Collision claims in states that have legalized recreational marijuana have increased by as much as 6% from January 2012 through October 2017, according to new research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).
HLDI analysts estimate that the frequency of crash claims per insured vehicle year rose a combined 6% following the start of retail sales of recreational marijuana in Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, compared with the control states of Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming.
“The new IIHS-HLDI research on marijuana and crashes indicates that legalizing marijuana for all uses is having a negative impact on the safety of our roads,” says IIHS-HLDI president David Harkey. “States exploring legalizing marijuana should consider this effect on highway safety.”
Nat Wienecke, senior vice president for federal government relations at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCIAA), described the data coming out of states like Colorado as “really frightening.” He said: “Road accidents are up, the homeless rate is up, vagrancy is up – all sorts of social issues have evolved in Colorado since the state legalized cannabis for recreational-use.”
While the PCIAA doesn’t take a stance on larger social policy issues like the national legalization of marijuana, the association does have a keen interest in ensuring the safety of American roads and work places. As more and more states consider legalizing cannabis for recreational-use, the PCIAA is working with the federal government and pushing for more research by the Department of Transportation into finding an impairment standard for the use of marijuana.
“The science behind this is very challenging,” Wienecke told Insurance Business. “Marijuana is not like alcohol, where you can easily detect a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher. With THC and the other compounds in marijuana, the science is not at all settled. Reactions depend upon body size, body type, the frequency with which you use marijuana and so on. So, someone could have a higher level of THC in their blood and essentially be fine, whereas a first-time smoker could be severely impaired.
“Figuring out how to determine whether or not someone should get behind the wheel of a car or enter a workplace environment after using cannabis is a very challenging scientific question. At PCIAA, we’re starting to have conversations with policymakers on whether or not the US and the individual states should adopt a pro se standard of source [where people police their own behaviors]. When you lack a scientific blood standard for society, do we need to come up with a norm? For example, if you’ve smoked marijuana within X hours, you should not drive or go to work, especially if you deal with heavy machinery and those sorts of things.”
In lieu of having a specific measurable blood concentration level, there are things insurance firms can be doing to mitigate cannabis-related risks for their clients, according to Weinecke. Lots of education tools exist that coach people about the dangers of impaired-driving and there are also tools and advice insurers can give to employers to ensure they manage safe workplaces.
“The good news is that people are starting to focus,” said Weinecke. “Change doesn’t happen overnight. If we agreed on a standard today, it could be years until states enact laws on it, so time is of the essence.”