Car accidents rising in states with legal marijuana

Is the legalization of recreational marijuana causing a problem on our nation's highways?

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) thinks so. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) agrees.

According to data that was recently released, the legalization of recreational marijuana in certain states, including Colorado, hasn't increased the overall number of fatal car accidents. It has, however, increased the number of minor accidents that are being attributed to marijuana use.

One study found that car accidents in states with legalized marijuana were about 6 percent more common than in states without recreational marijuana. A second study that drew its data points directly from police reports found a similar increase.

Studies of drivers impaired by marijuana indicate that marijuana dulls a driver's thinking and alters his or her perceptions. That could easily account for the increase in minor accidents since drivers have to stay alert and respond quickly to any number of events on the road.

In general, it's illegal to drive while impaired by any chemical substance -- whether that substance is legal or not. Unlike alcohol, however, there's no measurable way to determine if a driver is driving while impaired after using marijuana. There's very little research on the relationship between blood concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol -- the psychoactive element of marijuana -- to provide useful guidelines about what constitutes a "safe" or "unsafe" level of the substance in someone's system. That dearth of information makes it difficult for usable roadside tests to be developed.

In a nation where the majority of people believe that recreational marijuana should be legalized, this issue could prove troublesome in the coming years.

If you're in a car accident with another driver, make sure that you know your legal rights and understand your ability to ask for compensation for your injuries.

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