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Teen Driving: Driving on Drugs

Driving on Drugs as Common as Alcohol for Teens

Each day, more than 9,000 new driver's licenses are issued to 16- and 17-year-olds nationwide, the very same age group that is at greatest risk for marijuana use, and a recent survey reveals that these teens say that cars are the second most popular place for smoking marijuana. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is partnering with driving schools and other leading health, safety and youth-serving organizations to warn parents of the prevalence and dangers of drugged driving and to provide information to help teens "Steer Clear of Pot."

More than 2.9 million driving-age teens reported lifetime use of marijuana, and last year more than 750,000 16- and 17-year-olds reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs. According to the 2004-2005 PRIDE Surveys, when asked where they use, approximately one in seven (14%) high school seniors cited "in a car," making cars the second most popular location after at "a friend's house" (20.4%).

"Parents need to realize that drugged driving is nearly as common today among teens as alcohol-impaired driving," said John P. Walters, Director, National Drug Control Policy. "Marijuana impairs many of the skills required for safe driving, such as concentration, coordination, perception and reaction time, and these effects can last up to 24 hours after smoking the drug-It is critical that parents know the dangers associated with drugged driving and are vigilant in monitoring their teen drivers, especially young, less experienced drivers."

Monitoring the Future data shows that approximately one in six (15%) teens reported driving under the influence of marijuana, a number nearly equivalent to those who reported driving under the influence of alcohol (16%). A recent study from a large shock trauma unit found that 19 percent of automobile crash victims under age 18 tested positive for marijuana.

"Getting a driver's license is a milestone in a teen's life that goes beyond the road to symbolize independence and freedom," said Thomas "Buddy" Gleaton, Ed.D., President, PRIDE Surveys. "In the more than 20 years that PRIDE Surveys has been tracking teen drug use, teens consistently report engaging in risky behaviors in cars. Parents need to keep a watchful eye to be effective in reversing these trends."

ONDCP's National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign is providing parents and teens with information about the risks of drugged driving through a renewed "Steer Clear of Pot" initiative. The Media Campaign will underscore the harmful effects of teen marijuana use and drugged driving through the promotion of free materials, including a "New Drivers Kit" for teens and parents, available with other new content on the Media Campaign's Web site for parents,

In addition, "Steer Clear of Pot" partners will distribute drugged driving and marijuana prevention materials to driver's education teachers, teens, and parents nationwide.

"Driver's education and behind-the-wheel training are at the foundation for developing safe driving skills," said Bradley Huspek, President, Driving School Association of the Americas. "Parents and driving instructors play a critical role in educating teens about being responsible drivers and steering clear from drugs."

Experts say parental supervision and setting clear rules are associated with less risky teen behavior. A recent SADD/Liberty Mutual Group report found that nearly 60 percent of teens who drive say their parents have the most influence on their driving, followed by 27 percent who say their friends are most influential. Parents can take action and help their teen "steer clear of pot" with simple steps such as:

  • checking the car for signs of drug paraphernalia;

  • setting limits on driving in risky conditions;

  • knowing where their teen is going and what route they'll drive

  • reinforcing safe driving practices by driving together.

    Since its inception in 1998, the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign has conducted outreach to millions of parents, teens and communities to reduce and prevent teen drug use. Counting on an unprecedented blend of public and private partnerships, non-profit community service organizations, volunteerism, and youth-to-youth communications, the Campaign is designed to reach Americans of diverse backgrounds with effective anti-drug messages.