increase exists in every region of the United States, including the states that have not legalized marijuana.
Instead, studies indicate that there are several key factors that come into play when considering the somewhat dramatic increase in fatalities. One important consideration is the improvement in the economy. As the economy has recovered over the last several years, people are out on the roads driving more often and longer distances; however, this is only a small part of the picture. Distracted driving is now a leading cause of accidents, due to the preponderance of smartphone usage, including texting, calling, navigation, and social media apps.
Experts also claim that the majority of these accidents are caused by the usual factors that have almost always caused deadly crashes: drunk driving, failing to wear a seatbelt, and speeding. They point to more lax laws on speeding, such as those in Texas that raise the speed limit to 75 mph or even 85 mph in some rural areas. Furthermore, many states like Alabama have faced budget cuts that prevent state troopers from adequately patrolling for speeders.
Seatbelt laws also may lead to an increase in traffic deaths, as up to 50% of all fatalities in car accidents were not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. Despite this, many states do not require backseat riders to wear a seatbelt, and several states prevent police officers from pulling over drivers for a seatbelt offense alone.
While marijuana use may slightly increase the risks of car accidents in states where it is legalized, there are several more important issues that contribute to the upward trend of fatal car crashes in recent years.