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 detected by law enforcement is increasing. The percentage of Canadian drivers killed in vehicle crashes who test positive for drugs now 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
Driving after cannabis use remains a top road safety concern for Canadians, but does not appear to be increasing according to results from public opinion research conducted by Public Safety Canada in January 2022 and the results of the 2021 Canadian Cannabis Survey.
- One in four (26%) cannabis users say they have operated a vehicle while under the influence, consistent with 2020 (26%) and 2017 (28%).
- One in three Canadians (30%) also report that they have ridden in a vehicle operated by a driver who was under the effects of cannabis, also consistent with 2020 (30%) and 2017 (33%).
Cannabis can impair each person differently. The impairment on individuals can depend on:
- The method of consumption if it was smoked, inhaled, or ingested;
- The quantity of cannabis consumed;
- The recency of use;
- The frequency of use; and
- The variety of cannabis and its THC levels, including cannabis prescribed for medical use.
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:
- affecting motor skills;
- slowing reaction time;
- impairing short term memory and concentration;
- causing drivers to vary speed and to wander; and
- reducing the ability to make decisions quickly or handle unexpected eventsFootnote 1.
According to public opinion research conducted in 2021, most Canadians agree that cannabis affects one's ability to drive and view driving under the influence as unacceptable:
- Nearly nine in ten Canadians (86%) agree that using cannabis impairs one's driving ability, consistent with 2020 (86%) and up from 81% in 2017.
- Four in five (81%) say that cannabis impacts reaction time and ability to concentrate and nearly two in three (67%) say that cannabis makes the user a worse driver.
- More than eight in ten Canadians (82%) believe it is not acceptable for people they know to drive high.
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
- They do not feel impaired
- They think they can drive carefully
- They do not have far to drive
- They do not have alternative transportation
- They do not think they will be caught by law enforcementFootnote 2
There is no good excuse for driving while impaired, and being a passenger with an impaired driver is also risky. You have options:
- Make sure you have a designated driver;
- Call a friend or loved one to pick you up;
- Take public transit; or
- Call a cab or a ridesharing service.
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. Canadians are increasingly aware that police can in fact detect impairment at the roadside, a key deterrence measure.
The most recent public opinion research survey shows that:
- Two in three Canadians (66%) believe that police are capable of determining whether a driver is impaired from cannabis, an increase from 63% in 2020 and 45% in 2017.
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.
Government of Canada initiatives on drug-impaired driving
- Annual National Data Report to Inform Trends and Patterns in Drug Impaired Driving
- Don't Drive High Public Awareness Campaign for youth
- Strengthening impaired driving laws
- Drug Screeners
- Alcohol and Drug Impaired Driving: Current Tests, Criminal Charges, Penalties, Suspensions and Prohibitions.
- Canadian Cannabis Survey 2021: Summary
- Public opinion research on drug-impaired driving : survey findings report
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