Auto collisions skyrocket involving people driving high on legalized pot

The scientists found that after the law was passed, "the changes in motor-vehicle-crash fatality rates observed in Washington and Colorado were not significantly different from those observed in the control states", the researchers wrote in their study.

In the years since recreational pot sales became legal in Colorado, Washington and OR, those states saw a 2.7 percent increase in collision claims, according to the study from the Highway Loss Data Institute. According to the federally funded agency: "Although we know marijuana negatively affects a number of skills needed for safe driving, and some studies have shown an association between marijuana use and vehicle crashes, it is unclear whether marijuana use actually increases the risk of auto crashes".

Analysis of insurance claims revealed that states experienced a combined 2.7 percent increase in collision claims when recreational marijuana hit the open market, compared to other nearby states, according to the HDLI. The research examined crash data in three of the first states to make pot legal.

Still, it's hard to determine if the crashes were caused exclusively by marijuana use.

Moore of the Highway Loss Data Institute said they hope the study's findings will be considered by lawmakers and regulators in states where marijuana legalization is under consideration or recently enacted.

Full text of the study, "Crash fatality rates after recreational marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado", appears online in the American Journal of Public Health. There could have been a number of other factors involved, and researchers can't possibly control for every single factor.

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Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association is an industry group that covers Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico. Previous studies, even one from the federal government, have been unable to find anything conclusive.

Vehicle accidents have gone up nearly 3 percent in Colorado, Washington and OR since 2013.

"One of the claims was that if you legalize marijuana, you're going to have a whole population of drugged drivers out there and have more traffic deaths", Aydelotte said. In other words, people could be substituting pot for alcohol.

More drivers have admitted that they use marijuana, but past research on the impact of driving while high remain inconclusive, experts said.

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South Burlington Police Chief Trevor Whipple said, "We lack a roadside test here for marijuana, we lack the capability to the capacity to test here in our state lab".

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