A Lawrence County family of five, including a 6-month-old baby, was recently rushed to the hospital after a local 19-year-old ran a stop sign and struck their minivan, sending it rolling into the front yard of a nearby home. The teenage driver admitted to smoking marijuana earlier that night and now faces criminal charges and jail time.
According to a recently published study, this car accident reflects an alarming trend occurring on a national scale in teenagers' misperceptions about the dangers of marijuana. Researchers say that an increased number of high school seniors get into cars after smoking pot, or with someone who has been smoking pot.
An estimated 28 percent of high school seniors reported riding in a car in the past two weeks with a driver who has used drugs or alcohol, or said they had driven after using drugs or alcohol themselves, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. This is an increase from previous years: Researchers found that driving after smoking marijuana has increased from 10 percent in 2008 to 12 percent in 2011.
Researchers maintain that a higher percentage of students reported driving after using marijuana than after having five or more alcoholic drinks. This could indicate students feel that marijuana does not impair their driving abilities as much as drinking alcohol.
This presents problems to law enforcement officials because, unlike alcohol, which can be measured with portable tests performed on the road, finding the level of marijuana in a driver's system is far more difficult. This is likely to become an important issue should the trend of teenagers driving under the influence of marijuana continue to increase.
Researchers obtained data through confidential questionnaires completed by 17,000 high school seniors nationwide, and maintain that this behavior did not differ based on geographic location. Thus, the relaxed attitude towards driving under the influence of marijuana does not vary between high school seniors in states with less stringent marijuana laws and is "fairly widespread throughout society" the researchers reported.