Researchers at Kansas State University just wrapped up a panel study of marijuana legalization and road safety in the United States. And after analyzing traffic data spanning more than two decades, researches came to one conclusion: marijuana legalization doesn’t increase traffic deaths. The results of the study send a clear message to policy makers and the public that legal weed doesn’t pose a mortal threat to safety on the road.
Study Finds Legal Weed Is Not a Predictor of Traffic Fatalities
Across the U.S. and Canada, one of the most common anti-cannabis talking points has been the fear that legal weed would turn America’s highways and byways into meatgrinders of mayhem and carnage. Despite scant evidence supporting this view, opponents of legalization have kept their foot on the gas, claiming that legalization threatens traffic safety and leads inevitably to an uptick in drug-impaired driving. The pressure has been so constant, that even in weed-legal states, opponents have won numerous concessions in the form of “zero tolerance” policies and massive public investment in awareness campaigns, police training and detection equipment. Even supporters of legalization seemed to agree with the logic of legal marijuana causing problems on the road.
But every time researchers have taken a close look at the issue, they’ve been unable to find any real connection between legal weed and increased traffic accidents and fatalities. In Canada, for example, police saw no uptick in traffic incidents involving cannabis-impaired drivers in the months after legalization last October. And in places where traffic fatalities increased, like in Colorado, officials could not definitively attribute the situation to legal cannabis.
Part of the reason it’s so difficult to answer this question is that there just isn’t much data available. But that hasn’t prevented opponents of marijuana reform from insisting on the risks legalization poses to traffic safety. Even without hard data, it just seemed like common sense.
Thanks to the new panel study from researchers at Kansas Sate University, however, there’s hard data supporting the opposite view. Marijuana legalization doesn’t cause more traffic fatalities, as 23 years worth of data demonstrates.
Recent Nationwide Uptick in Traffic Fatalities Not a Result of Marijuana Legalization
After two years of sharp increases, the number of people dying each year in traffic collisions is beginning to level off. But still, about 40,000 people are dying on the road each year in the U.S. Experts with the National Safety Council say the uptick coincides with an increase in vehicle miles traveled. But they also acknowledged other factors, like texting, distracted driving, failure to wear seat belts and drug and alcohol impairment.
Amid these rising numbers, then, marijuana has been a convenient scapegoat. But KSU researchers say not so fast. Taking 23 years of state traffic data and data about the contemporaneous legal status of both medical and adult-use cannabis, researchers looked for a connection.
What they found was that the legalization of medical use or adult use doesn’t predict the number of fatalities per 100,000 vehicle-miles traveled. And they reached that result using two different statistical models. “According to the models, the recent upward trend of traffic fatality rates nationwide is not a result of medical marijuana legalization,” the study concluded.