Columbia University performed a study on the effect that recent marijuana legalization in certain states has had on fatal car accidents within those states. The study was initially met with a great deal of skepticism, as it had to overcome the common misconception that using marijuana would not increase fatality risk for drivers at all. Now, research is showing that indeed marijuana use is linked to driving fatalities, and that the number of fatalities has increased in states that have legalized marijuana.

Results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that more than 10 million Americans drive while under the influence of some kind of drug ever year. For a long time, marijuana has been the most commonly detected substance in drivers other than alcohol, but we have lacked the information to know its effect on car crashes until recently. Drugged-driving fatalities have increased in the states that have legalized marijuana, i.e. Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Columbia University’s research involved a meta-analysis of nine studies, and concluded that drivers with marijuana in their system are more than twice as likely to get into a car accident. Just like alcohol, as the concentration of marijuana in the driver’s system increases, the likelihood of crashing increases at an exact ratio. The patterns related to concentration of the substance in the system and likelihood of an accident are actually shockingly similar between alcohol and marijuana.

Colorado in particular has seen a dramatic increase in fatal car crashes where the driver tested positive for marijuana since 2013. Since marijuana was legalized, these fatal auto accidents have more than doubled. An important note is that the person who dies isn’t necessarily the person under the influence, but could be an innocent victim.

A Flawed Argument

Marijuana legalization experts argue that distracted driving, i.e. driving while texting, making phone calls, eating, etc., kills thousands more people every year than driving under the influence of drugs. They also argue that drunk driving is also much more dangerous. Furthermore, the State of Colorado claims that there is no hard evidence to suggest that legalizing marijuana has led to more marijuana related fatal car accidents.

Whether we can establish a direct link or not, the statistics do not lie, and strongly suggest that marijuana legalization is leading to more fatal car accidents. From 2013 to 2016, fatal car accidents in Colorado increased by 40%, from 627 to 800. Of those, the number of those involving alcohol increased from 129 to 151, a 17% increase. Marijuana trends, on the other hand, skyrocketed during that time. Drivers with marijuana in their system increased by 145%, from 47 to 115.

Searching for Solutions

Even though alcohol related fatal car accidents kill more people, in Colorado and nationwide, the above data suggests that drugged-driving under the influence of marijuana is a dangerous and serious problem. We cannot ignore the problem anymore, and must accept the reality that driving under the influence of marijuana increases the risk of a fatal accident, and address it in a similar way that we do with driving under the influence of alcohol. To make a difference, there needs to be an increase in prevention campaigns and education, and making rehabilitation available to those who need it. Law enforcement must also adapt to address this growing problem. With these interventions, we can significantly reduce the number of people losing their lives to marijuana related car accidents.