In a matter of weeks, Canada will become just the second country in the world to fully legalize cannabis for recreational use. While many says it’s high time cannabis was legal, it is creating concerns across the country about the impact of drug impaired driving.
According to government statistics, impaired driving is the leading cause of criminal death and injury in Canada. While a significant portion of that is attributed to alcohol, the number of incidents involving drug impaired driving continues to grow. In 2016, there were more than 70,000 impaired driving incidents reported by the police, including almost 3,000 drug-impaired driving incidents.
Cannabis impaired driving can result in injury or death for you, your passengers and others. Cannabis is known to impair judgement and affect your ability to react to road and traffic hazards. Mixing cannabis with alcohol further increases your level of impairment and leads to an even greater risk of an accident. In 2014 in Alberta, 19.1% of all road fatalities involved a driver who tested positive for both alcohol and drugs.
New Laws for Drug Impaired Driving
With the pending legalization of cannabis, parliament passed Bill C-46, the most comprehensive reform to the Criminal Code transportation regime in more than 40 years. The new law is designed to provide law enforcement the resources to better deter and detect drug and alcohol-impaired driving.
Bill C-46 authorizes police to use additional tools, such as roadside oral fluid drug screeners, enacts new driving offences for being over a prohibited blood drug concentration, and allows for blood samples to be collected without first requiring a driver to undergo a drug recognition evaluation.
Alberta has also introduced new drug-impaired driving legislation which align with the new federal regulations.
New Penalties for Drug Impaired Driving
Under the new legislation, all drivers who are reasonably believed to be criminally impaired, who fail or refuse to provide a fluid sample, or are found to be over the legal limits for alcohol, cannabis or cannabis/alcohol combination, will be subject to an immediate 90-day licence suspension, immediate 3-day vehicle seizure, mandatory remedial education and one-year participation in a provincial ignition interlock program. Drivers who do not participate in the ignition interlock program will remain suspended for the year. The penalties do not include other penalties for criminal code convictions that may be imposed by the court.
Only after cannabis becomes legal will we fully understand the impact it will have on traffic safety. The reliability of roadside saliva testing devices is being questioned and criminal lawyers across Canada predict cannabis related driving offences will further tie-up an already overstretched court system. One thing is certain, availability leads to consumption and that means more Canadians will be high behind the wheel.