Marijuana, Many Prescription Drugs Lead to Impaired Driving Chroniclers

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December is National Impaired Driving Prevention Month. You’ve probably heard all about the dangers of drunk driving, but do you know the dangers of drunk driving? Driving under the influence of over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs, marijuana, or any other mind-altering medication makes it dangerous to drive a vehicle.

Unfortunately, research indicates that the prevalence of the drug is on the rise among drivers. According to the trauma centers studied from October to December 2020, 56% of drivers involved in serious injuries or fatalities have tested positive for at least one drug.

How common is drug-impaired driving? After alcohol, marijuana is the most commonly used drug while driving. In 2020, 12.6 million people (aged 16 and over) are believed to have driven after using illicit drugs. Of that total, 11.7 million people were under the influence of marijuana. In another recent survey, 22% of teens admitted that driving with heavy marijuana use is common among their friends. 3.6 million young people between the ages of 16 and 25 admit to having driven under the influence of marijuana in the past year, according to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. These statistics are of great concern, given that drugs such as marijuana affect the way people drive, endangering drivers, their passengers and others on the road. Drugs can affect a driver’s perception, attention, balance, coordination, reaction time, and other skills they need to stay alert and safe.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk Study found that marijuana users are more likely to be involved in crashes. However, the increased risk may be due in part to the fact that marijuana users are more likely to be young men, who are generally at higher risk for accidents. Either way, research shows that marijuana slows reaction time, impairs driver focus and attention, and reduces hand-eye coordination. The THC in marijuana also interferes with a driver’s ability to multitask, an essential skill necessary for people behind the wheel.

Impaired driving can also occur after using prescription or over-the-counter medications such as cough suppressants, antihistamines, sleeping pills, and anti-anxiety medications. In some cases, even small amounts of these substances can impair driving skills by impairing perception, mental processes, attention, balance, coordination and other skills necessary for safe driving. For this reason, many prescription drugs have warning labels that advise against using machines and driving motor vehicles for a period of time after use.

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for people aged 16 to 19. PARENTS – warn your teenagers not to drive after using marijuana or other drugs, and not to get in a car with a driver who has used marijuana or other drugs! When teens’ driving inexperience is combined with the use of drugs that can affect cognitive and motor skills, the results can be tragic. Help protect your kids and your community this holiday season by helping to keep all impaired drivers off the roads.

Kelly Sickafoose is secretary of the Northeastern Regional Advisory Council of Community Anti-Drug Coalitions, Executive Director of Drug Free Adams County and Coordinator of Adams County Drug Court. She serves in an advisory capacity in LaGrange and Steuben counties. Contact her at kellys@co.adams.in.us.

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