Some teens, parents think mixing pot and driving is OK

November 21, 2017

Although a majority of teens recognize that impaired driving is dangerous, roughly a third of teens and a quarter of parents of licensed teen drivers think it is legal to drive under the influence of marijuana in states that permit recreational use of the drug for adults, a survey by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) found.

Eighty-eight percent of the 2,800 high schoolers surveyed and 93 percent of the 1,000 parents surveyed agreed that alcohol-impaired driving is dangerous, while 68 percent of teens and 76 percent of parents said that driving under the influence of marijuana is risky.

The nationwide survey, conducted during April and May 2017, points to the need to better educate teens and their parents about how marijuana affects driving, Liberty Mutual and SADD say.

A 2016 IIHS survey of drivers 18 and older found similar attitudes about marijuana use. Nationally, driving after using marijuana wasn't perceived as negatively as driving after consuming alcohol.

"Impairment of any kind is a significant problem on the road," says David Zuby, the Institute's executive vice president and chief research officer. "Whether someone is impaired by alcohol, marijuana or other drugs, they should not be behind the wheel."

Among the teens surveyed, 22 percent said that driving under the influence of marijuana is common among their friends.

"Starting a dialogue early and engaging teens about the dangers of driving high before they have their license can be an effective way to reinforce the message prior to getting behind the wheel," says Dr. Gene Beresin, senior adviser on adolescent psychiatry with SADD.

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The growing state legalization of marijuana for recreational use points to the need to better educate teenagers and their parents that just like alcohol, marijuana and driving shouldn't mix. Twenty-two percent of licensed teen drivers surveyed by Liberty Mutual and SADD said driving under the influence of marijuana is common among their peers. Alcohol is viewed as a bigger risk than pot when it comes to impaired driving.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have per se laws making it a crime to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above a specified level, currently 0.08 percent (0.08 g alcohol per 100 ml blood). Utah passed a law in March 2017 making it a crime to drive with a BAC of 0.05 percent or above. The law will take effect on Dec. 30, 2018. All states and D.C. have drug-impaired driving laws, too, but the specific provisions for marijuana and other drugs differ. Eighteen states have zero tolerance or non-zero per se laws for THC or a metabolite, according to information compiled by the Governors Highway Safety Association. THC, or Tetrahydrocannabinol, is the primary psychoactive component of cannabis.

Research shows that legalizing recreational use of marijuana is associated with more crashes. A 2017 analysis by the Highway Loss Data Institute found that insurance claim rates under collision coverage rose about 3 percent overall after recreational marijuana sales began in Colorado, Oregon and Washington, the first three states to permit recreational use of the drug for adults 21 and older (see "Legalizing recreational marijuana is linked to increased crashes," June 22, 2017).

Support for legalizing recreational marijuana use nationwide is at a record high and gaining ground. In an October Gallup poll, 64 percent of Americans surveyed said marijuana use should be legal, up from 60 percent in 2016. A majority of Americans have consistently supported legalizing marijuana since 2013, the polling firm says.

Eight states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for all uses, and an additional 21 states have comprehensive medical marijuana programs as of November. An additional 17 states permit limited access for medical use.

Read more about the Teen Driving Study on the Liberty Mutual site.

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