Does cannabis impairment on the road hurt pedestrians?

Published Oct 6, 2020 12:00 p.m. ET
iStock / James Andrews

There has been plenty of debate over whether or not the legalization of cannabis would wreak havoc on our roads, and so far, most regions have experienced a significant drop in dangerous vehicle collisions immediately following cannabis becoming legally available. This is a great thing, and no matter which statistics you look at, that seems to be the case across the board for crimes.

Less violent crimes of all sorts seemed to be legalized, and though there is no way to prove that this shift was directly caused by the sudden access to cannabis, the evidence shows that this does appear to be the case no matter where you look. We’ve seen studies on the hazards of using cannabis and driving, and we’ve personally browsed through some of the data that proves a clear medicinal benefit, but until now, no one asked how it might have impacted pedestrians.

Cannabis and driving study – The impact on pedestrians

The United States offers a unique landscape in which to study the subject because legalization is only in effect state-wide, which means that it’s easy to compare one neighbor to another to see if there are any major differences between them and a sudden increase in pedestrian injuries sparked an interest in doing just that. One study once it was finished, found two things of importance that will require further investigation.

To assess the difference between before and after legalization researchers looked through 2019 police reports that involved pedestrians and vehicles that occurred between 2004 and 2016, a time in which the United States saw 182,278 crashes of this type. Out of all of the reports, only 1.22% indicated cannabis use, and year after year, despite the sudden access to cannabis, there was never a noticeable increase to the number of cases that mentioned drug use.

The results

All of that is basically just a fancy way of saying that the roads don’t appear to be any more dangerous now that cannabis is in the hands of legal consumers, but the researchers are quick to point out the amount of missing information in each report, many of which did not confirm or disprove that the driver was impaired by cannabis, and then there is always the problem of honesty.

The police reports that these researchers had as guidance on this study were put together by police officers, who don’t always know every detail of an incident by the time that they leave, and since the offenders are quite often in a heap of trouble by the time the cops get dragged in, it is rare that they openly and honestly give this kind of information to the investigators.

So while it seems like this is great news for cannabis enthusiasts who appear to be following all of the rules of road safety by staying away from the wheel after they’ve gotten high, the reality is that there could be far more cannabis products involved in pedestrian crashes, because it is nearly impossible to monitor this information reliably.

Mixing cannabis and driving has become socially acceptable

We share our streets with thousands of other people every single day, so road safety should be of the utmost importance to every driver, but for many, driving while high has become a way of life. This doesn’t appear to be leading to any sort of tragic circumstances yet, as our rates haven't significantly fluctuated outside of the norm in any region that’s brought in cannabis, but without that missing information, there is no way for us to know for sure.

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