Underage Students Think Stoned Driving Is Safe

Many Have Driven High on Marijuana, Study Finds

Many Have Driven High on Marijuana
Smoking Weed and Driving Is Dangerous. © Getty Images

One of the main hurdles in trying to prevent stoned driving is the fact that most of the people who are driving while smoking marijuana simply do not believe it is a problem.

Although most young people have gotten the message that drinking and driving is dangerous, many in that age group think driving under the influence of marijuana is safe. Driving while stoned is common among marijuana-using college students, as is riding with a driver who has been using marijuana.

Marijuana Is Not Totally Safe

Consequently, injury prevention advocates believe society needs to do a better job of combatting the belief that marijuana use is totally safe and the growing threat that drugged driving has become in the United States.

In a study conducted by researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences and University of Washington pediatrics department found a high prevalence of driving under the influence of marijuana, as well as riding with a driver who was using marijuana.

Underage Driving and Riding Stoned

The survey found that 44% of underage college males and 9% of underage college females admitted to getting behind the wheel of a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana.

The study also revealed that 51% of males and 35% of females rode as a passenger in a car in which the driver was using marijuana.

The attitude that smoking weed and driving is no big deal persists although studies show that smoking marijuana can affect a person's driving skills in many ways and there is previous research that indicates that using marijuana can double the risk of being involved in a fatal accident.

Attitudes Toward Drugged Driving Are Dangerous

For these reasons, lead author, Jennifer Whitehill, is concerned about the general attitude among young people that driving while using marijuana is not dangerous.

"There seems to be a misconception that marijuana use is totally safe, but as an injury prevention researcher I dispute that," said Whitehill in a news release.

"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 7 percent engage in that behavior." >p>"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," she said.

Young, Stoned and Inexperienced Drivers

The public health threat is particularly high for young drivers, because the effects of marijuana on their driving skills is combined with their general inexperience behind the wheel.

"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.

Risks Increase for Drinking, Smoking and Driving

The risks are even greater for those young people who use marijuana and drink alcohol. Whitehill's study found that 30% of males and 13% of females used marijuana in the 28 days prior to the survey, but 67% of males and 64% of females reported drinking alcohol during the same time period.

Overall, the survey found that 23% of underage college men and 9% of women admitted using both marijuana and alcohol in the past month.

Changing the Social Norms Again

The researchers believe changing the attitudes about smoking marijuana and driving will require a massive effort aimed at changing the very social norms of a generation, as was needed in drunken driving prevention efforts.

"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," Whitehill said.


National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "Drugs and Human Performance Fact Sheets: Cannabis / Marijuana." March 2004

Whitehill, JM, et al. "Marijuana-Using Drivers, Alcohol-Using Drivers, and Their Passengers - Prevalence and Risk Factors Among Underage College Students." JAMA Pediatrics 12 May 2014.

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