A new insurance study links increased car crash claims with legalized recreational marijuana. The study was conducted by the Highway Loss Data Institute, a leading insurance research group, and published on Thursday.

The research group said that collision claims in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon increased by 2.7 percent in the years since legal recreational marijuana sales began, compared to surrounding states. The HLDI also analyzed information from control states, including Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming, each of which has different levels of legalization between medical use and full prohibition.

A new insurance study links increased car crash claims with legalized recreational marijuana.  Image credit: Conservative Post
A new insurance study links increased car crash claims with legalized recreational marijuana. Image credit: Conservative Post

The researchers also examined pre-legalization data in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon.

Report from the Highway Loss Data Institute associates car crashes with legalized marijuana

Legal recreational marijuana sales in Colorado began in January 2014, while Washington followed six months later, and Oregon began in October 2015.

“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, senior vice president of the institute, which examines insurance data to observe emerging auto-safety trends, according to Chicago Tribune.

Mason Tvert, the communications director of the Marijuana Policy Project and a marijuana legalization advocate, said that the study’s decision to compare claims in rural states like Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana with Colorado, Washington, and Oregon –which have dense population centers- may have affected the study’s findings. Tvert believes that the study raised more questions than it provided answers, and he noted it’s an area that would undoubtedly receive more research, deservedly so.

The researchers took in consideration factors such as the number of vehicles on the road in the study and control states, weather, age and gender of the drivers, and even whether the person making a claim was employed. Adjacent states with similar fluctuations in claims were also used for comparison.

‘It would be difficult to say that marijuana is a definite factor’

Insurance research groups have been monitoring claims when auto accidents across the country began to increase in 2013 after over a decade of steady decline. These insurance companies have found several possible factors that could be responsible for the spike in car crash claims.

Those factors included distracted driving due to texting or cellphone use, road constructions, and an improved economy that has led to leisurely drives or more miles driven, as well as recreational marijuana legalization.

Image credit: Digital Trends
Image credit: Digital Trends

“It would appear, probably not to anyone’s surprise, that the use of marijuana contributes to crashes,” said Kenton Brine, president of the industry group Northwest Insurance Council, which represents companies in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, according to Chicago Tribune. “It would be difficult to say that marijuana is a definitive factor, lacking a citation, in a significant number of crashes to say that what we’re seeing here is a trend.”

The HLDI noted that its study examined claims from January 2012 through October 2016 for vehicles between 1981 and 2017 model years. The results showed that Colorado saw a 14 percent claim frequency increase compared to Nebraska, Utah, and Wyoming. Washington increased 6.2 percent compared to Idaho and Montana, and Oregon’s claims increased by 4.5 percent compared to Idaho, Montana, and Nevada.

Carole Walker from the Rocky Mountain Insurance Association, an industry organization that covers Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico, noted that the problem here is that it’s a pretty new experience, as this is the first study that has been able to isolate legal marijuana as one of the factors.

It’s important to highlight that the study focused on crashes, not injuries or fatalities. A 2016 study conducted by Columbia University analyzed deaths in 19 states before and after medical marijuana was legal. They found an average 11 percent reduction in fatalities, however, on a state-by-state basis, only seven saw a reduction, 10 saw no change and two had higher death rates. By now, eight states and Washington D.C. have legalized recreational cannabis for adults.

THC limits established by states with legalized marijuana have no scientific basis

Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said that alcohol impairment also remains one of the biggest concerns on the road.

“While we have proven countermeasures, proven strategies for reducing alcohol impaired driving, there are a lot of unanswered questions about marijuana and driving,” said Rader, according to Chicago Tribune.

Another study released last year by AAA’s safety foundation stated that legal THC limits established by states with legal marijuana have no scientific basis, and could result in innocent drivers being convicted while guilty drivers are released.

Moore, from the Highway Loss Data Institute, noted they hope policymakers and regulators will consider the study’s findings in states where marijuana legalization is currently under consideration or recently enacted.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has started a large case-control study in Oregon to assess how legal marijuana affects the risks of injuries and collisions. The results of that case-control study should be available by 2020.

Source: Chicago Tribune