Study ties legal pot to increase in car crashes

Study claims a 3% increase in crashes since legal pot sales started

A man smokes a marijuana joint at a party celebrating weed Wednesday, April 20, 2016, in Seattle. Fans of the drug have long marked April 20 as a day to roll weed or munch on pot-laced brownies, and call for increased legal access to it. This year's celebrations throughout the U.S. come amid loosening of marijuana restrictions and increasing tolerance for the plant's use from Alaska to Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A recent study by the Highway Loss Data Institute said high car crash claims in Oregon, Colorado and Washington are on the rise since recreation marijuana sales started — but legal marijuana advocates question whether those findings are accurate.

The study compared crash frequency before and after legalization and, using neighboring states as controls, found a nearly 3% increase.

According to PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company, insurance premiums in Oregon and elsewhere are going up for a number of reasons, including lower gas prices, more cars on the road, distracted driving and other impaired driving.

Kenton Brine, President of the NW Insurance Council, said the results in the 3 states with legal pot were surprisingly higher.

“In Colorado about a 14% increase, in Washington a 6% increase and about a 4% increase in unanticipated crashes in the state of Oregon,” he said. “It’s not particularly surprising that if you increase you know, broad access to a drug that impairs driving ability that you’re going to see a corresponding increase in more auto crashes.”

Brine said it’s a trend “and insurers obviously look at trends as part of the process for underwriting policies. But that trend can shift over time.”

Brine said they are numbers to pay attention to, but numbers of crashes related to distracted driving are “far more startling.”

Because the HLDA study uses overall crash frequency, not just crashes caused by impaired driving, recreational marijuana advocates argue the results of the study aren’t conclusive in proving marijuana is the cause.

“Using rural states like Wyoming and Idaho and Montana as controlled states doesn’t really add up because they don’t have a population center as dense as Portland, Seattle and Denver,” recreational marijuana advocate Anthony Johnson said.

He agrees that it’s something to look at, but there’s more to the issue.

“I think that if Oregonians and other states looking to legalize cannabis see the whole picture they’ll see that regulating, legalizing and taxing cannabis is a better policy than prohibition,” Johnson said.

Insurance companies say alcohol is still the biggest source of impaired driving crashes.