Despite Marijuana Legalization, Traffic Fatalities in Colorado Continue to Fall


Last month I noted that marijuana legalization in Colorado does not seem to have interfered with a downward trend in traffic fatalities, which have been falling there since 2004. That period includes the commercialization of medical marijuana (which started to take off in 2009) and the legalization of recreational use (which took effect at the end of 2012). My former Reason colleague Radley Balko, who blogs about civil liberties and criminal justice at The Washington Post, points out that the downward trend in deadly crashes has continued since the beginning of this year, when state-licensed pot stores began serving recreational customers. According to data from the Colorado Department of Transportation, the total number of fatal crashes in the first seven months of this year was 258, down from 263 during the same period last year. Here are the monthly totals for 2014, compared to the same months in 2013:

Colorado Department of Transportation

The trend in Colorado is broadly similar to the national trend during the last decade. Balko notes that Colorado's drop since 2004 looks more dramatic when compared to miles traveled, which have continued to rise in Colorado while falling nationwide.

Does the continuing decline in fatal crashes mean that legalization is reducing fatalities by encouraging the substitution of marijuana for alcohol (which has a more dramatic impact on driving ability)? Not necessarily. In fact, from January through July the total number of alcohol-related fatalities was 91, exactly the same as the total for the first seven months of 2013:

Colorado Department of Transportation

Still, these numbers clearly are not consistent with warnings from prohibitionist groups such as Project SAM, which predicted that legalizing marijuana would mean more blood on the highways. Perhaps that grim prophecy will be realized one day, but so far it looks wrong.