Drugs and driving – a deadly combination

CSC: Drugged drivers almost as a deadly as drinking drivers

While impairment behind the wheel is most often associated with alcohol, motorists are also gambling with their safety and the safety of others by driving under the influence of drugs.

These drugs include illegal substances, prescription medications and over-the-counter remedies.

“Unfortunately, people are more afraid of being caught than being killed,” says Canada Safety Council (CSC) president Jack Smith. “They don’t think it’s going to happen to them.”

The CSC seeks to educate Canadians that driving while under the influence of drugs is dangerous, irresponsible, illegal and becoming increasingly prevalent.

Drugged driving facts

• The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) reports 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. Drugged driving is just as deadly and prevalent as drunk driving.

• Serious injury, driver or passenger death, hurting bystanders, destroying property, lost productivity, more strain on the health-care system – these are just some of the unfortunate, painful and totally preventable consequences of impaired driving.

• Drug-involved fatal crashes are more likely to occur during the daytime hours on weekdays than alcohol-involved crashes.

• Drugs are impairing because they reduce drivers’ reaction times and their attention to the task of driving.

• Impaired driving is an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada. Most jurisdictions also have sanctions under highway traffic acts. In 2011, more than 90,000 impaired driving charges were laid in Canada. This number, however, represents only a fraction of the impaired drivers on our roads.

• A growing body of drug recognition experts (DRE) in Canada, work to enforce penalties for driving under the influence. Where impairment by drugs is suspected, sobriety tests are used to check for the impairment source. A DRE can be called in to assess the condition of a suspected impaired driver and may collect or arrange to collect a swab, urine or blood sample. If the results come back positive for the suspected drug or drugs, charges can be laid under the Criminal Code of Canada.

• Female drivers are almost equally likely as males to test positive for drugs.

• Driving after cannabis use is more commonplace among those ages 15 to 24 than drinking and driving, according to a 2013 CCSA report. In that age group, 12.6 per cent surveyed admitted to driving after cannabis use; this compares to 10.7 per cent who drove after drinking.

The Canada Safety Council urges motorists to be proactive and stop drugged driving before it happens.

• Be responsible. Never drive when impaired.

• Do not combine drugs and alcohol.

• Know the side-effects of medications. Read the inserts that come with your medications and speak with your pharmacist about the drugs’ possible impacts on your driving abilities.

• Report impaired driving to the police.

Whether by drugs, alcohol, fatigue or some other contributing factor, there is no excuse for impaired driving.