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Legalizing Recreational Marijuana Linked to More Crashes

December 19, 2017

You just knew this was going to be a problem, right?

marijuana crashes
CCIG’s Matt Genova.

According to the Highway Loss Data Institute, the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado, Oregon and Washington has resulted in a rate of collision claims that is about 3% higher than would have been expected without legalization.

Meanwhile, a survey commissioned by the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America showed that while 91% of people believe driving under the influence of marijuana is dangerous, only 40% believe it is contributing to more crashes.

Today’s cars are safer than ever, thanks to new technologies, but the U.S. recently faced the worst two-year increase in motor vehicle deaths in more than 50 years. Data from the National Safety Council shows more than 18,000 people in the U.S. died in motor vehicle crashes during that period through June this year and that 2.1 million people were seriously injured.

Distracted driving is thought to be one of the leading causes for the rise in vehicle accidents nationwide. Marijuana-impaired driving also is one of the many factors believed to be contributing to the increase in auto crash frequency, particularly as more states liberalize their marijuana laws.

Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize recreational marijuana for adults age 21 and older. Retail sales began in early 2014 in Colorado.

The HLDI analysis compared data from neighboring states before and after the change in Colorado’s marijuana law.

“The combined-state analysis shows that the first three states to legalize recreational marijuana have experienced more crashes,” said Matt Moore, senior vice president of HLDI.

Colorado saw the biggest estimated increase in claim frequency compared with its control states. After retail marijuana sales began in Colorado, the increase in collision claim frequency was 14 percent higher than in nearby Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming.

Washington’s estimated increase in claim frequency was 6 percent higher than in Montana and Idaho, and Oregon’s estimated increase in claim frequency was 4 percent higher than in Idaho, Montana and Nevada.

“The combined effect for the three states was smaller but still significant at 3 percent,” Moore said.

In addition to Colorado, Oregon and Washington, five other states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for all uses, and 21 states have comprehensive medical marijuana programs as of June. An additional 17 states permit limited access for medical use. Marijuana is still an illegal controlled substance under federal law.

“Worry that legalized marijuana is increasing crash rates isn’t misplaced,” said David Zuby, executive vice president and chief research officer of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “HLDI’s findings on the early experience of Colorado, Oregon and Washington should give other states eyeing legalization pause.”

Matt Genova is the Personal Lines manager at CCIG. Reach him at or 720-330-7936.

CCIG is a Denver-area insurance brokerage with the full-service capabilities of a national brokerage. We do more than make sure you have the right policy. We also help you manage your long-term cost of insurance with our risk and claims management expertise and a commitment to service excellence.

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