The link between medical marijuana laws and a lower incidence of road fatalities was not expected. One was almost tempted to leave the “stoned” unturned, as it seemed to have the potential to become another major argument against cannabis. The better option seemed to be to debate for medical marijuana as a way of increasing revenue for public transport companies – just to be safe. But surprisingly…
Recent study shows a decrease in fatal car accidents in states where medical marijuana is legal
Sputnik News was among many news providers to comment on a study done by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York.
The study took into consideration 1.2 million traffic fatalities nationwide from 1984 – 2015. Doctorate student and leading author Julian Santaella-Tenorio says an increase in fatal accidents was expected. However, the study showed an average drop in traffic fatalities of 11% in states where medical marijuana was legal.
Fatalities among younger drivers dropped
A striking 12% drop in traffic fatalities was shown amongst 25 to 44 year-olds, an age group with a high number of registered medical marijuana users. Although the authors were surprised by the results, they corresponded to a study published in 2013 based on data from 19 states. It was published in the Journal of Law and Economics at the time and showed an 8 to 11% drop in traffic deaths in the first year that medical marijuana was legal.
Benjamin Hansen, one of the authors of that earlier study, confirmed via email that road safety doesn’t decrease when access to medical marijuana is increased. In fact, it improves. Hansen, a professor of economics at the University of Oregon, says that as both alcohol and marijuana can impair driving skills, it is not clear why fatal accidents seem to drop when medical marijuana use increases. The study shows association, it doesn’t prove cause and effect.
A selection of our products
Only fatalities considered
Sylvia Martins, the senior author of the study, said medical marijuana states reported lower numbers of drivers endorsing driving after drinking. This might indicate that marijuana users stay home and smoke, rather than going out to bars to drink, with the result that they stay off the roads. She said it might also be the result of more stringent police patrolling.
Only fatal accidents were taken into consideration for the purpose of the study, so its findings do not provide information regarding general traffic accidents and medical marijuana use.
The study also reveals that general road accident fatality statistics in the US have dropped steadily since 1977, a fact which could muddy the waters when it comes to affirming a direct link between decreased fatalities and medical marijuana usage.
Although road fatalities dropped in seven states after medical marijuana was approved, fatalities increased in two states – Connecticut and Rhode Island. California saw an instant drop of 16% in road deaths after medical marijuana became legal in 1996, but there has been a steady increase since then. The same trend followed in New Mexico.
Santaella-Tenorio says studies into specifics are needed to highlight the various laws and how they are implemented in different states. It could also be that 25 to 44 year- olds are replacing alcohol use with marijuana. Drivers under the influence of alcohol are known to drive fast and recklessly, while marijuana users do the opposite, driving slower and leaving more following distances because they are more aware of the impairment on their driving.
Hansen, on the other hand, concluded by saying public health ramifications that may imply a need for policy changes are not clear yet.