|Drug-Impaired Driving by Youth Remains Serious
Nearly a third of high school seniors say they
have driven while "under the influence" or been in
the car with an impaired driver.
Large numbers of American adolescents are putting themselves and
others at great risk by driving while under the influence of illicit
drugs or alcohol, according to a study funded by the National Institute
on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health
(NIH). In 2006, 30 percent of high school seniors reported driving
after drinking heavily or using drugs, or riding in a car whose
driver had been drinking heavily or using drugs, at least once
in the prior two weeks. These findings are based on data obtained
from the Monitoring the Future study, in which nationally representative
samples of high school seniors have been surveyed annually since
1975. The data analysis is published in the November issue of the Journal
of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
"These findings are another wake-up call that we cannot afford
to be complacent about this great public health risk," said
Elias A. Zerhouni, NIH director. "This study shows that not
only are too many teens putting themselves and others at risk by
driving under the influence of drugs, but that there has been little
improvement in the past six years."
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. Patrick O'Malley, the lead author of the study, observes that, "Driving
under the influence is not an alcohol-only problem. In 2006, 13
percent of seniors said they drove after using marijuana while
ten percent said they drove after having five or more drinks."
"Most teens are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving,
yet many ignore it. And many don't seem to recognize the dangers
of driving after using illicit drugs, including marijuana." said
Dr. Nora Volkow, NIDA director. "Educational efforts need
to be targeted to include the dangers of both drinking and drugged
To inform prevention efforts, the researchers also sought to examine
what demographic and lifestyle characteristics were associated
with these behaviors. For example, males were more likely than
females to drive after heavy drinking or marijuana use. And although
there was little correlation between impaired driving and socioeconomic
status or geographic region, individual lifestyle factors such
as high religiosity, good grades, low truancy, or having two parents
living at home were all associated with a lower likelihood of engaging
in risky driving behaviors. For example, only 20 percent of those
students with an A or A- GPA exposed themselves to these situations
as opposed to almost 39 percent with a GPA of B- or below.
"Vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among those
aged 15 to 20," added Dr. Volkow. "Combining the lack
of driving experience among teens with the use of marijuana and/or
other substances that impair cognitive and motor abilities can
be a deadly combination."
The National Institute on Drug Abuse is a component of the National
Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
NIDA supports most of the world's research on the health aspects
of drug abuse and addiction. The Institute carries out a large
variety of programs to inform policy and improve practice. Fact
sheets on the health effects of drugs of abuse and information
on NIDA research and other activities can be found on the NIDA
home page at www.drugabuse.gov.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's
Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and
Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting
and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research,
and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both
common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and
its programs, visit www.nih.gov.