If recreational marijuana is soon approved in New Jersey as expected, the highways and byways of the Garden State could get even more dangerous than they are now, some experts say.

Two new reports, one from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the other from the Highway Loss Data Institute, find in states that have recently legalized recreational pot for adults, the volume of collision claims reported to insurers and the number of crashes reported to police are higher than in neighboring states where marijuana is not legal.

“What we found is legalizing recreational use of marijuana is bad news for traffic safety,” said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

He said in the marijuana-friendly states of Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, “we see collision claims up by about 6 percent and police reported crashes up by more than 5 percent.”

“We now have accumulating evidence that legalized recreational marijuana is having a negative impact, it’s increasing crashes," he said.

He said the evidence in the past on whether marijuana affects crashes has been mixed, but with this new data the message to states like New Jersey is that “they need to consider traffic safety implication of legalizing marijuana.”

He also noted while uniform blood alcohol standards have been adopted for people operating motor vehicles, no such standards currently exist for drivers that have used marijuana.

Additionally he pointed out there are currently no simple tests police can use to even confirm whether an individual is high on pot, let alone how much marijuana they’ve smoked or consumed.

Rader said at this point what we know is crashes are up in the first states that have legalized marijuana.

“And to the extent that insurance claims are going up, that ultimately gets reflected in the cost of insurance for everybody.”

So if recreational pot becomes legal in Jersey, will your insurance premium rise, even if you don’t use it?

Not necessarily, according to Christine O’Brien, the president of the Insurance Council of New Jersey.

“Crash rates rise and fall for all sorts of reasons and premiums reflect that," she said. “Carriers are not looking preemptively at what the potential crash rates could be and adjust rates accordingly. That’s not going to happen.”

She also noted because there are so many types and levels of insurance available on the market these days, even if New Jersey does legalize marijuana and we do see a rise in the number of roadway accidents, “you may be able to pay the same or even less or more depending on the options you afford yourself.”

O’Brien pointed out there’s been a significant problem with distracted driving accidents “and we’re not seeing necessarily an across-the-board rate increase just because distractions have risen.”

In the two studies, analysts controlled for differences in driver population as well as insured vehicle fleet, and the data included a mix of urban as well as rural crash information.

Other factors that were considered in the studies included unemployment, weather and seasonality.

Legalization of recreational marijuana use is pending in New Jersey as well as New Hampshire, New York and Pennsylvania.

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