Study: 19% of Teens Have Driven High
Just when I think I have this whole parenting thing figured out, the game changes. With my oldest daughter preparing for middle school next year, I feel like I have a pretty firm grip on the perils of upper elementary: limiting the amount of makeup worn to school (lip gloss and mascara only) and teaching my daughter how to be responsible with her first cell phone.

What I'm not prepared for is the reality that marijuana use is at an all-time high among eighth- to 12th-grade students and that one in five teens admits to have driven after smoking marijuana, according to a teen driving study released by Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions).

While parents seem to have done a fairly thorough job instilling in our kids the importance of not driving after drinking alcohol -- only 13 percent of teens have driven while under the influence of alcohol -- apparently we've been slacking off a bit on relaying the dangers of driving after smoking pot. Nineteen percent of teens have driven while high, the study says.

Teens appear to have become desensitized to the dangers of marijuana over recent years. Seventy-eight percent of teens described their marijuana use as "very" or "extremely" distracting to their driving, according to a 2009 study. However, in the most recent study two years later, the percentage of teens who felt that level of concern declined to 70 percent.

In light of these findings, we obviously have our work cut out for us as parents, but it should be pointed out that teens in this age group are highly affected by peer pressure. Ninety percent of the teens in the study said they would stop driving under the influence of marijuana if asked to do so by a friend. While we can start talking to our children early on about abstaining from drugs and alcohol -- and, even more importantly, about the life-and-death consequences of getting behind the wheel while under the influence -- we also need to encourage our kids to talk to their friends about these issues. Apparently, a friend with enough courage to speak up is motivation enough to keep a teen from driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and it can save lives.

What other steps parents take to help ensure our teens' safety in cars as they experiment their way through adolescence?

  • Driving contract: As your teen starts driving, put a Teen Safe Driving contract into place. You can draft one from scratch yourself, or download our Parent-Teen Driving Contract one here. Along with the basics, like when and where your teen is allowed to drive, put into the contract that your teen will never drive (or get into a car with someone else driving) while under the influence of anything, or even when they're too tired to think coherently.
  • Put a plan in place: Be sure to let your teen know that they can call you at any hour of the day or night for a safe ride home without consequences, and back your word up by putting it on paper in the safe driving contract. If they're not comfortable coming to you for this, you can put in an alternate contact -- a favorite cool aunt, for example -- in the contract who knows to deliver your teen home safely and discreetly.
  • Give your teen an easy out: To make it easy for your teen to refuse a ride from a pressuring peer who may be under the influence, implement a way out. For some, it could be something as simple as texting a code word to a parent, who then knows to put the parental kibosh on the night. For example, the code word could be "funnn," spelled with 3 ns: "hving gr8 funnn at Sophie's." Mom then knows to book it over to Sophie's house (or around the corner from Sophie's house) for a pickup.
Although it's a while out for us yet, I plan to use my daughter's Nearparent network to give her an easy out. This app on her phone allows her to press a single button and send an alert to every parent, step-parent and grandparent in her preapproved network. We can see where she is on a map, and which one of us is the closest "nearparent." That person can then send a reply that he or she is on the way to help out.

What other plans have you and your family implemented to help keep your teen and his or her friends from succumbing to the temptation of driving while under the influence? Share your ideas with other parents in the comments section below.

Family Safety

Senior Family Editor Kristin Varela blends work and family life by driving her three tween-teen girls every which way in test cars.  Email Kristin