Drug-impaired driving

Drugs, including cannabis, can impair your ability to drive safely and increase the risk of getting into a collision.. In fact, impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death and injury in Canada, and drug-impaired driving is increasing. The percentage of Canadian drivers killed in vehicle crashes who test positive for drugs now actually exceeds the numbers who test positive for alcohol.

Getting behind the wheel while impaired by drugs is not only dangerous, it's against the law. Trained police officers and Drug Recognition Experts can determine if you are under the influence of a drug and can charge you with impaired driving. You can have your license suspended, face fines, criminal charges, and even jail time.

Cannabis impairs drivers

Cannabis can impair each person differently. The impairment on individuals can depend on:

As a result, there is no guidance to drivers about how much cannabis can be consumed before it is unsafe to drive or how long a driver should wait to drive after consuming cannabis.

Don't take a chance. Don't drive high.

Cannabis and other drugs affect your ability to drive

When you drive a vehicle, you need to be alert and focused. Impairing drugs like cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine, opioids and some prescribed drugs negatively impact your ability to drive by:

One in five people who have used cannabis in the past 12 months say they have driven within two hours of smoking or vapourizing, while one in ten say they have driven within four hours of ingesting cannabis. If you drive high, you could hurt or kill any passenger in your vehicle — including yourself. You could also hurt or kill an innocent stranger, and face consequences like a criminal charge, prison time or a fine. Driving while impaired is entirely preventable.

Top reasons people drive after consuming cannabis

Plan ahead

There is no good excuse for driving while impaired, and being a passenger with an impaired driver is also risky. You have options:

Police protect our roads from drug-impaired drivers

Police are trained to detect if you are driving under the influence of a drug and enforce drug-impaired driving laws using:

In addition to these tests, the new legislation permits law enforcement to use approved drug screening devices to detect the recent presence of several drugs, including any or all of THC from cannabis and cocaine. Following a legal roadside stop, police can demand an oral fluid sample and/or conduct an SFST if they suspect you are driving under the influence of a drug.

Enforcement of drug-impaired driving laws

Drug-impaired driving has been illegal in Canada since 1925. In addition to risking your life and the lives of others, you could face serious consequences such as having your license suspended, fines, criminal charges or even jail time if you are convicted of driving under the influence of cannabis or other impairing drugs. As of the end of 2020, there are over 27,000 trained SFST officers across Canada. More law enforcement officers are receiving training on an ongoing basis. For the latest figures, refer to the Annual National Data Report to Inform Trends and Patterns in Drug Impaired Driving.

Information for parents

Young people continue to be the largest group of drivers who die in crashes and later test positive for alcohol or drugs, and yet, only 11 per cent of parents surveyed said they had discussed the risks of driving under the influence with their teenagersFootnote 3. This dropped to 4 percent when teens themselves were asked whether they had discussed impaired driving with their parents.

Start a conversation with your children about impaired driving. It could save lives.

Parents: What can you do?

Parents play a vital role in teaching their kids to drive responsibly.

Here are some tips on talking to your child about drug-impaired driving.

Start a conversation

Government of Canada initiatives on drug-impaired driving

In their own words:
Stories from Canadians impacted by drug-impaired driving

Gregg Thomson (Ottawa, ON)

Gregg Thomson

Gregg Thomson woke up on a Sunday morning to find out that his 18 year old son Stanley had not come home after a night out with friends. The panic set in immediately and Thomson had a gut feeling that something was wrong, so he decided to call the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). "When I walked up to the OPP officers and they told me, I fell over… I just fell. The way it hits you, it's… when you lose a child, it brings a whole different set of emotions that before you've had this type of experience, you don't even understand." The night before, Stanley decided to get into a car with an individual who was under the influence of marijuana. Not only did Stanley lose his life that night, but the lives of those closest to him were changed forever. Feeling tremendous guilt and devastation, Thomson asked his daughter: "Where did your mum and I fail? Like why did Stanley get in the car that night?" His daughter explained that her parents had not failed, since they had "taught [them] well about alcohol and driving." The trouble was that these conversations did not include the dangers of driving under the influence of marijuana.

Transcript

Video length: 2 minutes 29 seconds.

(TEXT ON SCREEN: In 1999, Gregg's son was killed in a car crash.)

(TEXT ON SCREEN: The driver was high.)

It all started off with a group of them heading up to Bennett Lake just outside of Perth.

And they were celebrating the end of school, they were all graduating.

One of the young men attempted to pass the other cars they were in the convoy with and it struck a truck head on.

So we got that knock on the door that obviously no other parent wants to get,

to let us know that Stan wouldn't be coming home.

Madison was 13 when her older brother was killed.

And about two months after Stan had been killed, I was driving around with Madison.

I asked her point blank, I said "why did Stan get in that car?

I thought your Mom and I taught you well about impaired driving."

And she was amazing for a 13 year old, she said

"you did – you taught us well about alcohol, but not about drugs."

If you take a look at the 50 years that Canada has really been front on fighting impaired driving, it's all been alcohol.

So what we have with specifically with marijuana as a drug, it's the opposite impact, isn't it?

But the end game is the same, you're still impaired.

And we don't even recognize it. Kids, youth, don't even recognize it yet,

that it a true impairment.

It was several years before I could legitimately get myself out of bed properly.

My job is to protect my family, and I didn't.

I failed in educating my children properly about what the risks were that they are facing.

You really really need to listen. And you really really need to watch.

Because this is real.

I mean, drugged driving does kill.

I can sit here in front of you, I'm the testament to that.

(TEXT ON SCREEN: Your life can change in an instant)

(TEXT ON SCREEN: #dontdrivehigh)

(Canada wordmark)

Nancy Stewart (Oakville, ON)

Nancy Stewart

"Drinking and driving is something that we as a society have been talking about for a long time. People know it's dangerous and illegal. But drugged driving isn't on everyone's radar yet. There are a lot of people who don't think driving while under the influence of a drug is as serious as driving while drunk. People don't realize the seriousness of it or the devastating consequences. But drugged driving is impaired driving. My family knows just how deadly drugged driving can be. We deal with the impact of it every single day."

Transcript

I have witnessed on many occasions the effects of drugs on driving abilities.

Many symptoms can occur depending on the substance consumed: drowsiness, the augmentation of risky behaviour, or aggressiveness at the wheel.

There is no excuse for driving under the influence of drugs. Many options are available to you -

have a designated driver, call a friend or take a taxi. Make sure you come home safely and help us protect lives.

Transcript

Every year, the Toronto Police Service arrests approximately 1400 impaired drivers.

The vast majority of those are impaired by alcohol. But the impaired driving landscape is changing.

We are seeing more and more impaired-by-drug drivers every year.

The message is clear: you, as a driver, have a responsibility to operate a motor vehicle safely and while not impaired by drug or alcohol.

Passenger: if you're in a motor vehicle and you see somebody who is or is about to operate a motor vehicle while impaired,

take responsibility for your own safety – call 911.

The message is clear: there is no excuse to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by drug or alcohol.

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