The Problem With Impaired Drivers
Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is an incredibly dangerous activity that can easily result in serious bodily injury and even death. However, being a passenger in a car driven by someone under the influence is equally hazardous. When someone allows an intoxicated person to drive them, they are literally risking their lives. Despite this, millions of Americans every year disregard the danger. Obviously, passengers being driven by impaired drivers is a serious issue, but just how bad is the problem? That’s what one study attempted to find out.
Studying Young Adults and Impaired Drivers
The study, conducted by Colorado State University (CSU) in conjunction with researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health, Yale University, and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health, used data collected in an earlier study. The NEXT Generation Health Study was conducted in 2013 and 2014. It surveyed young adults who had graduated from high school one and two years earlier. The study had a very broad focus and asked participants many questions about a wide variety of health related issues, including substance abuse.
Unlike most previous studies, the NEXT Generation Health Study not only asked participants if they had driven with someone who was under the influence, but it also asked them to identify the substance that they were under the influence of. Specifically, the study asked participants to distinguish between alcohol, marijuana, and illicit drugs, which included ecstasy, amphetamines, opioids, cocaine, crack cocaine, glue, solvents, LSD, and anabolic steroids. Another unique feature of the study was that it had participants categorize the impaired driver by identifying them as a friend or relative about the same age, an unknown or little-known person around the same age, an older relative, an older known adult, or an unknown older adult.
The study came to some sobering conclusions. 33% of the young adults admitted to riding in a car driven by someone under the influence in the last year. A full third of young adults are putting themselves in real jeopardy of grievous bodily injury or even death!
Young adults were most likely to drive with someone who was under the influence of marijuana, with 23% reporting doing so within the last year. Alcohol was the next most common, with 20% of participants admitting to getting in the car with someone who had been drinking. 6% of participants admitted to riding with a driver who was impaired with illicit drugs.
The study also found that the greatest risk came from peer drivers. 21% of participants had ridden with a driver of about the same age who was impaired with marijuana, versus 2.4% who had ridden with an older driver impaired with marijuana. 17% of participants had driven with a same age driver intoxicated by alcohol, versus 4% who had driven with an older driver intoxicated by alcohol. 5.4% had been a passenger with someone of the same age who had been using illicit drugs, compared to less than 1% who had been a passenger of an older adult who had been using illicit drugs.
Perhaps most frighteningly, the study found a correlation between being a passenger of an intoxicated driver and becoming an impaired driver. Participants who admitted to driving with someone under the influence were also more likely to admit to driving under the influence themselves. The study also found that once a young adult rode with an impaired driver, they were much more likely to do so again in the future.
What This Study Teaches Us About Impaired Drivers
So why are so many young adults engaging in such risky behavior? The answer is complicated. To some extent, young adults will always engage in dangerous behavior. Additionally, young adults often emulate their peers, and if they see them driving under the influence, they may as well. However, the danger here is so severe that something has to be done. In 2016 in the United States, an estimated 10,497 deaths were caused by drunk driving alone, an increase of 1.7% from the previous year. Many thousands more were seriously injured by drunk drivers. These are numbers that have to go down.
The researchers who conducted the story believe that the problem is education. There is a current lack of it, and greater education will help save lives. According to Kaigang Li, Ph.D., M.Ed., an assistant professor of health and exercise science at CSU, “Emerging adults are entering the transition period from being kids to being adults, so their behaviors, perceptions, knowledge and beliefs can still be changed during this period of time. 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.”
Dr. Li also believes that it is incredibly important to be a good role model. “If I drive after drinking, it sets an example, so [my children] may not think it’s a bad thing. If they realize early on that driving under the influence is not good, we can reduce the chances that they will perceive it as OK in the future.”
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