Is Marijuana Legalization Causing More Car Accidents in Colorado?
Let’s just say it’s complicated. Here’s what Colorado car accident statistics show.
According to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) data, here is how fatal traffic accidents in Colorado have trended since 2002.
Source: CDOT’s Colorado Fatalities Since 2002
After a high of 677 fatal crashes in 2002, deadly accidents began to decline overall for more than a decade. This reduction in traffic deaths trended in the right direction until 2014 when fatal car accidents in the state began rising sharply once again.
Some observers have been quick to point out that January 1, 2014, was the landmark date when recreational marijuana use became legal in Colorado. So, when fatal accidents in 2017 once again climbed over 600 for the first time since 2002, the question was asked: could the two be correlated? Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer. While the number of deaths involving Colorado drivers with marijuana in their system grew in 2017, cause and effect are not that simple in these cases. THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana, can stay in the human body for up to 45 days. This means a driver who tests positive for having marijuana in their system was not necessarily driving impaired.
In other words, the number of drivers testing positive for marijuana isn’t necessarily the best indicator of whether legalized marijuana is causing more car accidents in Colorado. Instead, we need to get a more complete look at the numbers.
What is the Legal Limit for Driving High in Colorado?
0.08 is the famous BAC (blood alcohol content) level that legally determines whether someone is driving under the influence of alcohol. But how do you know if someone is driving under the influence of marijuana? Colorado law specifies that drivers with five nanograms of active THC in their whole blood can be prosecuted for driving under the influence (DUI). And according to CDOT accident data, traffic fatalities in which drivers had enough marijuana in their bloodstream to be deemed legally impaired dropped sharply from 2016 to 2017 (from 52 to 35, respectively).
Source: CDOT’s Drugged Driving Statistics
This may seem like a contradiction, but, remember, these numbers only pertain to fatal accidents. There are thousands of accidents outside of the ones that end fatally.
Marijuana’s Effect on Driving
When Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, safety experts wondered how this would affect the number of car accidents across the state. And for good reason. Studies have shown:
- Drivers under the influence of marijuana weave more in simulated traffic studies.
- Drivers under the influence of marijuana have slower thinking and perceptual skills.
- According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana “significantly impairs judgment, motor coordination, and reaction time.”
This may be why car accidents in states that have legalized marijuana are increasing according to some reports. Research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) reveals that car accidents are up by as much as 6 percent in Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington (all states that have legalized recreational marijuana) compared to neighboring states that haven’t legalized the drug.
What to Do if You’re Concerned About Marijuana’s Impact on Colorado Drivers
In the grand scheme of things, legalized marijuana is still very new to Colorado. More research and data will be needed before we can begin reaching definitive conclusions. In the meantime, regardless of how you feel, there are ways to have your voice heard. In 2018, CDOT introduced “The Cannabis Conversation” – a statewide traffic safety campaign aimed to engage Coloradans in a meaningful discussion about marijuana and driving. You can watch the video below or visit the CDOT website to learn more.
Have You Been Injured in a Colorado Car Accident with a Driver Who was Under the Influence?
As DUI accidents continue to be a problem in Colorado, drivers who are injured in such an accident need a law firm on their side that can fight aggressively for their rights to compensation. At McDivitt Law Firm, our Colorado car accident attorneys have the experience and resources needed to win these cases. For more than 40 years, we have helped thousands of injured Colorado accident victims rebuild their lives after a tragic accident.
With offices in Downtown Colorado Springs, North Colorado Springs, Denver, Aurora, and Pueblo, our attorneys are ready to assist you quickly so that you can obtain the money you are entitled to.
We offer free consultations. Tap or click here to schedule yours.Back to the Blog