Canadian Underwriter

MPI launches public awareness campaign on drug-impaired driving

September 15, 2017   by Canadian Underwriter

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Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) will be launching a “broad public awareness and education campaign” to raise awareness about the dangers and consequences of drug-impaired driving in advance of the expected federal legalization of recreational use of marijuana next year.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and Crown Services Minister Cliff Cullen announced the campaign on Thursday. The objective is to reduce the incidence of drug-impaired driving collisions, claims and claims costs, which in turn, will benefit all ratepayers in terms of the premiums they pay, the release said.

“Our primary concern regarding the legalization of marijuana is the health and safety of Manitobans,” Pallister said in the release. “Our government has been clear from the onset that federal plans to legalize marijuana must take into consideration the potential harms that can result, including a potential increase in drug-impaired driving collisions, fatalities and serious injuries. Our hope is that MPI’s public awareness and education efforts over the next year will give all Manitobans the information they need to make safe decisions when it comes to driving after consuming cannabis, and to understand how, similar to alcohol, cannabis and other drugs can impair driving ability.”

The multi-dimensional campaign launching this month will focus on four primary target audiences: new teen drivers, youth in general, physicians and their patients, and the general public. Ward Keith, vice president of business development and communications and chief administrative officer at MPI, said that messaging “is far ranging and substantive,” beginning with new teen drivers who participate in the corporation’s High School Driver Education program, and expanding the messaging to other groups.

“Impairment by drugs is not only a risk related to cannabis use,” Keith added in the release. “Use of illicit drugs and even legally prescribed medication can impair judgment and motor skills, which is why this campaign includes outreach to the medical community and their patients.”

Keith reported that the 2016 Manitoba Drug and Alcohol Roadside Survey conducted last fall confirms that “many drivers in Manitoba simply do not understand or appreciate the extent to which consuming drugs can impair their ability to drive, and pending federal legislation to legalize cannabis makes the issue of drug-impaired driving an area of growing concern.”

Related: One in 10 polled Canadians admit to driving under the influence of marijuana, State Farm Canada survey finds

In March, MPI reported that one in 10 drivers in the province who participated in the voluntary roadside surveys last fall tested positive for drugs. Of the 1,230 drivers who participated in the survey, 124 tested positive for drugs, with 53% testing positive for cannabis, 31% for cocaine and 12% for opioids. Twenty-two per cent of these drivers tested positive for more than one drug.

“Education and public awareness are critical in making all Manitobans aware of the dangers of drugs and driving,” Cullen said in the release. “Recent results of the Manitoba Drug and Alcohol Roadside Survey confirm the need for more awareness about this serious road safety issue, and the importance of understandable messaging related to the dangers of drug use while driving. While our government continues to express concern with the federal government’s accelerated timeframe of legalization, we will continue to do our part, in partnership with MPI, to get in front of this issue with a proactive and informative public awareness strategy.”

Mothers Against Drinking and Driving (MADD) has introduced its own public awareness campaign against drug-impaired driving, MPI reported. Andrew Murie, chief executive officer of MADD Canada said that he applauded the Government of Manitoba and MPI’s efforts in keeping roads safe. “Information alone will not end impaired driving, but the majority of people – when fully informed of the risks, both to themselves and others – will make the right choices and never get behind the wheel impaired,” he said. “Heightened awareness about the dangers of drug-impaired driving is a critically important step in these efforts.”

According to MPI, a recent medical study published by the British Medical Journal shows that crash rates for drivers under the influence of cannabis are two to six times higher than for drivers who are not impaired. The different rates are due to how much and how often drivers have smoked cannabis, MPI reported.

Data also shows that in 2013 (the last year available), 95% of fatally injured drivers in Manitoba were tested for the presence of drugs in their system. Of those drivers, nearly 40% tested positive for the presence of drugs.