New Data Suggests Legalization Not Linked to Increases in Vehicle-Pedestrial Fatalities

Marijuana legalization, whether medical or recreational, is not associated with an increase in traffic fatalities concerning pedestrians, according to new research.

The researchers behind the study, published in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention, investigated the relationship between marijuana legalization and fatal vehicle and pedestrian-involved crashes using data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

“While attention has been given to how legalization of recreational cannabis affects traffic crash rates, there has been limited research on how cannabis affects pedestrians involved in traffic crashes,” they wrote. “This study examined the association between cannabis legalization (medical, recreational use, and recreational sales) and fatal motor vehicle crash rates (both pedestrian-involved and total fatal crashes).”

To do this the researchers, based at the University of Minnesota, looked at crash rates between 1991 and 2018 in three states – Colorado, Washington and Oregon – that had legalized medical marijuana then subsequently also allowed adult-use possession and sales. They compared pedestrian-involved and fatal vehicle accidents in these states pre and post-legalization with trends in five control states that hadn’t legalized medical or adult-use cannabis.

They found no indication that changes to state marijuana laws were associated with an uptick in fatal vehicle accidents involving pedestrians.

“Overall, these findings do not suggest an elevated risk of motor vehicle crashes associated with cannabis legalization, nor do they suggest an increased risk of pedestrian-involved motor vehicle crashes,” the researchers wrote in the study’s conclusion.

While Colorado saw an increase in fatal crashes after marijuana legalization and following the start of adult-use sales in 2014, Washington and Oregon actually “saw immediate decreases in all fatal crashes following medical cannabis legalization.”

The study’s findings chime with those of previous research that reported a decrease in fatal motor vehicle crashes after medical cannabis legalization in California. That said, two recent studies suggest marijuana legalization could lead to more traffic fatalities, though the two sets of researchers cautioned their analyses did not attribute marijuana use to any of the reported fatalities. For what it’s worth, a congressional research report looking at studies on the issue thus far concluded the evidence supporting the claim that marijuana use impairs driving is inconclusive. While the precise relationship between marijuana legalization and rates of traffic fatalities remains unclear, marijuana DUI laws are fully in force across the country. To that end, congressional lawmakers are also pushing ahead with a bill to prevent drug-impaired driving while Oklahoma is launching a cannabis breathalyzer pilot program.

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