Driver education courses in Connecticut would include materials warning against the dangers of operating a vehicle under the influence of cannabis, under a bill considered Wednesday by the legislature’s Transportation Committee.
The legislation was proposed last month by House Majority Leader Jason Rojas and received a public hearing on Wednesday. The bill would require that private driver instruction courses or those offered at high schools and secondary schools include education on the dangers of driving while high.
Current regulation does require driver education to include instruction on driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, but does not explicitly require cannabis to be discussed. Supporters say it should be given recent changes to state law and common misconceptions about driving while high.
The proposal comes after Connecticut’s 2021 law legalizing cannabis and a month after commercial cannabis retailers opened for business in the state.
“We now have a legalized market,” Rojas said Wednesday. “It is more available, it’s becoming more socialized. What we want to ensure is that in the process of socializing this for adult use, minors don’t have misperceptions about the effects of cannabis when driving. It’s an opportunity to educate young people and what better place than the drivers ed program?”
During the hearing, Rep. Holly Cheeseman, an East Lyme Republican who has proposed similar legislation, stressed that misperception. Cheeseman said that many drivers underestimate the impact cannabis consumption can have on a driver’s behavior.
“There is this perception that driving while stoned is not dangerous,” Cheeseman said. “‘Oh, I’m a better driver because I drive more slowly or I’m more careful.’ No. It affects your depth perception, your ability for lane changes and let’s face it, if you’re doing 20 on I-95, you’re as much a danger as if you’re doing 80.”
In written testimony, Dr. Kevin Borrup, executive director of an injury prevention center at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, said that cannabis consumption could slow or impair important driving skills like coordination and reaction times.
“With marijuana now available for recreational adult use in Connecticut, it is more important than ever that Connecticut’s teen driving training include education on the dangers of marijuana-impaired driving,” Borrup said. “We know that young people in Connecticut and around the country underestimate the risk involved in driving after using marijuana.”
Chrstine Cohen, a Guilford Democrat who co-chairs the Transportation Committee, said the legislature had seen an “alarming” increase in incidents of impaired driving.
“I think it is incumbent upon our committee — upon the legislature to really address that,” Cohen said.