Stoned teen drivers endangering roadways

As we approach the end of the school year, there will be many graduation celebrations and end-of-the-year parties in our communities.While we continue to be concerned about drunk and distracted driving, lesser attention is given to a large and growing body of research showing that marijuana impaired driving is also a major cause of crashes, injuries and deaths. And even more alarming is the increasing numbers of teens driving while under the influence of marijuana.

A few weeks ago, the results of a survey conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) found that 19 percent of teen drivers said they have driven under the influence of marijuana. In fact, according to the survey, more teens are driving after smoking marijuana than after drinking, with only 13 percent of teens surveyed reporting they had driven after drinking.

The survey also found that more than one-third of the teens who have driven after using marijuana report they think the drug does not affect their driving. This new revelation is cause for great concern and should sound the alarm to parents, teachers, and public health officials that we need to do a better job at educating our teens about the dangers and harmfulness of marijuana use. Reports from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found marijuana use has serious psychological and physiological effects.

According to a review called “Marijuana Use and Motor Vehicle Crashes” by Columbia University researchers concluded that drivers who test positive for marijuana or report driving within three hours of marijuana use are more than twice as likely as other drivers to be involved in a crash.

These studies, along with many others, conclude driving under the influence of marijuana is extremely dangerous. If teens continue underestimating the importance of sober driving we are failing them and the innocent public who may be involved in a tragic crash. San Diego County is not immune from this growing public health and safety epidemic. Similar to the Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD survey, the 2011 California Health Kids Survey (CHKS) documented increased marijuana use for ninth graders and decreased perception of its harmfulness.

In North County, the CHKS found more ninth graders are smoking pot than tobacco. While tobacco prevention has received healthy funds to reduce smoking, funding to prevent pot use severely lags behind in comparison. We also can’t discount the proliferation of pot shops between 2009 and 2011 and constant messages from the pro-pot campaign that marijuana use is benign and even healthy.

In our local papers we are reading more and more about tragic situations, where a driver under the influence of marijuana has caused serious injuries and/or death to themselves and others. Encinitas Sheriff Captain Sheri Sarro warns, “we’ve become increasingly concerned with the number of young drivers found to be under the influence of pot and other drugs. We need to prioritize prevention of drugged driving right there with drunk driving, because it’s a threatening problem to public safety.”

On a positive note, the problem of driving under the influence of not only alcohol alone, but now also drugs, has received much needed national attention. In 2010 the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) identified reducing drugged driving as a national priority in the National Drug Control Strategy. And again last year ONDCP renewed its commitment to work to reduce drugged driving by 10 percent over the next five years. We applaud this effort, as only an aggressive multi-pronged media, marketing, parent and teen education, and law-enforcement campaign to reduce driving under the influence of marijuana will help make safer roadways for all travelers.

Joe Olesky and Tiffany Findell, READI Program Directors,

San Dieguito Union High School District



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