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One-third of teens say they have ridden with an impaired driver

An investigation led by researchers at Colorado State University has revealed that young adults are commonly riding in vehicles operated by impaired drivers. According to the study, 33 percent of recent high school graduates admitted that they had been driven by someone who was under the influence at least one time in the previous year.

The experts also found that teenagers are more likely to ride with a driver who is under the influence of marijuana than a driver who is under the influence of alcohol.

“Parents should be a role model by not driving while impaired, and real friends should stop their friends from driving after using substances – if using substances cannot be stopped,” said study co-author Dr. Kaigang Li.

The study was based on data from the NEXT Generation Health Study that was collected in 2013 and 2014. Young adults who had recently graduated high school were asked about risky behaviors surrounding substance use.

The participants were asked, “During the last 12 months, how many times did you ride in a vehicle driven by someone who had been drinking alcohol?” The question was also repeated for marijuana use and illicit drug use.

When asked about riding in a car with a driver who was under the influence of marijuana, 23 percent of the young adults responded “at least once.” In addition, 20 percent reported riding with an alcohol-impaired driver and 6 percent had ridden with a driver impaired by other illicit drugs at least once in the last year.

“We’ve put a lot of emphasis on drinking and driving, but less effort on driving under the influence of marijuana,” said Li. “Maybe we need more of the latter.”

The researchers discovered that individuals who had ridden with impaired drivers in the past are more likely to do so again. Li said this is why it is important to instill in young adults the dangers of riding with an impaired driver early on.

Previous studies have shown that engaging in one risky behavior increases the risk of others, which means teenagers who ride with impaired drivers often end up driving under the influence themselves.

“These behaviors are not isolated, especially in young people,” Li said. “When one risk behavior is present, it can definitely influence other behaviors. We want them to conclude that ‘friends don’t let friends engage in risky behaviors.’ If they know that their friends don’t do these risky things, they won’t do it themselves.”

Li explained that young adults are transitioning from being kids to being adults, so their perception and behaviors can still be changed.

“If they realize the problem associated with risky behavior now, they can reduce that behavior and reduce crash risk. But if they don’t, and they’re influenced by peers who are engaging in risky behavior, that behavior becomes a habit,” said Li.

The study is published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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