Harm in the High Way: Pedestrian fatalities jump in states with legalized pot
States with legalized pot have seen a troubling increase in car crashes killing pedestrians, highway researchers say, bolstering concerns in Massachusetts that the new marijuana law could mean more dangerous streets here.
Taken together, seven states and Washington, D.C. — all with legalized weed — saw a combined 16 percent jump in pedestrian deaths in the first half of 2017, while the other 43 states recorded an overall 6 percent decrease, according to a study released yesterday by the Governors Highway Safety Association.
The pot states — Massachusetts, Alaska, Colorado, D.C., Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — had a total of 30 more pedestrian fatalities during the first half of 2017 than the first half of 2016. While included in the legalization states, Massachusetts’ pedestrian deaths decreased by one to 33, and Maine’s number was flat.
The report’s authors — who also cited smartphone use as a factor — cautioned that their findings don’t show a definitive link between pot and pedestrian deaths but said the increase “provides an early look at potential traffic safety implications of increased access to recreational marijuana for drivers and pedestrians.”
Massachusetts has a high-profile pot-related road death case pending. David Njuguna is charged with motor vehicle homicide while under the influence of marijuana in the death of State Trooper Thomas Clardy. Prosecutors say Njuguna had bought four joints at a Brookline medical marijuana facility an hour earlier and had pot in his system when his car crossed several lanes and struck Clardy’s stopped cruiser.
Marijuana has been shown in studies to slow reaction time, degrade critical thinking skills and impair balance, among other effects that could make stoned drivers a threat to pedestrians, bicyclists and other drivers. Critics have noted, in contrast to alcohol and breath-testing devices, that police lack tools to specifically measure