Drug Impaired Driving by Youth Remains To be a Problem

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AKINSO: It’s a frightening statistic. Nearly a third of all high school seniors have driven while “under the influence” or have been in a car with an impaired driver according to a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  In 2006, 30 percent of high school seniors reported driving after drinking heavily or using drugs, or riding in a car in which the driver had been doing either, at least once in the prior two weeks. Dr. Timothy Condon, Deputy Director of NIDA, discusses the findings.

CONDON: Well some of the interesting things, one was the fact that this was such a strikingly high number that I was a little surprised that as many students were actually smoking marijuana or using illicit drugs and getting behind the wheel of automobiles. Also, I was pretty surprised that our high school seniors actually getting into a car with drivers known to be consuming alcohol and using illicit drugs. That was a pretty big surprise to me.

AKINSO: Although there was some progress between 2001 and 2003, with rates declining from 35 to 31 percent, between 2004 to 2006 rates leveled off at just under 30 percent. Dr. Condon suggests some solutions to curb this disturbing trend.

CONDON: Well one of the issues, I think affecting our young people in particular is that we don’t have enough technology to do a lot of monitoring about people driving under the influence of marijuana and illicit drugs. It’s not quite as far along as we have technology to assess whether people impaired by alcohol because we have breathalyzer tests and those sorts of things for alcohol. We don’t have similar technology at this point for marijuana and for other drugs of abuse. And so I think this has actually perhaps given young people a false sense of this isn’t as important as alcohol. We need to do a better job of understanding how many people are in fact using illicit drugs getting behind the wheels of automobiles because we know for example in particular marijuana effects hand-eye coordination. It effects response time. It effects perception and you certainly don’t want somebody who’s impaired with that drug getting behind the automobile.

AKINSO: According to Dr. Condon vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 20. He also said the lack of driving experience among teens, combined with the use of alcohol, marijuana and other substances that impair cognitive and motor abilities can have deadly results. This is Wally Akinso at the National Institutes of Health Bethesda, Maryland.