Canadian Underwriter

Buzz Kill

February 3, 2017   by Angela Stelmakowich, Editor

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The federal government and its partners are hopeful a new pilot project will help curb incidents involving drug-impaired driving.

Long a stumbling block to prevention efforts, the project will allow police to use a device capable of helping them assess and measure impairment, something that, if given the green light, would provide an immediate means to get drug-impaired drivers off the road.

The hope is that hurdle can soon be cleared, and the human toll and losses associated with related collisions dramatically reduced.

Angela Stelmakowich, Editor, Canadian Underwriter

Public Safety Canada, in collaboration with the RCMP and the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators, announced in December that it was launching the pilot project to test use of the roadside screening devices. Select police services across the country will be trained to use the two types of drug-screening (oral fluid) devices in operational settings with drivers and passengers who volunteer to anonymously provide a sample.

Results of testing saliva for the presence of certain drugs – including cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine and opioids – are meant to help inform how police services nationwide can counter drug-impaired driving.

No results “will be used against volunteers in court as evidence in any criminal or administrative proceeding,” the federal department notes.

Results will help establish possible future operating procedures and, in parallel, Canadian standards for oral fluid devices will need to be established before a government procurement process for the device can be launched, it adds.

The pilot project will unfold as consideration is being given to findings in the recently released Report from the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation.

The task force was charged with providing its best advice on how to legalize and strictly regulate cannabis.

“There will be several opportunities to consult Canadians as the government proceeds to legalize, and strictly regulate, cannabis,” Ottawa noted at the time.

If drug-impaired driving is to be reduced, though, assessment devices and laws will need to catch up, and attitudes will need to change.

A recent survey shows some convincing is in order.

More than four in 10 polled Canadians, 44%, who have driven under the influence of marijuana report they do not think doing so has an impact on their ability to drive safely, say survey results this past May from State Farm Canada.

Add to this worrisome finding that 53% note they do not believe police have the tools and resources to identify marijuana-impaired drivers.

Asked what would change their behaviour behind the wheel, 20% of respondents said at the time nothing would make them stop driving while under the influence. About four out of 10 report they think stiffer penalties would deter them, followed by more public awareness.

The “no-affect-on-me” belief was also reflected in survey findings last November from the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA). The poll found 26% of respondents aged 18 to 34 believe a driver is either the same or better on the road under the influence of marijuana.

The CAA survey results further illustrate that 63% of respondents voiced concern that road safety will decline when marijuana is legalized.

“There need to be significant resources devoted to educating the public in the run-up to – and after – marijuana is legalized,” says Jeff Walker, vice president of public affairs for CAA National.

MADD Canada would, no doubt, agree. It reported last spring that there were 614 road fatalities in 2012 where a driver had drugs present in his or her system compared to 476 where a driver had alcohol in his or her system.

Emphasizing better tools and education are required to deter drug-impaired driving, “that is why it is critical that effective drug-impaired driving detection tools be put in place now,” MADD Canada chief executive officer Andrew Murie said.

Though no hard date has been set, Ottawa could table legislation to legalize marijuana this spring.

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