With recreational marijuana use about to be decriminalized, law enforcement agencies are concerned about an uptick in DUI charges.
Perhaps you saw on the news the story of the young man who was driving while stoned. He was speeding, hit a divider and actually launched his car into the second story window of a dental office. Miraculously, both he and his passenger only suffered minor injuries and as the accident occurred in the early morning, there was no one in the office. It’s still shocking though, and while the incident may seem extreme, it might also serve as a warning to others who are thinking about smoking and driving.
It has taken years of relentless campaigning to provoke a change in thinking around drinking and driving. The stigma attached to the act has helped to curb numbers over the last decade, to say nothing of the stiffer penalties. But while numbers of alcohol related impaired driving charges are down, with 2015 boasting the lowest numbers since 1986, drug related impairment charges are up.
With legalization of recreational marijuana on the horizon, it is possible that we’ll see growing numbers of charges for driving under the influence of drugs, rather than alcohol.
To put it in some perspective, these numbers of crash deaths in 2013 should be… well, sobering.
“In 2013, there were a total of 2,430 crash deaths on public roads, involving at least one highway vehicle…
- 369 deaths, or 15.2%, occurred in crashes involving drivers who were positive for alcohol alone.
- 683 deaths, or 28.1%, occurred in crashes involving drivers who were positive for drugs alone.
- 399 deaths, or 16.4%, occurred in crashes involving drivers who were positive for both alcohol and drugs.
The statistics reflect the growing incidence of driving after drug use, which now exceeds that for driving after alcohol use. Cannabis, the most commonly-found drug, is present in almost half of the drug-positive fatal crashes.” (SOURCE)
Is Driving While Impaired By Drugs Really The Same As By Alcohol?
In every real way, yes. Marijuana reduces a driver’s reaction time significantly. If you’re not fully alert and paying attention, you might not be able to avoid a collision, or worse still, you might cause one. That lack of attention can also result in weaving, improper lane changes and, in general, dangerous driving.
Depending on how much marijuana was consumed and whether it was in combination with alcohol, it can remain in your system, affecting your ability to drive, for up to six hours. Combining marijuana with alcohol significantly increases the effects of both, which makes you that much more dangerous, behind the wheel.
Is An Increase In Impairment Related Accidents Likely?
Well, I don’t have a crystal ball, but logic would dictate that more availability of marijuana will likely result in an increase of people smoking and driving.
In fact, in a 2016 research study conducted by Statefarm Insurance, 60% of respondents to a survey asking this very question felt that legalization would lead to an increased rate of impairment charges and accidents.
Last September, the Ontario liberal government introduced new legislation that would increase penalties for drivers caught driving impaired, whether the cause is alcohol or drugs. They’re also approving a saliva based drug screening device, which will be used for roadside tests. What the screening number will be that will set up a charge is still in debate, but the penalties are ready to go.
What Will The Penalties Be, If Caught?
For young drivers, with a graduated license, there will be a zero tolerance policy, as there is with alcohol. ANY amount of drugs found in their system will result in a license suspension for 3 days and a $250 fine on the first offence; 7 day suspension and a $350 fine for the second; 30 day suspension and a $450 fine for the third or future offences. There will also be the option for law enforcement to impose mandatory treatment or education programming for repeat offenders.
For regular drivers, the penalties will be the same if they are in the ‘warn’ range (which means over a certain level but not at the legal limit) during a roadside drug test based on legal limits (which, remember, as still to be determined). As with alcohol impairment penalties, the sanctions increase if they are over the legal limit, to 90 days suspension and $550 penalty. (SOURCE)
We need to reach a point as a society where we make it clear that driving while impaired, whether by alcohol or drugs, isn’t okay. We need to speak to the elephant in the room at parties and gatherings and stop people from getting behind the wheel. Better to be a stick in the mud than end up in my office because you were injured or worse, were party to a collision related death.