Adding to the complexity of addressing the issue of impaired driving, is the steady increase in the numbers of drivers who have been stopped for drug impairment.
Law enforcement is also concerned that the impending legalization of marijuana by the Trudeau Government will compound the problem.
Right now cannabis is the number one drug next to alcohol that has been found in drivers arrested for impairment. Figures from Statistics Canada show that the number of people charged by Canadian police forces with drug-impaired driving offences, including impaired operation causing death or bodily harm, along with impaired operation of a vehicle, vessel or aircraft, rose from 183 in 2008 to 1,159 in 2013. (Over the same period, the number of people charged with impaired driving fell from 65,822 to 53,944.).
In 2012, fully 40 per cent of those killed in car accidents in Canada tested positive for recent use of drugs—nearly half of them for cannabis—versus the 35.6 per cent who’d been drinking.
In light of the changes that are on the horizon with marijuana legalization, MADD Canada has been spearheading the campaign to ensure there is more effective testing and stricter enforcement. The organization contends that Canada’s current system for detecting, charging and prosecuting drug-impaired drivers is not working.
MADD claims very few drug-impaired driving charges are being laid, even though drug-impaired driving is becoming an increasingly larger part of the overall impaired driving problem.
The technology to conduct simple, inexpensive roadside oral fluid or saliva tests to detect drugs – similar to the way the breathalyzer device detects alcohol – is now readily available. It has been adopted in several Australian states and western European countries where it has proven to be effective and cost efficient.
MADD Canada recommends the establishment of drug limits for the most commonly-used illicit drugs, and the introduction of road-side saliva testing for drugs. In recent months, law enforcement agencies have conducted a roadside drug testing pilot project involving drivers who volunteered to have their mouths swabbed. The devices measured the presence of the drug, not how impaired someone was.
The government’s bill to legalize cannabis consumption was unveiled in April and the reforms create three new drug-impaired driving offences, and radically toughen drunk-driving laws, giving police more power to detect illegal blood alcohol limits, prosecutors more tools to secure convictions and judges harsher sentences to impose. As with any new legislation, the devil is in the details and we still don’t know just how seamless this process will be and what impact it will have in curtailing the carnage that is happening on our highways each and every day because of alcohol and drug impairment.
Geoff deGannes is the past chairman of the Tantramar Radio Society. His daily commentaries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA.