According to a University of Massachusetts at Amherst study recently published in JAMA Pediatrics, college students are more likely to drink alcohol than smoke marijuana. However, the study results also reveal that college students are more likely to drive after smoking than after drinking.
Researchers asked 315 college freshman from two universities about their drinking and smoking habits in the past 28 days, including whether or not they drove after smoking or drinking and whether or not they rode with a driver who had been smoking or drinking. While 65% of respondents reported drinking alcohol and only 20% reporting using marijuana, only about 7% said they have driven or would drive after drinking while 31% said they have driven or would drive after smoking. Students were also more likely to ride with a driver who had been smoking than a driver who had been drinking.
The study tells us a few things. First, it tells us that underage drinking and driving may be declining, depending on how honestly students responded to the survey and how common their answers are among all college students. The study results are certainly in line with data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which reveals that drunk driving fatalities among drivers under the age of 21 have decreased by 78% from 5,215 in 1982 to 1,174 in 2012.
More importantly, and more accurately, the study also tells us that impaired driving education also needs to focus on driving high. The study’s researchers suggest that college students might be more likely to drive under the influence of marijuana than alcohol because they think it’s safer. While smoking marijuana might not seem as harmful as drinking alcohol, research shows that marijuana use doubles the risk of a car crash, according to the study’s researchers. In fact, 12% of fatal crashes among 16-to-20-year-olds involved marijuana.
In response to the study, Mark Asbridge, researcher with the Community Health and Epidemiology department at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, suggests a three-pronged approach to combating the rise of driving under the influence of marijuana: education, awareness, and legislation with high enforcement. He also suggests that parents talk to kids about both alcohol and marijuana and the dangers of driving while impaired by either substance, as reported by Reuters.