More Teens Driving High

Megan Brooks

September 16, 2013

More than a quarter of high school seniors in the United States get behind the wheel after smoking marijuana or drinking alcohol, or ride with a driver who has, new research shows.

The uptick in recent years in high school seniors driving after having smoked marijuana is particularly concerning, say Patrick O'Malley, PhD, and Lloyd Johnston, PhD, from the Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

"Stronger efforts are needed to combat adolescent driving under the influence of illicit drugs," the authors write.

The study was published online September 12 in the American Journal of Public Health.

In recent years, rates of drinking and driving among America's youth have declined, but they still remain "unacceptably high," and impaired driving caused by use of other substances such as marijuana has become "an issue of increasing concern," the researchers note.

The investigators analyzed recent trends in driving or riding after use of drugs or alcohol among a representative sample of 22,000 high school seniors who responded to annual surveys from 2001 to 2011.

"Perhaps our most important finding was that substantial numbers of America's high school seniors continue to put themselves and others at risk for harm," they write.

In 2011, a "disturbingly large" percentage (28%) reported driving under the influence or riding in a vehicle with a driver who had used drugs or alcohol in the past 2 weeks. However, the 2011 figure of 28% is down significantly from 2001, when it was 32%, the authors note.

Driving after use of marijuana increased in each of the last 3 years, from 10% in 2008 to 12% in 2011. "This increase is particularly concerning, in light of evidence that marijuana has been implicated in dangerous driving," they add.

A recent meta-analysis found that driving after using marijuana is associated with a significantly increased risk for a motor vehicle accident, as reported by Medscape Medical News.

These risky behaviors are "quite pervasive, occurring in all sociodemographic groups.... We hope that our presentation of timely and valid data on the extent of this problem will help focus attention on finding solutions," they conclude.

The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Am J Public Health. Published online September 12, 2013. Abstract

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