When we talk about impaired driving, many people automatically think about drunk drivers and impairment by alcohol. But the problem of drug-impaired driving has become much more prevalent in recent years. In fact, the latest statistics show that drugs are present more often than alcohol in fatal motor vehicle crashes. The most common drug found is marijuana.
The growing prevalence of drug use among drivers is also reflected in various studies and roadside surveys.
Drugs can impair one’s ability to drive. Depending on the drug type, they can reduce alertness, alter depth perception, impair concentration, and attention span, slow reaction time and affect motor skills and visual function.
Despite the growing presence of drugs among drivers, the charge rate remains very low. In 2014, just 2.6% of all impaired driving charges were drug-related. That is just 1,355 charges out of the total 51,637 impaired driving charges.
Current detection measures are based on behaviour-based tests called the Standard Field Sobriety Test (SFST) and the Drug Recognition Evaluation (DRE). But as the charge rate illustrates, this system is not catching many drug-impaired drivers.
Legislation needs to be enacted to authorize the use of roadside oral fluid testing for drugs, and the establishment of drug limits for driving, the same way we have roadside testing and limits for alcohol.
Roadside oral fluid tests are already available for police to use to catch drug-impaired drivers. These tools have been in place in other countries for years. The tests are accurate, relatively quick and only measures very recent drug use –so this isn’t a situation where someone who smoked marijuana two days ago, or a person using prescription drugs and following the dosage level prescribed by their doctor, is going to be charged with impaired driving.
This initial roadside test would be used as the grounds to demand a second, more sophisticated test which would be analyzed by an approved laboratory. Only that second test could be used as the grounds to lay charges. (This works in basically the same way the breathalyzer and the second evidentiary test work for alcohol-related driving charges.)
In June 2018, the Government of Canada passed legislation to significantly reform and strengthen Canada’s impaired driving laws. Bill C-46 will improve screening and detection measures for drivers impaired by alcohol and/or drugs. The new laws include:
- Driving limits, new roadside testing measures and new charges and penalties for drugged driving.
- Mandatory alcohol screening.
- Closing legal loopholes which have enabled impaired drivers to avoid liability.
- Increased minimum fines for impaired drivers with high BACs.
MADD Canada welcomes these new laws. They are entirely consistent with policies and tools MADD Canada has identified to address the impaired driving problem in Canada, and will effectively reduce impaired driving and prevent crashes, deaths and injuries.
For more information, please see:
- Need for New Measures to Detect Drug-Impaired Drivers is Greater Than Ever, January 2016
- A Feasibility Study of Roadside Oral Fluid Drug Testing, December 2015
- Addressing the Drug-Impaired Driving Problem in Canada, January 2014 (PDF)
- MADD Canada Discusses Need for New Drug-Impaired Driving Detection Measures, May 2014
- Canada’s New Drug-Impaired Driving Law: The Need to Consider Other Approaches, Traffic Injury Prevention, November 2013 (PDF)
- Drug Impaired Driving in Canada: Review and Recommendations, October 2012 (PDF)