March 29, 2018
Topics: Addiction & Substance Use
Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.
We all remember this slogan.
It was coined at the launch of the Drunk Driving Campaign.
Since then, awareness of the serious risks of driving under the influence of alcohol are well known. And there have been significant changes in driving behavior. The many ad campaigns, prevention efforts, public education initiatives through national organizations and media, research on Driving Under the Influence (DUI), and legal and insurance penalties have all resulted in a decrease in mixing alcohol and use of motor vehicles. And more good news, according to the AdCouncil, nearly 70 percent of adults have tried to stop friends from driving drunk.
This is not to say that we don’t still have a way to go. We do. Plenty of people drive while under the influence of alcohol, and many folks still die on the roads, as a result.
But a new problem is on the horizon – one that no one previously expected. Marijuana is now legal for medical purposes in 29 states and in Washington, D.C. It is legal for recreational use in 9 states plus Washington, D.C.
What does the public believe about pot’s effects on driving?
Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) conducted a new survey of 2,800 teens and 1,000 parents to better understand their perceptions of driving under the influence of marijuana, and how to prevent driving under its influence.
Here’s the scary part:
And there’s more bad news: 22% of surveyed teens admit that driving under the influence of marijuana was common among their friends.
This study and a study from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) point to a societal misunderstanding common to teens and their parents – DUI of marijuana isn’t dangerous. Yet evidence shows that marijuana impairs driving skills just like alcohol. It impairs motor coordination, judgment, and slows reaction time.
It’s really vital for parents and teens alike to understand the importance of not smoking and driving to keep everyone safe on the road. But let’s complicate the picture.
Not only are perceptions awry. The potency of marijuana is far greater than ever before. Studies of new hybrid strains, particularly of medical and now recreational marijuana are considered to be two to three times as potent as in the 1990s.
And finally, let’s consider the teenage brain. Neuroscience informs us that the brain does not fully mature until age 26. The driving behavioral forces in adolescents and young adults are the deep centers of the brain that fuel emotion and impulse. This is why teens tend to live in the moment, and can fall prey to peer pressure and get in a car with a peer who is driving under the influence. The neurons that later connect the emotional structures to the higher centers can slow things down and help them use reason, logic and consider the consequence of their actions. But this takes a long time.
So, putting it all together, we have greater potency of marijuana in the hands of teens who are not yet at capacity for making measured decisions, and compounded by parents, who themselves have serious misconceptions of the risks of marijuana.
So, what can we do?
Liberty Mutual has a Teen Driving Contract that parents can use as a conversation starter and discussion guide. Mental health professionals know that “contracts” don’t necessarily work, and this is not a legal or binding document. Rather it helps parents and teens set a mutual agreement on rules to follow when driving, and hold each other accountable for safe practices. A teen will feel valued and positive if parents, who, after all, are their most important role models are abiding by the same demands as they are.
It’s pretty clear that marijuana is increasingly becoming legal for medical and recreational purposes. While we can debate the pros and cons of this national trend, one thing is clear.
There needs to be more awareness about its effects on thinking, feeling and behaving, and, in particular how it may affect driving under the influence. This is essential for saving lives.