High school students in Lancaster, KY recently got a whole new perspective on driving while impaired or distracted, a perspective made possible through digital simulation. If the technology achieves the desired results, fewer Lancaster teens will die in car accidents. But will it achieve those results?

More directly, can a simulator stop impaired or distracted driving among teens? No one really knows. On the one hand, many of the participants in the Lancaster simulation said it gave him a better understanding of the problem compared to reading a document and listening to a lecture. But those same kids are also far more likely to play video games that offer negative digital consequences without any real, tangible counterparts.

Teens Are Dying in Crashes

The impetus behind the Lancaster experience, provided by an organization known as UNITE, is the knowledge that car crashes are the second leading cause of death among teens. According to the CDC, teens are three times more likely to die in car crashes than adults. That is a staggering number.

UNITE’s simulation is specific to impaired and distracted driving so it concentrates on car crashes that are not necessarily caused by weather, heavy traffic, etc. They hit things like alcohol consumption, drug use, and cell phone distractions.

It is not exactly clear how the simulator accounts for impairment and distraction. But it is clear that nearly every Lancaster student who entered the simulator crashed its digital car.

Alcohol, Cell Phones, and Cannabis

Trying to drive home the point about safe driving is not a new exercise. I am in my late 50s. When I was learning to drive, I had to sit through a three-hour course explaining the dangers of drunk driving. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, kids started dying because they were distracted by their cell phones.

Both alcohol and cell phones are still issues. But now we are also dealing with cannabis DUI. As more states move to legalize cannabis, the fear is that cannabis DUI will increase. And if it does, it could potentially add to the number of teens already dying in car crashes.

It will be some time before we have reliable statistical data to look at. In the meantime, the assumption is that states with liberal recreational use laws face higher risks than those with medical-only laws. States that have yet to approve cannabis in any form should have the lowest risk of all.

A Case for Cannabis Caution

One can make a case for cannabis caution based on availability and access. Let us assume that all 50 states will eventually have medical cannabis programs in place. You now have different levels of availability and access as per state laws.

Utah is one of the more restrictive medical-only states for cannabis, according to the qualified medical providers at Utahmarijuana.org. Everything from production to processing and retail sales is tightly controlled. As a result, availability is restricted.

Colorado’s environment is just the opposite. Marijuana is much more accessible thanks to state laws that encourage both medical and recreational use. Colorado is also a more attractive state to elicit operators because demand is higher.

Cannabis DUI Comparisons

Knowing all of that, it would be interesting to compare the cannabis DUI numbers between the two states. If there is a disparity, the data would further suggest the likelihood of more cannabis-related crashes in Colorado.

Regardless, students spending time in a simulator can get a better idea of the consequences of driving while impaired or distracted. Will it make a difference? Can a simulator stop car crashes? There is no way to know. But the simulations probably don’t hurt, either.

By Alexander James

Beau Alexander James: Beau, a mental health advocate, shares personal stories, coping strategies, and promotes mental health awareness and understanding.