Skip to main content

Legal marijuana did not lead to increase in deadly “driving while stoned”

Legal marijuana did not lead to increase in deadly “driving while stoned” (apparently)

Contrary to some initial reports alleging increased “driving while stoned,” the federal government’s comprehensive tabulations indicate fatal traffic crashes involving marijuana-impaired drivers decreased in Washington and Colorado following semi-legalization of marijuana in December 2012. The 24 percent and 28 percent respective declines in the proportions of drivers in fatal accidents in the two states who tested positive for marijuana in the first full year of legalization, 2013, compared to the last full year of marijuana prohibition, 2011, stands in contrast to the 14 percent increase nationwide during the same period (Table 1). Similarly, overall traffic fatality rates fell in Colorado and Washington from 2011 to 2013 slightly more than they did nationwide, indicating no new marijuana danger.

Table 1. Drivers in fatal crashes, percent drug-tested and testing positive for marijuana

 

Colorado

 

Washington

 

United States

 

2011

2012

2013

 

2011

2012

2013

 

2011

2012

2013

Total drivers in fatal crashes

587

632

627

 

606

591

593

 

43,840

45,664

44,574

Drivers tested for drugs

257

236

242

 

339

340

297

 

16,970

17,459

15,836

Percent tested

44%

37%

39%

 

56%

58%

50%

 

39%

38%

36%

Of those tested for drugs:

   Tested positive for marijuana

44

29

30

 

42

43

28

 

1,641

1,882

1,748

   Percent positive for marijuana

 17.1% 12.3%  12.4%     12.4% 12.6%  9.4%     9.7% 10.8%  11.0% 

   Change, 2013 vs 2011

-28%

 

-24%

 

+14%

 Source: Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS, 2015). FARS is a U.S. Department of Transportation web-based query system reporting factors in every traffic accident involving at least one fatality in the United States.

The problem in evaluating these numbers is that only around four in 10 drivers in fatal crashes in Colorado, and a little more than half in Washington, are tested for drugs. Strangely, given the need for information on the effects of marijuana reform, both states drug-tested a substantially lower proportion of drivers in 2013 than in 2011; still, their tested proportions were above the national average.

It remains surprising and dismaying that marijuana reform in Washington and Colorado is being met with reduced instead of increased efforts to evaluate its more vital effects, and that across the country, so few drivers in fatal traffic accidents — the group that should be most likely to be tested for drugs — actually are tested. Given new Centers for Disease Control figures showing another surge in drug abuse fatalities to nearly 46,000 nationally in 2013 (the subject of an upcoming blog), the need to reform laws criminalizing milder drugs like marijuana is even more imperative to concentrate resources on treatment-based approaches to more destructive drugs of abuse, like pharmaceuticals, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and alcohol. Science-based reform requires much better information than is now being provided.

Keywords: drug policy, marijuana, Mike Males

Posted in Blog, Political Landscape

Contribute to CJCJ

Make a difference to youth and adults trying to get their lives back on track.


California Stentencing Institute screenshot

California Sentencing
Institute (CASI)

Explore how California’s 58 counties send their residents to correctional institutions with interactive maps, charts, and downloadable data.

Connect with us

      YouTube

Contribute to CJCJ

Make a difference to youth and adults trying to get their lives back on track.

Join our mailing list

Get regular updates and news delivered to your inbox. We won’t share your information with anyone else.