President's Perspective: Realities of drugged driving a hard pill to swallow

From Issue: 
January 2014

Drugs and driving is a deadly combination, but many Canadians don’t seem to think so.

The Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA) recently released the results of a public opinion survey on drug impaired driving to gauge the awareness and education level on this problem. The findings reveal that Canadians are not as concerned about drugged driving as they are about drinking and driving. Further, they don’t think they are as likely to get caught if driving while impaired by drugs, compared to being under the influence of alcohol.

Of the 1,500 Canadians surveyed by the CCMTA, about 90 per cent strongly agreed that alcohol impairs driving. Meanwhile, only 68 per cent agreed that cannabis impairs driving. About two-thirds of Canadian drivers think that it is very likely that a driver impaired by alcohol would be stopped and charged by the police, while only about a quarter of drivers thought that it was very likely that a driver impaired by cannabis would be stopped and charged.

Maybe it’s because drugged driving is yet to become socially unacceptable, or that it is not talked about nearly as much as drinking and driving or the hazards of texting and driving. Whatever the reason, these attitudes and perceptions are very concerning because drugged driving is just as deadly as drinking and driving.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse reports that more than a third – 35.3 per cent – of fatally injured drivers in Canada tested positive for impairing drugs in 2009. This compares with 40.9 per cent of driver fatalities in the same year where alcohol was the source of impairment.

The CCMTA’s survey results indicate that drivers ages 20 to 24 were least concerned about cannabis impaired driving, followed by those ages 16 to 19. Yet, young drivers between 16 and 24 lead the way in fatalities that involve drugs. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse statistics indicate that 27.6 per cent of driver fatalities among this age group were impaired by alcohol, compared with 26.9 per cent of driver fatalities who were impaired by drugs.

But it isn’t just young drivers who need to better understand the risks of drugged driving. Among fatally injured drivers 55 and older, drug use is more prevalent than alcohol.

Law enforcement is responding to the growing drugged driving problem. During the Canada Safety Council’s 2013 National Safe Driving Week, which focused on drug-impaired driving from December 1-7, the RCMP launched a national impaired driving enforcement campaign to focus on increasing enforcement and awareness to stop alcohol and drug impaired drivers.

Drug impaired driving is a criminal offense that, on conviction, carries a licence suspension of 12 months – a fact that only a quarter of the CCMTA’s survey respondents knew.

The strongest deterrent for drug impaired driving – whether by illegal, prescription or non-prescription drugs – should be the very real and unforgiving reality that as an impaired driver, you put your life and the lives of other road user at significant risk.

Don’t take that chance. Have conversations with your loved ones, doctor and pharmacist about the dangers of drugged driving, and how to prevent it. Visit www.canadasafetycouncil.org to learn more.

 

Safety. It’s an attitude.

Jack Smith