One in five teen drivers surveyed in a recent poll has admitted to driving under the influence of marijuana, according to a recent study by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). And many of these teenagers don't seem to think driving while high is a big deal. Thirty-six percent of teens who have driven high say marijuana doesn't distract them from driving, the report continues.
But marijuana does seem to affect drivers. Pot is the most common illegal drug found in drivers who die in car accidents, according to "Marijuana: Facts for Teens," a booklet published in 2001 and most recently revised in March 2011 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
"Marijuana affects a number of skills required for safe driving—alertness, concentration, coordination, and reaction time—so it's not safe to drive high or to ride with someone who's been smoking [pot]," the NIDA booklet continues. High drivers have a hard time judging distances and reacting to signals and sounds, NIDA adds.
[Read how teen drug use is up since 2008.]
Driving high is a growing trend among teens, according to Liberty Mutual and SADD, and it's not hard for teens to find the materials to get high in the first place.
"Marijuana has remained a highly accessible drug," states the "2011 Monitoring the Future" report, conducted by NIDA and the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Sixty-eight percent of 10th graders and 82 percent of high school seniors surveyed said they could get pot fairly easily if they wanted some, the report says.
If a teenager obtains marijuana, gets high, and then jumps behind the wheel of a car, it's often up to the passenger to speak up. With drunk drivers, 87 percent of teen passengers reported to Liberty Mutual and SADD that they would ask the drunk person to refrain from getting behind the wheel.
[Compare the perception and reality of driving drunk on prom night.]
However, teens are less likely to voice their concerns to a driver who's under the influence of marijuana. Seventy-two percent of teen passengers would speak up to a high driver, according to the report by Liberty Mutual and SADD.
But confronting a driver under the influence of marijuana could be lifesaving. Most teen drivers (90 percent) reported to Liberty Mutual and SADD that they would stop driving high if asked by their passengers.
Finding the words and courage to confront a high driver can be hard for a teen, and the report by Liberty Mutual and SADD notes that women are more likely to do so than men. Parents, teachers, and others should be open to the discussion of drugs, said Liberty Mutual driving expert Dave Melton in the report. Specifically, adults and teens can practice scenarios in which a teen must confront a high driver.
"It's our job as mentors, parents, role models, or friends to effectively communicate with [teens] to ensure they are armed with the right information and aware of the dangers of marijuana and other substances," Melton said in the report. "Especially while driving."