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Drugged Driving Kills; Why Can’t We Stop?

DriversEd.com has released a new study on the awareness and prevalence of marijuana-impaired driving, finding that while an overwhelming number of Americans have an understanding that driving after smoking or ingesting marijuana is dangerous, one-fourth of them have admitted to doing so themselves.

According to DriversEd.com’s 2019 Cannabis and Cars Report, 58% of Americans believe that legalized recreational marijuana use leads to increased danger on roads, and 91% of Americans believe marijuana can impair a driver’s ability. Even so, 20% of drivers admit to driving after smoking marijuana, and 6% admit to driving after ingesting it.

This may come as no surprise, as 34 states, District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have approved a comprehensive, publicly available medical marijuana/cannabis program as of March 2019. Marijuana is more out in the open than it ever has been before, but its accessibility is preceding development of proper oversight. Without correct traffic safety measures in place, the prevalence of drugged driving is growing, as drivers likely believe they won’t get caught, aren’t noticeably driving dangerously or don’t consider marijuana’s side effects to be risky enough to stay out of the driver’s seat.

See also: Pledge to Put Your #phonedown  

According to the Brain Injury Society, significant cognitive impairment begins the moment marijuana is consumed. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. It interferes with the natural communication of cannabinoids between neurons in the brain, especially in the cerebral cortex—which plays a huge role in how memory, thinking and consciousness are affected.

A 2018 Governors Highway Safety Association study, Drug-Impaired Driving: Marijuana and Opioids Raise Critical Issues for States, found that, in 2016, 44% of fatally injured drivers with known results tested positive for drugs, up from 28% just 10 years prior. More than half of these drivers had marijuana, opioids or a combination of the two in their system.

The best way to reduce drugged driving, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), is the use of standardized field sobriety testing (SFST), the foundation of impaired driving detection and enforcement for 800,000 law enforcement officials across the country. Some states, however, do not require SFST training for officers assigned to patrol functions.

As MADD says: Myths and misinformation are part of the problem. Get the facts—and share them with your loved ones, especially young adults. Why? More than one-third of teens mistakenly believe they drive better under the influence of marijuana.

The 2019 Cars and Cannabis survey was conducted online using Survey Monkey. One thousand and sixty-three participants were polled, spanning the U.S., with the U.S. driving population represented by the 997 respondents who, before completing the survey, answered that they have a driver’s license. The demographics of those polled represented a broad range of household income, geographic location, age and gender.

This article was originally published on DriversEd.com.

Pledge to Put Your #phonedown

In 2016, California teen Amanda Clark was on the phone when her Chevrolet Trailblazer rolled three times, landing on its roof. According to the Sacramento Bee, Clark wrote: “I hate the thought of dying without my family knowing how I felt about them.”

Yet one year later, Clark was in a second auto accident. She was driving while on the phone again and lost control of her car. Cellphone records showed that she was texting. She was found unresponsive at the scene and died the next day.

These stories of distracted driving are becoming more common among U.S. drivers, sadly. Drivers continue to pick up their cellphones—for social media reasons, nonetheless—while behind the wheel, removing their attention from what’s happening around them to focus on a five-inch screen.

As April’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month arrives, DriversEd.com has released new survey data in its 2019 Distracted Driving and Social Media Report. The most alarming findings: 55% of surveyed participants admit to checking social media while behind the wheel, and 25% said they’ve even recorded a video while behind the wheel.

“There’s no way around it: The data is startling. I wish I could say the solution is as simple as parents talking to their teen drivers about the dangers of distracted driving. But parents are also the ones checking their Facebook, watching YouTube videos and recording Instagram videos,” said Laura Adams, safety and education analyst at DriversEd.com. “We are in an ever-growing distracted driving crisis, and the consequences are deadly.

“For many drivers, health and safety take a backseat to their likes and shares,” Adams added.

See also: 5 Steps to Understand Distracted Driving  

Why is this problem still so prevalent?

Part of the problem actually has to do with hearing those scary statistics: We don’t really believe they apply to us. It’s a phenomenon that cognitive scientist Tali Sharot named The Optimism Bias. Basically, when people think about their own futures, they tend to overestimate the likelihood that good things will happen and underestimate the likelihood of bad things. In the context of driving, that means we overestimate our own capabilities. In fact, one study showed that 93% of U.S. drivers think that they’re in the top 50% of safe drivers. Thus, drivers also underestimate their likelihood of being in a car accident. This would explain why so many drivers will agree that texting while driving is bad but admit to doing it anyway: We know it’s dangerous in general, but we don’t quite grasp how much of a risk it is to ourselves specifically.

Take it from a teen…

Grace Keller, a former DriversEd.com student and guest teen contributor, suggested drivers keep their belongings, including cellphones, in other parts of the car to avoid distracted driving behavior.

“I usually throw my backpack in the back seat with my phone and all my other potential distractions in it, so that I don’t even become tempted. Though I admit it can be difficult — I mean, we’re all living in a very high-tech society where we feel the need to constantly be plugged into our social media, group-chats, etc., but whatever it is you need to look at or check up on can wait,” she stated.

How you can help

The National Safety Council is asking the public to use these life-saving measures to help curb the growing rates of distracted driving–related injuries and fatalities:

  1. Commit to putting your #phonedown. Stow your cellphone in your purse, backpack or trunk to keep it out of reach. If it’s needed for GPS use, switch to “auto mode” to turn off notifications and calls.
  2. Stay engaged in teens’ driving habits. Parents should lead by example by putting their phones down. Head to “Parents: Tools to help your teen resist using their phones,” on DriversEd.com for more parent-focused information.
  3. Practice defensive driving. Buckle up and keep in-car distractions (passengers, music, etc.) at a minimum to focus on the road ahead. Be sure to get enough sleep to avoid fatigue and drive attentively.
  4. Recognize the dangers of drugged driving. From prescription opioids to alcohol to marijuana use, learn how each one impairs your ability to drive safely. Visit www.stopeverydaykillers.org to learn more.
  5. Fix recalls immediately. See if your vehicle is currently under recall by visiting www.checktoprotect.org.
  6. Ask lawmakers and state leaders to protect travelers on state roadways. The National Safety Council’s State of Safety report shows which states have the strongest and weakest traffic safety laws.

See also: Distracted Driving — an Infographic  

The 2019 Distracted Driving and Social Media Report was conducted by DriversEd.com as a follow-up to its more broadly focused 2018 Distracted Driving in America Report and zeroes in on risky behind-the-wheel social media behavior: feed checking, video watching and video recording, providing insight on the current state—and dangers—of distracted driving and social media use.

The survey was conducted online using Survey Monkey. One thousand, twenty-nine participants were polled, spanning across the U.S., with the U.S. driving population represented by the 943 respondents who, before completing the survey, answered that they have a driver’s license. Of those 943 respondents, 522 answered that, while behind the wheel, they have checked social media while either at a red light, at a stop sign, stuck in traffic or moving on the road. Those 522 respondents represent drivers who admit to checking social media while driving. The demographics of those polled represented a broad range of household income, geographic location, age and gender.

The article was originally published on DriversEd.com.