Medical-marijuana laws reduce traffic deaths, according to a new study, probably because people in states with such laws partly substitute marijuana for alcohol — and alcohol is more deadly when combined with driving.
Fifteen states plus the District of Columbia have passed medical-marijuana laws since 1996. Examining National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data before and after the passage of those laws, the researchers found a nearly 9% decrease in overall traffic fatalities. (The calculations also took account of trends in neighboring states.) That decline was caused entirely, or nearly so, by a drop in alcohol related traffic deaths.
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A new study suggests that legalizing medical marijuana reduces traffic fatalities. The authors noted that legalizing marijuana reduces alcohol consumption, and people are more wary of driving high than drunk. Which drug is actually more dangerous on the road?
Alcohol, and it’s not even close. It’s hard to directly compare alcohol and marijuana, because driving impairment depends on dosage and the two drugs tend to affect different skills. (Pot makes drivers worse at mindless tasks like staying in a lane, while alcohol undermines behaviors that require more attention like yielding to pedestrians or taking note of stop signs.) Nevertheless, Yale psychiatrist Richard Sewell reviewed the academic literature on driving while intoxicated in a 2009 article, and found that alcohol is significantly more dangerous. Real-world data from auto accidents indicate that a drunk driver is approximately 10 times more likely to cause a fatal accident than a stoned driver. In most studies, smoking one-third of a joint or less has virtually no impact on a driver’s performance. A couple of studies even suggest that pot smokers are less likely to cause an accident than sober drivers.
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A groundbreaking new study shows that laws legalizing medical marijuana have resulted in a nearly nine percent drop in traffic deaths and a five percent reduction in beer sales.
"Our research suggests that the legalization of medical marijuana reduces traffic fatalities through reducing alcohol consumption by young adults," said Daniel Rees, professor of economics at the University of Colorado Denver who co-authored the study with D. Mark Anderson, assistant professor of economics at Montana State University.
The economists analyzed traffic fatalities nationwide, including the 13 states that legalized medical marijuana between 1990 and 2009. In those states, they found evidence that alcohol consumption by 20- through 29-year-olds went down, resulting in fewer deaths on the road.
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