As an organization, AAA is an advocate for road safety and preventing impaired driving – whether it be a result of alcohol, marijuana or other illicit drug use.
“Shifting Gears: The Blunt Truth About Marijuana and Driving” is a free program from AAA aimed at high school health classes. The goal is to educate young people about the effects of marijuana on driving.
According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, younger drivers are more likely to say they think it is safe to drive after using marijuana.
In response to the continued legalization of recreational marijuana, AAA hopes the Shifting Gears program will deliver potentially life-saving information to teenagers and young adults.
The Start of Shifting Gears
After Shifting Gears first launched in 2019, AAA Northeast President and CEO John Galvin praised the program, citing early successes, open dialogue and largely positive reception.
“This program has far exceeded our expectations. Not only are we educating teens, but we’re also learning a lot,” said Galvin. “We’ve learned that teen attitudes around marijuana have shifted. Some students are very open about their drug use. Some believe marijuana is better for them than prescription drugs taken for anxiety or ADHD, because they consider it natural, even if the source is unknown and the dosage is uncontrolled.”
Read more from John Galvin, here.
Partnering with Local Police
This year, AAA Northeast began working closely with the Rhode Island State Police’s Community, Equity and Diversity Unit. The Unit’s leader, Captain Kenneth Jones, is a 23-year veteran of the Rhode Island State Police.
Captain Jones committed Rhode Island troopers to speak in all of this year’s Shifting Gears programs, where they explain the risks of marijuana-impaired driving to high school health classes. When the COVID-19 pandemic required a pivot to virtual learning, troopers were able to join Zoom and Google Classroom sessions along with AAA Northeast educators.
Impacts of the Program
This partnership between AAA and the state police, which has since expanded to Massachusetts, has proven to be extremely successful. During the sessions, students ask great questions and troopers share first-hand experiences as well as strong reminders about current state laws and the impact of impaired driving.
What’s more, these young people’s attitudinal shifts toward impaired driving are measurably better. Students walk away with stronger opinions that marijuana impacts the necessary abilities to drive safely, such as reaction time. Additionally, pre and post-program surveys showed a positive shift in students’ plans to designate a driver if ever faced with such a scenario.
Looking Toward the Future
AAA Northeast’s relationship with the Rhode Island State Police’s Community, Equity and Diversity Unit will expand in September, incorporating child passenger safety programs to assist families with child car seats and booster seats.
For more traffic safety information from AAA, visit AAA.com/Community.