Those on both sides of the Florida medical marijuana debate are getting fired up as we near the November election.

Recently, the opposition cited a statistic that piqued the interest of our Fort Myers car accident lawyers (and of reporters at Politifact): Marijuana is a factor in 1 out of every 4 fatal crashes in the country.
rolledcigarette2The statement was promoted by advocates from Don’t Let Florida Go to Pot, which is actually a coalition of some 40 organizations, including the Florida Sheriff’s Association, fighting against the legalization of marijuana for any purpose.

However, Politifact reporters thought that number seemed high, and decided to researcher further to determine the statement’s veracity.

First, the reporters asked the coalition where the statistic was derived. The answer was a White House report from 2011 that analyzed the rate of marijuana-positive results among deceased drivers who were tested during autopsies following crashes that occurred between 2005 and 2009. Specifically, these came from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which gleaned its information from accident reports in all 50 states.

The data is problematic for a number of reasons. For one thing, there are a fair number of deadly crashes excluded. There were 127,000 fatal crashes during that time frame. Only in 78,000 were drivers (or 68 percent) both deceased and tested for drugs. Of those tested, there was a range of 22 to 26 percent of drivers who tested positive for the drug.

However, these results exclude drivers who may have been using marijuana, but survived while someone else was killed.

Additionally, there is no uniformly-recognized level of toxicity for marijuana. Just because someone tests positive for the drug doesn’t necessarily mean he or she was intoxicated. Unlike alcohol, marijuana remains in a person’s system long after use. This could mean that a positive marijuana test result had nothing to do with the cause of the crash.

Going even further, there a number of studies that have focused on marijuana and its effect on roadway safety. To start, it is widely accepted that someone under the influence of the drug is going to have a reduced reaction time and dulled cognitive responses.

However, researchers from colleges in Colorado, Montana and Oregon found that in states that passed medical marijuana laws, the total number of fatal accidents decreased, usually by 8 to 10 percent. Researchers hypothesized that more people were consuming marijuana, and there were generally more likely to be doing so at home, rather than say, at a bar, where alcohol is often consumed. This is not to say marijuana is safer for drivers, but people were less likely to get behind the wheel after smoking as compared to those who were drinking.

There is some evidence to refute this, though. A study released in May from the University of Colorado School of Medicine indicated that in crashes occurring in 35 states, marijuana was present in drivers in 10 percent of fatal accidents in 2011 – a 6.5 percent increase from the number noted in 1995.

Still, researchers have seemingly been unable thus far to establish a definitive cause-and-effect connection with regard to medical marijuana legalization and an increase in fatal crashes.

Politifact ended up rating the statement as half-true. Whether voters consider this in November remains to be seen.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

PolitiFact Florida: Fact-checking link between marijuana and fatal crashes, Aug. 10, 2014, By Josh Gillin, Tampa Bay Times

More Blog Entries:

Florida Labor Day Travel Poses Safety Risk, Aug. 30, 2014, Fort Myers Car Accident Lawyer Blog