Dangers of driving high

SOS Safety Magazine had the chance to interview Patricia Hynes-Coates, National President of MADD Canada, in regards to the upcoming legalization of marijuana and how parents can educate their children about the risks of driving impaired.

How do you feel about the legalization of marijuana and its potential impact on impaired driving rates?

The legalization of marijuana obviously has the potential to increase the rate of drug-impaired driving, so it is crucial to have the proper laws, enforcement tools and detection measures in place before that happens.

But when we look at legalization and the impact on impaired driving rates, it’s really important to recognize that Canada already has a drugged driving problem. Drugs are now present more often than alcohol in road crash deaths. In 2013, there were 683 crash fatalities involving drivers with drugs present in their systems, compared to 369 fatalities where alcohol was present. When we look at what drugs were present, cannabis was the drug most commonly found. So it’s clear that drugged driving is already a problem and must be addressed, regardless of what happens with the legalization of marijuana.

That is an area that MADD Canada has been focusing our efforts and resources on for several years now. We’ve been talking to lawmakers, the media and the public about the crucial need for effective drug-impaired driving laws.

There is proposed legislation right now, Bill C-46, which will provide for much stronger drug-impaired driving laws and a range of other laws and provisions that will all help to dramatically reduce impaired driving.

To MADD Canada, is driving high the same as driving drunk?

Yes, when we talk about impaired driving, we are talking about driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs. Both are dangerous and illegal.

How do you hope the government roles out the upcoming legalization in terms of impaired driving laws?

It’s going to be crucial that we have effective laws, enforcement and detection measures in place. That means having driving limits for drugs, including cannabis, the same way we have driving limits for alcohol. We also need a quick and effective roadside test to determine if a driver is under the influence of drugs, the same way we have a breathalyzer for alcohol. That technology for roadside oral fluid testing for drugs does exist and is being used in other countries.

Both the driving limits for drugs and the new testing technology are part of federal Bill C-46, which has been passed by the House of Commons and is now being debated in the Senate.

It will also be crucial for the government, and for stakeholder organizations such as MADD Canada, to do a lot of education and awareness about both the risk of driving under the influence of cannabis and other drugs, as well as the news laws, testing measures and penalties for drugged driving.

Do you have any suggestions on how parents can talk to their kids about the dangers of driving high or getting in a vehicle with someone who is high? And what message would you like to send to teens and parents regarding the legalization of marijuana?

When we talk about impaired driving, most people think about drunk driving. But drugged driving is dangerous and illegal too.

Just like alcohol, drugs can impair your ability to drive. Depending on the drug and the amount, it can reduce alertness, depth perception, concentration, reaction time, motor skills and visual function. It is not only illicit drugs which pose a risk. Some prescription medications can also impair driving ability.

So it’s important for parents to help kids understand all of that, and how drugs can affect their ability to drive.

It’s also going to be important to dispel the myths and misperceptions around driving high. Some people seem to think there is no risk involved, or even that they drive safer when high. Educational messaging on the risks of drugged driving has been the subject of various materials we’ve produced, including television and radio ads, posters, and web and social media content. It’s also been a key part of our School Assembly Programs for youth for many years. In fact, our current program, titled The Pact, focuses on a group of teens at a party who recognize that their friends who have been drinking are not safe to drive, but they do not have similar concerns about a friend who has been smoking pot. So that’s the kind of scenario this is important to discuss.

Most importantly, I think, is that we as parents need to emphasize that kids can call home for a safe ride at any time if they are in a risky situation.

How would you suggest parents talk to their children about impaired driving?

We need to provide kids with information and facts that empower them to make safe decisions.  We can’t be there at all times so we need to be sure they understand the risks of impaired driving and have the info and confidence to make safe, responsible choices.

Talk to them about the statistics. Road crashes are the number one cause of death among young people in Canada, and more than half of all those deaths are alcohol-related. And it isn’t just about driving, it’s about who they’re driving with. Young people are significantly over-represented in alcohol-related deaths as drivers, but even more so as passengers.

Talk about the fact that impaired driving, and the terrible consequences that can result from it – from losing your licence to being charged, to causing a crash that kills or injures someone – is entirely preventable. They have the power to prevent it.

I think one of the most beneficial things about our School Assembly Program is that it gives young people so much to think about, and they are encouraged to talk about the show with their families. That opens the door to even more dialogue about impaired driving and gives parents a chance to reiterate the message to their kids about never driving impaired and never being afraid to call home if they don’t have a safe and sober ride.

We have a section on our website that provides some information on the statistics around impaired driving and the significant toll it takes on youth. We encourage parents to check that out.

About MADD Canada

MADD Canada officially started in 1990 but its history goes back further than that. In the early 80s, there were a number of provincial anti-drinking and driving groups that started forming in Canada. They included groups in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario. The founders of these groups were the pioneers of Canada’s anti-drinking and driving movement. They were victims and survivors who wanted to draw attention to the terrible tragedies caused by impaired driving, do what they could to stop it, and support the individuals and families affected by it.

It was the PRIDE (People to Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere) in Ontario, and one of its founding members, John Bates, that initiated discussions with the MADD organization in U.S. to form a Canadian MADD organization. MADD Canada was officially registered as a charitable organization in Canada in 1990.

More Info:

School Assembly Program promo: http://madd.ca/pages/programs/youth-services/school-programs/the-pact/
TV PSA on Drugs and Driving:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOc4xrWBqd8&feature=youtu.be