Home > blog > Drugged Driving Prevention for Youth Needed

By Rebecca Stelter and Allison Schmidt

Research Scientists, innovation Research & Training


Late night host and comedian Jimmy Fallon recently featured Tweets from individuals about their StonerStories and things they did while they were high. Tweets included:

These are silly, and thankfully pretty harmless, but they do demonstrate some of the thoughtless things you might do while under the influence of drugs such as marijuana. Yet the belief that marijuana does not impair a complicated task like driving is pervasive and deeply held.

Drug-impaired driving is extremely dangerous, and is a growing problem across the US, particularly as marijuana becomes increasingly available and in the midst of a national opioid crisis. In 2016 alone, 11.8 million Americans reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs, a number that does not even include those driving under the influence of legal medications that also impair your ability to drive. Among drivers killed in car crashes in 2015, 43% of those tested positive for drugs, even greater than the percent that tested positive for alcohol.

Young people are especially at risk of drugged driving or riding with a high driver, and of dying from this behavior. In the 2011 Monitoring the Future survey, 1 in 8 high school seniors reported driving after smoking marijuana in the past two weeks. Alarmingly, in another study, more than 1 in 3 undergraduate students (37%) reported being a passenger in a car in which the driver had been using drugs. In addition to higher prevalence of this risky behavior among teens and young adults, data show significant consequences for young adults who drive under the influence of drugs. Drivers under age 35 represent a full 46% of fatally injured drivers in cases in which drugs were involved.  Marijuana is the most commonly and increasingly used drug by young adults, as well as the most commonly found in crash-involved and fatally injured drivers. This problem will continue to grow as marijuana becomes increasingly available.

What is especially disheartening is the attitudes many young people hold that driving under the influence of drugs, especially marijuana, is not dangerous. Perceived social norms, or the approval of one’s friends, are associated with drugged driving behaviors.

To change young people’s attitudes, social norms, and behaviors, there is a strong need for evidence-based prevention programs to address this behavior in communities. Studies show that increased perceptions of dangerousness of and negative expectances from drugged driving lessened willingness to take risks, including driving and riding with a high driver.

To help meet this need for prevention, and support coalitions tailoring efforts to the specific demographics and needs of their communities, we developed two research-based training programs: (1) Drugged Driving Essentials, to prepare practitioners and organizations to understand drugged driving as a nuanced public health, safety, and legal issue, and (2) Strategic Skills for Drugged Driving Prevention to build skills to prevent drugged driving using the planning process of the Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF).

Is your community doing enough to address drugged driving?

Rebecca Stelter, PhD, is the Principal Investigator of the Drugged Driving Resources project and Research Scientist at innovation, Research, & Training (iRT). Her work has been at the forefront of drugged driving prevention for over 5 years, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Allison Schmidt, PhD, is a Research Scientist on the Drugged Driving Resources project at iRT with expertise in substance abuse and tobacco use prevention.


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