College Students Ride, Drive After Marijuana Use At An Alarming Rate
May 13, 2014

College Students Ride, Drive After Marijuana Use At An Alarming Rate

Gerard LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

In a recent study, 640 incoming freshmen were approached at the University of Washington and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, about using marijuana and/or drinking alcohol before driving or riding in a vehicle within the previous 28 days. Of them, 338 agreed to participate in the study.

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences (SPHHS) and the University of Washington pediatrics department. Jennifer Whitehill of Umass Amherst led the study.

The study revealed that 30 percent of males and 13 percent of the females surveyed used marijuana and 67 percent of the males and 64 percent of the females drank alcohol. Additionally, 23 percent of males and nine percent of females used both alcohol and marijuana.

Forty four percent of males said they drove after using marijuana, as did nine percent of females. Of the students who were passengers with the driver who had used the drug, 51 percent were male and 35 percent were female. Whitehill concluded that the findings represent the myth that driving after marijuana use is safe.

The researchers are encouraging the development of strategies to change this and suggest having a designated driver not only for someone who has drank alcohol, but for anyone who has used marijuana as well.

“There seems to be a misconception that marijuana use is totally safe, but as an injury prevention researcher I dispute that. We've done a good job in public health with messages about the risks of driving after alcohol use. Clearly the idea not to drink and drive has come through for these students, because we found only seven percent engage in that behavior. But our study suggests we must do better when it comes to marijuana, since we found that 31 percent of marijuana-using students drive under its influence,” Whitehill says.

“What I feel is, let's create a culture where we don't engage in any of these risk enhancing behaviors before we get behind the wheel,” added the health policy professor.

“The issue of marijuana-impaired driving is particularly salient for young drivers, for whom the combination of inexperience and substance use elevates crash risk. If they are part of a culture that accepts the behavior, their risks increase at a predictable rate that we understand better now," Whitehill says concerning drug-impaired driving.

“Our findings are consistent with common knowledge and anecdotes indicating that students drive after using marijuana. And it wasn't surprising to find that more men in particular drive after using marijuana compared to women. But our study quantifies the prevalence, which is useful in setting priorities for public health action. We also quantified the likelihood that someone will ride as a passenger with a driver who has used marijuana, and how much it rises with the proportion of their friends who use marijuana,” Whitehill said.

According to the authors of the study, “despite the limitations of our study, our findings are an important and timely contribution to the literature on older adolescents driving after drug use. They supplement our knowledge that marijuana use increases the risk of motor vehicle crashes by estimating how common it is for underage students to have taken this risk within the past 28 days.”

“Of particular interest, although a higher proportion of students had drunk alcohol in the past month, rates of driving were much lower after drinking than after marijuana use. Study findings speak to the changing nature of impaired driving and bring needed attention to the issue of marijuana use before getting behind the wheel. Besides legislation, much work remains to be done to change social norms regarding the acceptability of using marijuana in the context of driving. Key to this goal is the increased education and awareness of varying stakeholders in public health, transportation and justice, as well as the general public, particularly young persons, among whom misconceptions about the impairing effects of marijuana on driving are common,” Mark Asbridge, PhD, of Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, Canada, writes in a related article.