New data from SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) and Liberty Mutual Insurance reveal that more young people are combining marijuana and driving, placing themselves and others at risk.
Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise given that a recent Monitoring the Future study pointed out that marijuana use among 8th-to-12th graders rose in 2011 for the fourth straight year and that daily use of the drug among 12th graders is at a 30-year high.
But what may come as a surprise is that the number of teens who report driving under the influence of marijuana (19 percent) has surpassed those reporting driving under the influence of alcohol (13 percent).
Oddly, many teens don’t see that as a problem.
Indeed, more than one-third (36 percent) of teens who have driven after using marijuana say the drug presents no distraction to their driving.
Hazy logic or wishful thinking?
Regardless, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) notes that marijuana use affects alertness, concentration, perception, coordination, and reaction time—all needed for the safe operation of a motor vehicle.
But weed and cars are only part of the story. Among all Americans 12 and older who abuse or are dependent on an illegal drug, 60 percent abuse or are dependent on marijuana, according to Dr. Robert DuPont of the Institute for Behavior and Health and Former Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration Peter B. Bensinger, in a letter published in The New York Times.
In addition, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a number of studies have shown an association between chronic marijuana use and increased rates of anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia.
When it comes to impaired driving by youth, common sense suggests that if teens aren’t engaged in illegal behavior in the first place, they won’t be driving under the influence in the second.
Yet beyond issues of zero tolerance lies an enduring truth: young people themselves often hold the key to keeping their friends safe and alive. And where driving is concerned, that means when they see something they need to speak up to protect themselves and their friends.
The SADD/Liberty Mutual study reveals that friends do play a significant role, as most teen drivers say they would stop driving under the influence of marijuana (90 percent) or alcohol (94 percent) if asked by their passengers.
Thirty years ago, students at Wayland (MA) High School responded to the impaired driving crash deaths of two classmates just days apart by forming a club to protect one another. They called it SADD (Students Against Driving Drunk, now Students Against Destructive Decisions), sparking a landslide of public attention aimed at the problem of impaired driving and saving many thousands of young lives.
Their model of peer-to-peer education and intervention is not dated; it stands today as a poignant reminder of what can be accomplished when we empower our children to say something.
Stephen Wallace, associate research professor and director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) at Susquehanna University, has broad experience as a school psychologist and adolescent counselor. For more information about CARE visit www.CARESU.org.
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