Spike in crashes since pot legalized could lead to higher insurance costs

The study, published Thursday by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), says the frequency of automobile collision insurance claims has increased by 3 percent in states where marijuana is legal - Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

The results provide more facts in a nationwide policy discussion already rife with controversy. A 2016 study from Columbia University looked at fatalities in 19 different states before and after medical marijuana was legalized.

Aydelotte and his colleagues wanted to see if that prediction came true. Those results are expected in 2020.

It bears mentioning that this only looks at crashes, not injuries or fatalities.

Basically, it impacted drivers differently, but the takeaway was predictable: The more marijuana they smoked, the worse their driving became. Neighboring states with similar fluctuations in claims were used for comparison.

The researchers found that between 2009 and 2015, a total of 60,737 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the 10 states. They found an average 11 percent reduction in fatalities, however, on a state-by-state basis, only seven saw a reduction, 10 saw no change and two had higher death rates. Basically, this technique allowed the investigators to compare the change in rates between years in the period before the law passed with the change in rates between years in the period after it passed.

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The first study was conducted by a non-profit research group that publishes insurance statistics.

Prior to legalization, the crash fatality rates were comparable between Colorado and Washington and the control states, according to a draft version of the report provided by the AJPH to The Cannabist.

Traffic fatalities in Colorado have been on a six-year rise, according to Colorado Department of Transportation data released earlier this year. The agency says this is its first analysis of how legalized marijuana since 2014 affects accident claims.

"Worry that legalized marijuana is increasing crash rates isn't misplaced", said David Zuby, an executive from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit organization closely affiliated with HLDI.

Although the increasing number of auto accidents could not be directly linked to the use of marijuana, the study explained that there is a strong correlation between the two. Further, measuring THC levels in the blood is not as easy a measure of impairment as blood-alcohol level is, since the psychoactive compound in marijuana is stored in the body's fat cells and can show up in the blood long after the effect has worn off.

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