What can help teens know not to drive under the influence of drugs like marijuana, prescription medication, and illicit drugs? Experts say parental involvement is key.
“It is so critical for parents to be in dialogue with their kids, particularly when they’re learning to drive and in those early years while they are still developing their skills,” says Maria Wojtczak, owner of DrivingMBA, a AAA-approved driving school with locations in Gilbert and Scottsdale. “The best thing to do for your kids is to be a good role model; don’t get behind the wheel if you’re on certain drugs, or if you’ve had anything to drink.”
Wojtczak says it’s important to share statistics with your kids and talk with them about the dangers of being under the influence of anything: drugs, alcohol, electronics—all of which pose a danger to them and to others on the road.
“Do a Google search and you can find a wealth of information on driving while impaired. Also, use apps like Life 360 to keep track of them and their driving—where they are, the speed they’re traveling, if they’re making aggressive maneuvers,” she says. “Some parents think this is too invasive. I say better to be nosy and invasive than going to the morgue and identifying your child in a body bag.”
Wojtczak stresses that teens need to understand that the effects of drugs differ depending on how they interact in the brain and also by the individual person.
“Drivers who’ve used cocaine or methamphetamines, for example, can exhibit aggressive and reckless driving, while someone on marijuana will likely have slow reaction time, impaired judgment of time and distance, and decreased coordination,” she says. “There are certain kinds of sedatives that can cause dizziness and drowsiness, and many will say not to drive while taking this medication. All of these types of impairments can lead to vehicle crashes and severe injuries or death.”
Another point to consider is that drugs are often dangerously mixed with alcohol. So what can parents do to enforce a zero-tolerance policy at home?
“The best thing to do is establish a contract with your teen,” Wojtczak says. “Remind them that driving is a privilege that can be taken away from them by you (if they’re under the age of 18) and by the state.
“Driving under the influence is illegal, irresponsible and dangerous behavior. It’s important that parents are very clear about the rules, and are ready and willing to enforce the rules when their child breaks them.”
Wojtczak also says using tools, such as tracking technology and drug testing, to combat dangerous driving is imperative.
“Be the parent. It doesn’t matter that your child doesn’t want a tracking device in their vehicle or on their phone; they’re too young to make those decisions. It’s our responsibility as their parents to ensure we’ve done everything in our power to keep them safe and alive,” she explains. “Also, drug testing is not out of the realm of possibility. Again, this is about keeping your child safe, and even if they’re unhappy with you now, they will thank you when they become adults and parents.”
By // Michelle Talsma Everson