cannabis impaired driving

Decoding Cannabis Impaired Driving: New Research from 4 States Unveils the Real Risks on the Roads

by | Dec 5, 2023

cannabis impaired driving

Written by Kristina Etter

Kristina is a digital content creator and designer. She has a talent for creating engaging and informative content that resonates with our professional audience. Kristina’s passion for the cannabis industry stems from her belief that it has the potential to revolutionize the world in many ways, and has a personal testimony of cannabis success.

A comprehensive new study reinforces what many consumers already know. Cannabis impaired driving isn’t contributing to traffic fatalities.

  • States that legalized cannabis in 2016 experienced an average 11.6% decrease in vehicle death rates over the next 3 years—a point higher than the national average of 10.6%.
  • All 4 states that legalized cannabis in 2016 (California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada) saw traffic fatalities either decrease or not change after the passage of their legislation.
  • By comparison, alcohol remains a major factor in traffic fatalities, contributing to 3 out of every 10 traffic deaths between 2012 and 2021.

A recent study published by Quartz Advisor examines the complexities surrounding the perception of road safety in states that have embraced cannabis legalization.

The research, focusing on the four states that legalized cannabis in 2016, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, challenges preconceived notions by scrutinizing traffic fatality rates and drawing intriguing comparisons between legalized and non-legalized states.

The Nuanced Landscape of Traffic Fatality Rates

The study begins by acknowledging the multifaceted nature of traffic fatality rates, using deaths per 100,000,000 vehicle miles as a primary metric. Although the initial results show an increase in vehicular deaths in legalized states, a closer examination reveals a more intricate picture.

The intricate flow of statistical correlations between legalized and non-legalized states unveils a narrative that challenges simplistic conclusions.

The research takes a bold step by removing the anomalous data of 2020 and 2021, recognizing the exceptional circumstances that influenced traffic fatality rates during these years. Factoring in this adjustment paints a different picture, demonstrating that the average traffic fatality rate for the U.S. as a whole fell by 10.6% between 2016 and 2019.

States that legalized cannabis in 2016 exhibited a slightly higher decline of 11.6%, while non-legalized states saw a slight increase of 1.7%.

Notably, the traffic fatality rate did not increase in any of the four states that legalized cannabis in 2016 during those three years.

Cannabis Impaired Driving Insights from Government Agencies

To enrich the study, insights from state insurance regulatory agencies are incorporated. Judi Watters from the Maine Bureau of Insurance highlights that, from an insurance perspective, the legalization of cannabis in Maine has not resulted in significant changes.

The research also references a comprehensive report from the Casualty Actuarial Society, offering a more exhaustive analysis that controlled for various factors, ultimately concluding that legalization has not made roads more dangerous in the U.S. and Canada.

Studies on Cannabis Impaired Driving

While acknowledging the cognitive and motor impacts of marijuana, the study dives into the nuanced realm of driving behavior. Studies cited, including one published in The American Journal of Addictions, highlight the cognitive impairment caused by THC but emphasize that this doesn’t always translate into riskier driving behavior.

The consensus on THC and impaired driving? Regular cannabis consumers, in particular, show almost no functional impairment under the influence, challenging conventional assumptions.

Alcohol Impairment vs. THC Impairment and Driving

The study boldly contrasts the statistics around cannabis with the well-established impact of alcohol on road safety.

Despite alcohol’s role in nearly a third of all automotive fatalities, the U.S. has witnessed a surge in traffic deaths, with 29.8% attributed to alcohol between 2012 and 2021. The stark contrast between the legal status of alcohol and marijuana raises thought-provoking questions about the rationality of current regulatory frameworks.

As the debate over cannabis legalization continues, this study contributes a nuanced perspective on the relationship between cannabis, road safety, and public perception. With a meticulous examination of traffic fatality rates, insights from government agencies, and a comparative analysis with alcohol, it challenges prevailing assumptions and calls for a reevaluation of the narrative surrounding cannabis and its impact on road safety.