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Study Shows Car Accidents & Fatalities Rise in States with Legalized Recreational Marijuana

Woman getting ready to smoke marijuana before driving.

States with legalized recreational marijuana have experienced an increase in car accidents and fatalities, including Washington State, where fatal crashes have doubled since marijuana was legalized. That's according to a recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study.

"Marijuana, like alcohol and just about every other drug, changes how you feel and how you behave," lead IIHS researcher Charles Farmer, Ph.D., said in an interview this summer with Medicine Net. "That's the purpose of a drug. And that changes how you drive. We all need to realize that driving after using marijuana is a bad idea."

Crashes caused by drivers under the influence of marijuana

IIHS released the results of its study this summer. The study was based on car accident data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) between 2009 and 2019 in 11 states, including Washington, that legalized recreational marijuana during the study period. The study also compared the accident rate in those states to six states that did not legalize marijuana.

In particular, traffic accident injuries increased by 5.8 percent in five states that allowed recreational marijuana use. Car accident fatalities also increased by 4.1 percent in states where marijuana was legalized, according to the IIHS study. Similar increases were not found in the states that did not legalize marijuana.

"The legalization of marijuana doesn't come without cost," Farmer said in a statement released by IIHS. "Legalization removes the stigma of marijuana use, while the onset of retail sales merely increases access… But access to marijuana isn't difficult, even in places without retail sales. Users who previously avoided driving high may feel that it's okay after legalization."

Car accident fatalities in Washington involving cannabis

Washington was one of the first states in the country to legalize the recreational use and sale of marijuana. Residents voted statewide in 2012 to legalize the sale of marijuana for recreational use for adults over 21 years old.

Since then, car accident fatalities in Washington involving drivers under the influence of marijuana more than doubled between 2012 and 2020, according to another recent traffic safety study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

What to do if an impaired driver hits you

If you have been involved in a collision caused by a driver under the influence of marijuana, you can take specific steps right away to protect your health and legal rights, such as:

  • Call the police and tell them you've been involved in an accident with someone who appears to be under the influence of drugs. (NOTE – If your accident happened several hours or days ago, it's not too late to report your collision to the police.)
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you were injured. (NOTE – If your crash occurred a few hours or days ago, see a doctor immediately. Your health should always come first.)
  • Wait in your vehicle for the police to arrive. Don't put yourself in danger.
  • Get the person's name and phone number if someone witnessed your accident. That way, investigators can interview the witness later.
  • Take photos of your crash site.
  • Give your personal information (name, address, driver's license number, insurance information) to the investigating police officer.
  • Get the same information about the other driver.
  • Call a car accident lawyer as soon as possible to review your legal rights and options. You may be entitled to compensation for your losses, and an attorney can fight for what you deserve.

Talk to a car accident lawyer in Vancouver, Washington, today.

Attorney Colin Scott and the dedicated legal team at The Scott Law Firm, PLLC, know the law and can work with you to build the strongest possible legal case. In addition, we work on a contingency fee basis. That means you pay no fees unless we secure a financial settlement or verdict for you.

Know your rights. Contact us today and schedule a free consultation. Our office is in Vancouver, Washington, and we proudly serve injury victims statewide.

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