Survey: Many teens don't know it's illegal to drive while high

It's disquieting news. The majority of states have now legalized marijuana for at least some purposes, but the message about driving under the influence of marijuana is not getting out. Driving while high is still illegal in all 50 states. It's also dangerous.

Unfortunately, it appears that some teens -- and some of their parents -- don't know that, according to a recent survey by Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) and Liberty Mutual insurance. The survey, which was performed this last April and May, found:

  • 33 percent of 2,800 teens surveyed thought driving while high was legal in states where marijuana is legal for recreational use
  • 27 percent of 1,000 parents surveyed thought that, too
  • 20 percent of the teens and 14 percent of the parents said that driving while high is common among their friends
  • While 88 percent of teens knew that driving drunk is dangerous, only 68 percent knew that driving while high is dangerous

"Driving under the influence of marijuana significantly impairs motor coordination, judgment and reaction time," points out a lead driving safety expert and technical consultant at Liberty Mutual.

Nevertheless, a separate study found that many people aren't aware of the danger. A study of 600 people in states where weed is legal for recreational use looked into whether people were comfortable driving after smoking the drug. The study, performed by Instamotor, found that 39 percent of the respondents were comfortable driving within two hours of smoking pot.

Is it really dangerous to drive while high?

The jury is still out in some respects, but the National Institute on Drug Abuse concludes that it is. "Studies have found a direct relationship between blood THC concentration and impaired driving ability," says the agency.

The Institute admits that a large study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found no statistically significant increase in the overall risk of an accident among marijuana smokers. That said, other studies had different results.

Two large studies from Europe concluded that people with THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, in their blood were about twice as likely to be found at fault in fatal accidents than drivers with no drugs or alcohol in their system. Analyses of other studies found a driver's crash risk doubled or more than doubled after marijuana use. Also, the effect of using alcohol on top of marijuana appears to increase the risk beyond what it would be for either drug alone.

What are the penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana in Pennsylvania?

Driving under the influence of marijuana is also illegal in Pennsylvania. Even though the state has loosened its marijuana regulation to some degree, it has not made it legal for anyone to drive while impaired by the drug.

Someone found guilty of driving under the influence of marijuana for the first time can expect a number of penalties and consequences:

  • Between 72 hours and 6 months in prison
  • A fine of up to $5,000
  • 12 months' driver's license suspension
  • Required drug and alcohol safety program
  • Treatment when ordered

The offense is also an upgraded misdemeanor. After the first conviction, driving under the influence of a controlled substance becomes a first-degree misdemeanor and the penalties get harsher.

It's also important to note that possession of marijuana is separately illegal. If you are arrested for DUI and have marijuana in your possession, you could be separately charged with a misdemeanor. Depending on the amount, you could be facing up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Naturally, the penalties go up if you're found guilty of a felony.

If teens are unsure about the safety and consequences of driving under the influence of marijuana, it's crucial for parents to step in and communicate them. Discuss the subject in an honest and straightforward way.

If you or your teenager is arrested for a marijuana-related DUI, don't hesitate to contact an attorney. While no lawyer can promise a positive outcome, mounting an aggressive defense can often reduce the negative consequences associated with the offense.

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