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Is medical marijuana the cause of increased traffic deaths in Colorado?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Danger of Medical Marijuana

Researchers have found a significant rise in the number of fatal motor vehicle accidents following legalization of medical marijuana in Colorado in 2009. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System the increase in fatal motor vehicle accidents correlates with legalization of pot for medical use.

For their analysis University of Colorado School of Medicine researchers compared driving related fatalities in 34 states that have not legalized marijuana.

Fatalities began to soar from 2009 to 2011 in Colorado, after medicinal marijuana became legal, compared to 34 states where marijuana is not legal.

Fatal vehicle crashes involving drivers testing positive for marijuana accounted for 4.5 percent of motor vehicle deaths in the first 6-months of 1994. The figure jumped to 10 percent in the last six-months of 2011. The percentage of fatalities was significantly higher than in non-medical marijuana states.

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In contrast, alcohol related motor vehicle deaths remained the same

The study, led by Stacy Salomonsen-Sautel, Ph.D, who was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Pharmacology at Colorado School of Medicine is published online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

How to explain the data?

Research so far has shown marijuana has little to no effect on a person’s ability to drive. Studies have also shown drivers compensate when under the influence of cannabis by driving more cautiously and slowly.

The finding doesn't mean medical marijuana caused the increase in traffic fatalities in Colorado. It could be an indication that more people are driving while impaired, or that more people are using medical marijuana. The authors concluded: “Prevention efforts and policy changes in Colorado are needed to address this concerning trend in marijuana-positive drivers. In addition, education on the risks of marijuana-positive driving needs to be implemented."

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons



the greatest plant in the universe is almost free, LET FREEDOM RING! 13 1000s of my friends and family have grown 30-99 plants for 20 years, thanks for keeping prices high and NORCAL wealthy...#1 crop in cali = $15 Billion Untaxed "any doctor against marijuana is a doctor of death" - cali secret 420 from 0 states to half the country, from low 20% approval to almost 70%, cali runs this planet by 2 decades, time to tie marijuana to the 2014, 2016 elections, out with the old, in with the new 20 years behind us southern states, sad and scary....nobody denies freedoms like the south, nobody…the top ten incarcerators on the planet are southern states and more blacks are in prison then were slaves before the civil war...even if marijuana reforms did pass the republiCANTS in charge would deny you all your freedoms, centuries of practice...no matter though, we never planned on getting your backwards brethren from day one, half the country already but not one southern state, lol...not 1….the new generations are takingover in the south and they are nothing like their freedom denying parents, let’s ride… Deaths by Alcohol: Millions Deaths by Tobacco: Millions Deaths by Prescription Drugs: Quadrupled in last decade Deaths by Guns: Millions Deaths by the food we are fed: Millions Deaths by Marijuana: 0, ever...they are killing Americans while denying freedom love and freedom forever AMERICA'S WAR ON DRUGS IS A WAR ON AMERICANS! 33
Relax , its all about being responsible.
Real researchers and real reporters would have reported how many of those testing positive were actually active. Real research is needed, not half assed!
Mike, you realize this was taken from a report and the individuals were deceased? If you can design a way to find out after the fact how many were "active" (and I assume you mean had recently used marijuana), do let these researchers know.
Kath, Yes while working for NHTSA as a Crash Researcher I read many autopsy reports. There are different levels of THC in the blood stream and it is an easy test to find the active level. Meaning recently ingested. There is a need for a breathalyzer style test to detect how much THC in active in your system, not just a positive test. I would love to conduct some research on such a study. Then they need to decide what level you are intoxicated to impair driving is at and set laws accordingly. In my career I investigated over 1000 crashes of big trucks, cars & motorcycles for crash causation. AS Investigative Sciences and NHTSA training at the Transportation Safety Institute, yes I am qualified to speak on the subject. Usually many different factors weighed in, and saying someone had THC in their system and is the cause of the crash is just irresponsible. Just as the zero tolerance several states have for driving drugged. Bring some light to the issue I can help. Mike G
Got it! Then the research has to be focused on just that. Hopefully this preliminary finding would spur a more in depth look - but you know how that goes also. It really is just an observation that I think is mean to open doors to more focus - or - as one comment suggests - being responsible. And, by the way - we can only report what information is out there. The researchers only did so much. It's not quite fair to shoot the messenger - we think we were being "real" given the information at hand. :( I appreciate your input- very enlightening for everyone.
Bill O'Reilly's Talking Points tonight (7/29) included the statement, “People who drive under the influence of pot are far more likely to be involved in fatal automobile accidents.” But what can we really infer, if anything, from this Univ. of Colorado study? If there was a dramatic increase in the use of any legal or illegal substance (e.g. Viagra), wouldn't this also show as much as a 122% increase in the number of those involved in a fatal accident testing positive for Viagra? Cause and effect Bill. Cause and effect. The real question should be have the number of fatal accidents also increased significantly as marijuana use has increased?