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The impact of marijuana reform on road safety in Colorado

The recreational use of marijuana has been legal in Colorado since 2012, which has given researchers plenty of time to find out how rolling back drug prohibitions affect road safety. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health in August 2017 found that marijuana legalization had not led to a surge in traffic accident fatalities in Colorado, but researchers from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety say that the number of accidents in the state has increased significantly.

IIHS researchers compared automobile insurance collision claims in Colorado with claims made by motorists in three states where recreational marijuana remains illegal. Factors such as age, weather and location were taken into account when the figured were tallied according to the researchers. After studying data collected between 2012 and 2017, the researchers found that collision claims in Colorado were 5.3 percent higher than they were in Nebraska, 5.7 percent higher than they were in Wyoming and 18.9 percent higher than they were in Utah.

Increased accident numbers without a corresponding rise in fatalities may suggest that marijuana-impaired drivers crash more often but at lower speeds than motorists intoxicated by alcohol. The problem is a thorny one for law enforcement because the science linking THC levels to impairment is imprecise and police officers in the field have no reliable way to determine whether or not a motorist who tests positive for the drug is fit to drive.

Marijuana impairment is challenging to prosecutors because intoxication must be proved beyond reasonable doubt in DUI cases, but the standard of proof is not as strict in civil court. When advocating on behalf of car accident victims, experienced personal injury attorneys must only establish that their arguments are supported by the preponderance of the evidence. This is done by convincing a jury that they are more likely true than false.

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