A legal insurance research group has published a study claiming that in the years after recreational marijuana was legalized, car insurance claims went up. In Colorado, Washington and Oregon, claims went up an average of 2.7% in the years following legalization, as compared to surrounding states with no legalized marijuana. Researchers accounted for factors such as the number of vehicles on the road in the study and control states, age and gender of drivers, weather and even if the driver making a claim was employed or not. Neighboring states were used as control variables in the study.
The name of the insurance research group who conducted the study is the Highway Loss Data Institute. Claims had been in decline for over a decade and have been going up since 2013. The contributing factors to the rise in insurance claims in 2013 were mobile phones, road construction, an improved economy leading to more people on the road and, of course, marijuana legalization. Claims were examined between the years of 2012-2016.
A Surprise to Nobody
It should not really come as a surprise to anyone that legalization of marijuana will lead to an increase in car crash claims. The fact of the matter is that marijuana does make people tired and it definitely affects focus and coordination. It is the exact substance that could possibly lead to minor collisions and scratches, due to basis errors, failure to pay heed to surrounding environment many other contributing factors. All in all, marijuana makes for sloppy drivers.
But this is not suggesting that marijuana is terrible for driving statistics in states where it has been legalized. Actually, the opposite is the case. In the years following legalization of both recreational and medical marijuana, car accidents and fatalities have gone down, in all save one or two of over 30 states. The exact reason for this is unknown, but the most probable one is that when people choose marijuana as opposed to alcohol, they are less likely to crash. There is much research to suggest that marijuana is a safer drug when driving than alcohol. Stoned drivers are more aware of the fact that they are stoned and drive cautiously, while alcoholic drivers are more reckless and are more likely to get in serious crashes. Another reason put forward is that marijuana legalization reduces the number of people on opiates, who are known to be involved in a number of road fatalities.
The study does seem to raise more questions than it answers with its findings. It stands to reason that marijuana use does lead to an increase in road claims. However more research indicates that marijuana legalization actually results in less accidents, so how is it possible that marijuana legalization leads to more claims and less accidents? The findings of this research study may well be flawed. Or more likely, marijuana legalization lead to more minor incidents and claims and less serious accidents and fatalities. This stands to reason, as marijuana drivers tend to drive more cautiously on main roads but are probably prone to making silly errors when pulling out of driveways and on narrow roads. Alcohol impairment is still the biggest impairment on the road as held by insurance companies.
The bottom line may be that marijuana legalization is bad news for insurance companies. But this will simply result in an increased premium for drivers, which can be seen in states such as Oregon and other states. Colorado saw a 14% jump the year following recreational marijuana legalization.
How to Measure THC
The rise has been attributed to more cars on the road, impaired driving, distracted driving, lower gas prices and marijuana legalization. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any rea way to combat marijuana users who are over the limit. This is because there is no limit and no test. Scientists are still trying to come up with a reliable way to test for THC levels, but it is proving almost impossible due to the subjective nature of THC and how it affects everybody differently. Some states, such as Washington, have simply gone with an arbitrary figure of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood. There is no scientific basis for this figure and it can result in stoned drivers being released and sober drivers receiving a DUI. Washington simply went with a number because they knew there was no accurate way to test for THC. And this tactic might just have to be adopted by other states soon. Legalization dates are looming and researchers are no closer to finding an accurate test for THC. Which means that there is little deterrent to stoned driving and an increased chance of an accident.