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Has marijuana use contributed to fatal motor vehicle accidents?

Nearly everyone already knows that Colorado is one of three states that permit the recreational use marijuana. In the time since the legalization of recreational marijuana use, accidents, likely including some fatal motor vehicle accidents, have risen approximately 3 percent. A recent study appears to show a causal link between the two variables.

That study did not look specifically at fatal crashes, and it did not find a concrete link between the use of marijuana in the three states in which it is legalized. What the researchers did was compare the number of auto accident claims prior to the date that the drug was legalized in each state to the number after legalization. The data indicated that here in Colorado, the number of crashes has risen approximately 16 percent, which is much higher than the other two states involved.

Of course, the numbers could be a bit deceiving since Colorado legalized marijuana well before the states of Washington and Oregon. Since there is no definitive field sobriety test for this drug, and THC levels appeared to be accompanied by alcohol, understanding the data is problematic. More research may need to be done to fully understand whether legalization led to an increase in crashes.

Of course, for those who lost loved ones in fatal motor vehicle accidents in which a driver was accused of being high, there is no need for additional research. Making marijuana legal did not absolve users of wrongdoing or negligence when it comes to driving while high. If surviving family members are able to prove to a civil court that the negligence of a driver using marijuana caused or contributed to the death of their loved one, they could be awarded damages to help with the financial losses incurred as a result of an untimely death.

Source: CNBC, "Auto crashes are on the rise in marijuana states", Phil LeBeau, June 22, 2017

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