Almost two-million Ontarians have driven under the influence of cannabis at some point, and over 700,000 have done so over the past three months, according to new study conducted by Ipsos.
Furthermore, the study which was commissioned by CAA, found those who’ve driven while impaired by cannabis were more likely to have driven while impaired by more than one substance at a time — cannabis and alcohol, for example.
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“We’re now learning through this study the volumes of people — those who are using alcohol to some degree and cannabis before getting behind the wheel. That’s a significant conversation that’s yet to be had, but one that is absolutely very real on our roads right now, said Elliot Silverstein, manager, government relations, CAA South Central Ontario (SCO).
As Oct. 17, the date set for legalization of recreational cannabis across Canada, quickly approaches, driving-under-the-influence legislation has become a key point of debate.
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Another recent poll conducted by Leger on behalf of the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) revealed that 79 per cent of Canadians are concerned about a potential uptick in cannabis-impaired drivers once the substance becomes legal, and that 61 per cent of Canadian cannabis users believe it’s safe to wait less than three hours after consuming cannabis to drive.
“Drinking and driving is now socially unacceptable. Unfortunately, we can’t assume the same for driving while under the use of cannabis. We need the same approach to deterrence — appropriate penalties and detection tools — to discourage all forms of impaired driving so that broader use of legalized cannabis doesn’t put public safety at risk,” said Don Forgeron, president and CEO, IBC, in a statement.
Under Canadian impaired-driving laws, which were updated this past June to reflect the rapidly approaching legalization date, anyone stopped by police for driving under the influence of cannabis can receive a fine up to $1,000 if a THC level between two and five nanograms per milliliter is found in their blood, all the way up to life in prison for impaired driving causing death.
Silverstein added that while the effects of alcohol on driving ability are well-known, Canadians are less aware of the impacts of cannabis on driving ability.
“There is a common perception that cannabis users feel that they drive better when under the influence of the drug,” continued Silverstein. “This research shows that that is not necessarily the case and that current cannabis users are also concerned about impairment and road safety.”
Of those surveyed, those that drive under the influence of cannabis are more likely to be male, at 69 per cent, and between the ages of 25 and 34, at 39 per cent.
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“Our study shows that of the individuals who admit to being cannabis-impaired drivers, nearly 40 per cent are those who are in the G1 and G2 phase of their driving career… Being able to hit home to those novice drivers to change their habits will hopefully go a long way to ensure that our roads are going to be able to remain safe,” Silverstein said.
In 2012, a study by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction revealed that cannabis-impaired driving was responsible for 75 fatalities, 4,407 injuries and 7,794 victims of property-damage-only collisions, with an estimated economic and social cost of approximately $1 billion.
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Public education on the impacts of driving under the influence of cannabis — and the consequences — is paramount to the reduction in these rates and the maintenance of safe roads for all Canadians, Silverstein concluded.
“If you’re going to participate and use cannabis either on its own or with other products, perhaps you need to look at other options before you get behind the wheel.”