Pubdate: Thu, 23 Feb 2012
Source: USA Today (US)
Copyright: 2012 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Author: Michelle Healy


A growing percentage of teens do not see marijuana use as a
distraction while driving, and nearly one in five (19%) say they have
gotten behind the wheel after smoking pot, a study reported Wednesday.
Thirteen percent of teens report driving under the influence of alcohol.

In the study of nearly 2,300 11th- and 12th-graders across the
country, commissioned by Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD, 70% of
teens say marijuana use is "very" or "extremely" distracting to their
driving, down from 78% in 2009.

The findings 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 adviser
for policy, research and education at SADD (Students Against
Destructive Decisions).

The trend has been reflected elsewhere. In December, the University of
Michigan's "Monitoring the Future" study of 47,000 eighth-, 10th- and
12th-graders found that marijuana use rose in 2011 for the fourth
straight year and that daily use was at a 30-year peak level among
high school seniors.

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. Nearly one in five (19%) say
alcohol is no distraction.

In talking with teenagers around the country, "we hear from young
people who believe that marijuana actually makes them a safer driver,
that they concentrate harder, drive slower," Wallace says. Those are
all misconceptions, he says, adding that "marijuana affects memory,
judgment, and perception" and can lead to poor decisions when behind
the wheel.

The study highlights the need "to get the message out about the
dangers of marijuana impairment," says Tom Hedrick of The Partnership
at, an advocacy group that was not involved in the study.
"It's a wake-up call for parents about the importance of having this
conversation" with their teens.

Friends and peers also play a role in getting teens to make safer
driving choices, Wallace says. He notes that 72% of teen passengers
said they would speak up and ask a driver who used marijuana to not
drive; 87% would ask a driver who had been drinking. Says Wallace,
"We've got to empower passengers to speak up." 
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