October 17 is etched into the minds of many pot-loving Canadians. That’s the date that recreational cannabis will become legal, of course. But with less than two weeks to go, new research is showing that it’s not uncommon for Ontario drivers to get behind the wheel after getting high.
An Ipsos poll commissioned by the Canadian Automobile Association South Central Ontario (CAA SCO) in July 2018, revealed that 1.9 million Ontario motorists have driven under the influence of cannabis, and more than 735,000 have done so in the last three months.
CAA SCO surveyed 1,000 Ontarians over the age of 19 who own, lease or drive a vehicle and have a valid driver’s license, and extrapolated the results. The data revealed that 48% of drivers who currently use cannabis said they had driven after consuming the drug.
Men between the ages of 25 and 34 are more likely to drive under the influence of cannabis (69%), as well as novice drivers (39%). On July 1, the province introduced a zero tolerance policy for driving after consuming any drugs or alcohol for those with G1/G2 licenses.
"The fact that those who drive under the influence of cannabis are most likely to be young, novice drivers, with less experience on the road, is something that we should all be concerned about," said Elliott Silverstein, manager of government relations for CAA SCO.
In the last three months, 205,800 Ontario drivers have drank alcohol and used cannabis before getting behind the wheel
These statistics shed some light on what enforcement and education will need to look like in the coming weeks. How enforcement officials will test for cannabis consumption behind the wheel is still unclear. Roadside saliva tests have received some criticism, as they require internal temperatures of at least 4 C to work, which leaves a big question mark around whether or not they could operate in Canadian winters.
Auto insurers are expressing increasing concern, too, that with legalization could come more cannabis-impaired drivers behind the wheel, which could translate into higher premiums.
In an interview with the Toronto Star, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Andrew Murie, said public awareness is paramount.
“I think that one of the things we have made a mistake (in doing) up to now is we’ve just been saying, like alcohol, don’t do it,” he said, adding that campaigns designed to deter cannabis-impaired driving would be wise to advise drivers to wait four hours after smoking cannabis before driving. “That’s a reasonable message,” he said.
Murie’s take is all the more relevant, considering the poll also uncovered the prevalence of “poly-users,” or people who consume marijuana and alcohol (or other mixed substances) together.
In the last three months, 205,800 Ontario drivers have drank alcohol and used cannabis before getting behind the wheel, after being in social settings, like family gatherings, or hanging out with friends at a bar, club or pub.
“Road safety needs to be prioritized as a leading issue as cannabis becomes legal in the coming weeks, but it's clear that the focus can't solely be on cannabis-impaired driving," said Silverstein. "We need to take an integrated view of the dangerous behaviours that impact road safety in Ontario and focus public education and enforcement efforts accordingly."
Motorists who also happen to be cannabis users aren’t ignorant to this issue. Fifty-seven percent expressed concern that, following legalization, there will be more cannabis-impaired drivers on the road. And 52% believe that they drive worse while under the influence of cannabis than a sober driver.
"There is a common perception that cannabis users feel that they drive better when under the influence of the drug," continued Silverstein. "This research shows that that is not necessarily the case and that current cannabis users are also concerned about impairment and road safety.”