Thursday, February 12, 2015

Teen Drivers and Marijuana: A Dangerous Trend

A growing number of teen drivers don’t see smoking marijuana as a problem. A recent study found that nearly one in five (19%) admit to driving after smoking the drug. Only 13% reported driving under the influence of alcohol.

With the recent legalization of marijuana in Washington state, many teens think it’s “no big deal” to smoke a joint or eat marijuana-laced candy or brownies, since it’s only considered a recreational drug. A study of nearly 2,300 11th and 12th graders across the U.S., commissioned by Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) found that 70% of teens now say marijuana use is “very” or “extremely” distracting to their driving abilities, down from 78% in 2009.

These and other surveys reflect "A dangerous trend toward the acceptance of marijuana and other substances compared to our study of teens conducted just two years ago,” says Stephen Wallace, senior advisor for policy, research and education at SADD.

The new study's findings are disturbing "both in terms of the increased use of marijuana and from the perspective that many think this is not a danger," Wallace says.

Among teens who have driven after using marijuana, 36% say it presents no distraction when operating a vehicle. But other teens have experienced the negative effects of driving after smoking pot.

"It was the scariest thing ever." That's how 16-year-old Ashley, a high school junior in Nevada, describes her experience driving high. It was the first time she had ever smoked pot, and the friend she was with pressured her to drive home. "My vision kept going in and out, and I couldn't focus," she continues. "It was so hard, and we didn't get very far."

As 18-year-old Madelyn explains, "When you're high, you're supposed to be relaxed. But when you're driving, you technically can't be! I went numb. I wasn't sure if I was pressing the gas or the breaks or if I was moving at all. It was really intense, and the colors from the cars and the headlights were all blurring."

In fact, a recent review in medical journal BMJ found that high drivers are twice as likely to get in a serious accident than sober drivers, debunking anecdotal evidence and prior research to the contrary.

Even though marijuana is legal in Washington, if you are convicted of a DUI, whether it's from alcohol or pot, you will lose your drivers license, get fined and be sentenced to jail time. It's also on your record forever. Is it worth the risk?

Sources: USA Today, Teen Vogue, KIRO TV