More than one-quarter of young Canadians admit to recently driving under the influence of cannabis — or being in a vehicle while the driver was high —according to a survey by the Canadian Automobile Association.
The survey, released on Friday, found that 26 per cent of Canadians aged 18-24 made the admission.
While 86 per cent of young Canadians said they understood the importance of making alternate travel plans after consuming alcohol, only 70 per cent said the same about cannabis.
The findings were relatively similar to last year’s survey, when 30 per cent of young people said they had either driven under the influence of cannabis or had been in the car with a high driver.
Kristine D’Arbelles, senior manager public affairs at CAA, said this points to a need for greater education on the risks of driving under the influence of cannabis.
“If you’re going to be going to a party and consuming alcohol, everyone already knows the social acceptability processes around that — you’re going to have to take an Uber, you’re going to have to stay over or take public transit,” she said.
“The same thing should be happening for cannabis.”
D’Arbelles noted that public awareness campaigns surrounding the risks of drinking and driving have been around for considerably longer than ones about consuming cannabis.
“It look us three decades to get to a point where drinking and driving are completely socially unacceptable. I think the older and younger generations understand that today. Cannabis is not quite there,” she said.
“That’s why public education is so important, we don’t want it to take another three decades for cannabis driving to be socially unacceptable.”
The government of Canada website says driving under the influence of cannabis increases the risk of a car accident, and that even small amounts of the drug can lead to slow reaction time, lack of concentration, affect motor skills and impair short-term memory.
It also warns parents that young drivers are most likely to die in vehicle crashes and test positive for alcohol or drugs.
Carolyn Swinson, the director of victim services at the Toronto chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, told Global News that parents need to have more honest conversations about the risks associated with cannabis.
She had that includes letting young Canadians know they can ask for help — or a ride.
“I tell kids you need to have an agreement with your parents that if you’re in a situation, whether it’s two or three o’clock in the morning, that you can phone that parent or a trusted person, and that they will get you home safe no questions asked,” Swinson said.
The CAA survey is just the latest that points to some Canadians driving under the influence of cannabis.
In the 2019 Canadian Cannabis Survey, 26 per cent of those who had consumed cannabis within the past year said they had driven a vehicle within two hours of smoking or vaping.
Sixteen per cent of those who used cannabis within the past year said they had driven within four hours of ingesting the drug.
Twenty-eight per cent also said they had been a passenger in a vehicle while the driver was under the influence of cannabis.
Eighty per cent of those who admitted to driving hours after using cannabis most commonly said they did so because they did not feel impaired.
The second most common reason given, at 20 per cent, was that they believed they could still drive carefully. Nineteen per cent said they didn’t have to drive far.
Other reasons given for driving under the influence included no alternative transportation options or that individuals didn’t think they’d be caught.
Swinson noted that there are myths associated with driving under the influence of cannabis that can prevent people from understanding that it carries the same dangers as alcohol.
“Mostly, it’s the belief that cannabis isn’t as dangerous as alcohol, and when it gets to driving people are actually better drivers driving under the influence of cannabis,” she explained.
“That’s dangerous thinking.”
The CAA survey cited in this article was based on a poll of more than 1,517 Canadians and was conducted between Nov. 27 to Dec. 4, 2019. A probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of +/-2.5%, 19 times out of 20.