Study: More Crashes In States With Legal Recreational Marijuana

October 18, 2018 - 3:34 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says states that have legalized recreational marijuana have seen an increase in car accidents.

As Bloomberg Reporter Ryan Beene explained, the institute looked at four states – Washington State, Oregon, Nevada, and Colorado.

“What they found was compared to neighboring states that have not legalized recreational use of the drug, the states that had saw a noticeable uptick in the rate of vehicle crashes, as measured through both insurance claims and through police-reported crashes,” Beene told WCBS 880’s Michael Wallace. “They looked at the crashes pre- and post-legalization and used the other neighboring states where the drug was still prohibited as a control group, and tried to control for differences between the states to get as close to an apples-to-apples comparison as they could.”

Some critics brought up the risk of more accidents as a possibility when states first began legalizing recreational marijuana. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study does not go as far as making recommendations, though the National Transportation Safety Board recently did.

“The National Transportation Safety Board, actually just a day earlier before the study came out, came out with a series of recommendations related to the topic,” Beene said. “They had investigated a crash in Texas in which a driver who was high on marijuana and a large dose of an anti-anxiety medication was veering all over the road for about 15 minutes before crashing into a church bus. Thirteen people died in that crash.”

That crash happened on March 29 of last year near Concan, Texas, about 80 miles west of San Antonio, the Dallas Morning News reported. The driver and 12 passengers on the bus from the First Baptist New Branufels church – ranging in age from 61 to 87 – were killed, the paper reported.

Ryan, then 20, pleaded no contest to intoxication assault and intoxication manslaughter, and could face 270 years in prison when he is sentenced next month, the newspaper reported.

The NTSB’s recommendations after that incident addressed a number of issues.

“A couple of them (were) directed at federal auto safety regulators to develop common drug-testing standards and toxicology standards that states should develop, and to develop model specifications for basically the drug equivalent of a breathalyzer device, so law enforcement officers can test for drug impairment on the side of the road. Right now, there’s no widely accepted standard device to do that, so that’s one thing that law enforcement really needs,” Beene said.

Recreational marijuana is not legal in Texas.