Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Traffic deaths are lower as people get higher

Ever since states started legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes people have been arguing about the effects on traffic fatalities. Will there be a positive correlation with marijuana use and traffic deaths, negative correlation or no correlation at all?

Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health conducted a study to answer that question. The results?

States that enacted medical marijuana laws, on average, experienced reductions in traffic fatalities, according to a press release. More specifically, those states experienced an average 11 percent decrease in traffic deaths, which were 26 percent lower compared with states that still criminalized marijuana use.

The younger crowd saw the largest decrease. Among those aged 15-24, there was an 11 percent traffic fatality reduction, there was a 12 percent decrease for those 25-44, and there was a 9 percent decrease for people 45 and older.

Researchers pointed out that between 2004 and 2013 nearly half of fatally injured drunk drivers were between the ages of 25 and 44. However, they also pointed out that at least two states, California and New Mexico, began to see a gradual increase in traffic deaths after an initial decrease of 16 percent and 17.5 percent, respectively.

As with many studies, we need to be mindful of correlation versus causation. Is it possible that those who typically drink and drive decided to replace booze with weed in states with legalized medical marijuana? It’s possible, but the study does not prove that.

Perhaps law enforcement was beefed up in localities with dispensaries, forcing people to think more than twice after knocking down a few drinks. This is consistent with the research that reveals fewer traffic deaths in areas with dispensaries.

Did increased tax revenue pay for an improved infrastructure in those states? ¯\_()_/¯

One piece of research does not prove much of anything, but it does lay down the foundation for future studies to either support or refute the findings. I’m curious to see how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration responds to this, if at all.