The Federal Government of Canada’s announcement that it will legalize cannabis in 2018 has been a hot topic of conversation across the country. Regardless of how you feel about the coming changes, it’s important to know the implications they may have.
As you know, just like alcohol, drugs can impair your ability to drive a vehicle safely. Depending on the drug (prescription medication included) and the amount taken, alertness, depth perception, concentration, reaction time, motor skills and visual function can be affected. But, you might be surprised to learn that according to recent statistics and driver surveys, driving while on drugs has become more common than driving drunk. In fact, in 2014, 614 Canadians were killed in collisions involving drivers with a positive drug reading, compared to 476 Canadians killed in crashes involving alcohol-positive drivers. The most common drug detected in accidents where drivers tested positive for drugs was marijuana.
With this in mind, it’s important to consider the impact this legislation could have on road safety.
New Drug-Impaired Driving Laws
Many are concerned that legalizing marijuana will lead to an increase in the number of drug-impaired drivers on the road. To help combat this, the Government is proposing new drug-impaired driving laws, including driving limits for cannabis and charges for drug-impaired driving in Bills C-45 and C-46. To enforce these laws, there will be new roadside screening tests to detect drugs.
Three new Criminal Code of Canada offences will be created. They include:
- Having between 2 and 5 nanograms of THC (the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) per milliliter of blood within two hours of driving;
- Having more than 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood within two hours of driving;
- Having more than 2.5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood and a blood alcohol concentration of .05% or higher within two hours of driving.
Penalties will range from driving bans, to fines to jail time. Depending on the severity and circumstances of the offence, those convicted could face combinations of those penalties.
To assist police in apprehending drug-impaired drivers, new screening tests will also be introduced. These are simple saliva tests which are done at the roadside to detect drugs. This test does not lead to a charge, but can give police the reasonable grounds for additional investigation and testing.
Stronger Laws for Alcohol Impaired Driving
The Government is also proposing mandatory roadside alcohol screening. This new measure will make it easier to detect and charge alcohol-impaired drivers, as it would allow police to demand a breath sample from any driver lawfully stopped on the road. This type of screening has been proven to help in reductions in impaired driving deaths in other countries.
MADD Canada estimates mandatory screening would reduce impaired driving fatalities and injuries in Canada by about 20%. That is 200 lives saved and more than 12,000 injuries prevented each year.
The changes recently proposed by the Government of Canada are a major reform of our impaired driving laws. But there is s still a great deal of work and debate to be done before any change is put into action.
MADD Canada will continue to work with lawmakers, police and other stakeholders to promote laws, policies and best practices to help make our roads safer and reduce the tragic deaths and injuries caused by impaired driving.