Medical Marijuana Laws Leading to Reduction in Traffic Fatalities?


One of the biggest arguments presented by marijuana opposition, especially when it comes to legalization, is that it will cause more road accidents. Anti-marijuana propaganda is commonly directed towards this point.  A recent study conducted at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and published in the American Journal of Public Health, has found that this is not in fact the case. The study analyzed data from the 1985-2014 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to uncover the connection between medical marijuana laws and traffic fatalities. The research found that road fatalities are lower in states that have medical marijuana laws. Not only are there less fatalities in those states but the incidents are even lower in areas where dispensaries are present.

Assessing Several Factors

speculation medical marijuana laws lead to calmer drivers
While driving while smoking is not encouraged, some speculate the calming effects of weed are a welcome alternative to alcohol.

The study took many factors into account including unemployment rates, laws enforcing seat belt use, cellphone use, speed limits, household income and whether states had graduated driver laws. A careful analysis was conducted in order to accurately see the impact of medical marijuana laws on road safety. The decrease was evidently a result of the presence of marijuana in these states.

Possible Reasons for Reduced Traffic Fatalities

Silvia Martins, a physician and associate professor who was the study’s senior author, speculated that the decrease could be related to less drivers under the intoxicative effects of alcohol in those states as it may have been substituted with marijuana. “We found evidence that states with the marijuana laws in place compared with those which did not reported, on average, lower rates of drivers endorsing driving after having too many drinks,” said Martins in a written statement. Other elements that may contribute to the reduction may include the “strength of public health laws related to driving, infrastructure characteristics, or the quality of health care systems.”

Medical Marijuana Laws Offering Alcohol Alternatives

drunk drivers reduced in medical marijuana states
Definitely not a welcome sight.

In all, an 11 percent decrase in road fatalities was found in people aged 15 to 24. There was a 12 percent decrease in adults aged 25 to 44. The numbers of those aged above 44 remained relatively the same. Also, some states, including California and New Mexico, had an initial decrease in roadside accidents when medical marijuana was legalized but then the number returned to normal again. In general it seems that where a decrease in alcohol consumption occurs, so does a lowering of traffic incidents. Studies in the past show alcohol consumption puts a person at a high risk of incidents on the road, while marijuana creates a low to medium risk. When analyzed, drivers who were high compensated by driving slower and leaving more space between themselves and other cars.

With so many states continuing to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana, the study should bring comfort to those concerned about its impact on road safety. This November, another 4 states legalized recreational marijuana for adults over the age of 21 and 4 others legalized medical marijuana. As it stands now, 20 percent of the country has ended prohibition entirely and more than half the country has legalized medical marijuana. Knowing that all of this legalization may actually help drivers be safer on the roads is welcome news.


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