Vehicle insurance claims in the Land of Lincoln could rise as the result of legalizing marijuana if Illinois follows a trend experienced in other states that allow the sale of recreational pot.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker plans to sign legislation today allowing pot to be sold in the state starting Jan. 1, something transportation experts warn could cause safety concerns on the road.
Alyssa Connolly, director of market insights for the online insurance comparison site The Zebra, said one of the factors insurance companies study when setting insurance premiums on vehicles is related to the number of claims reported in a community. Claims can include traffic crashes or thefts.
When claims are really up, companies often implement rate increases, Connolly said.
Premiums in Illinois have been stable in recent years, she said. “That has the potential to change,” Connolly said.
In the four states that were among the first to legalize pot – Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington – crashes were up by as much as 6% compared with neighboring states without legalized recreational weed, according to analysis of collision loss data from January 2012 through October 2017 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and an October 2018 report done by the Highway Loss Data Institute.
The highway safety group also examined 2012 – 16 crashes reported to police before and after retail sales began in Colorado, Oregon and Washington and found the three states combined saw a 5.2% increase in the rate of crashes per million vehicle registrations, compared with neighboring states without legalized pot sales.
“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,” David Harkey, president of the two institutes, said in a release. “States exploring legalizing marijuana should consider this effect on highway safety.”
While crash numbers have risen, attributing the cause directly to marijuana isn’t as clear.
The IIHS-HLDI report notes many states don’t include consistent information on driver drug use in crash reports, and policies and procedures for drug testing are inconsistent.
In addition, when drivers are tested, other drugs are often found in combination with alcohol, which makes it difficult to isolate their separate effects.
A possible reason for increased number of crashes could be drivers’ perceptions of the dangers of driving high.
A report issued this month by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reveals an estimated 14.8 million drivers report getting behind the wheel within 1 hour after using marijuana in the past 30 days.
The 2019 Traffic Safety Culture Index surveyed a sample of 2,582 licensed drivers ages 16 and older who reported driving in the past 30 days.
“Marijuana can significantly alter reaction times and impair a driver’s judgment,” Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, said in a press release. “Yet many drivers don’t consider marijuana-impaired driving as risky as other behaviors like driving drunk or talking on the phone while driving.”
In the AAA Foundation survey, more than 13% of Americans viewed driving within an hour after using marijuana as only “slightly dangerous” or “not dangerous at all” – far more than other risky behaviors, like alcohol-impaired driving (1.2%), drowsy driving (1%), and prescription drug-impaired driving (2.2%).
A similar report released in April by The Zebra showed 40.9% people who smoke pot regularly in states where it’s legal say they never drive after consuming marijuana. That leaves nearly 60% who will get behind the wheel, whether they feel like they’re impaired or not.
An increase in the number of crashes in states that have legalized marijuana is not surprising to Aaron Weiner, director of addiction services for Linden Oaks Behavioral Health in Naperville.
Weiner said studies show marijuana can slow a driver’s reaction time and decision-making and can impair lateral coordination and distort perception.