The cover of the Spring 2018 issue of the BCAA Magazine—BCCA stands for the British Columbia Automobile Association—is an eye-catching set of green keys on a fuchsia background fanned out in the shape of what appears to be a drug plant. It makes the point. The headline in the lower left “Riding High, Why cannabis and driving don’t mix” refers to the p.25 article that is also a source of useful information and packed, authoritative, yet a quick read.
Also online at bcaa.com/cannabis, is another source of information about drug-addled driving. It highlights one of the most challenging issues that will arise when the current federal government follows through on its intention to legalize what is commonly referred to as recreational cannabis. Shawn Pettipas, the BCAA’s Director of Community Engagement puts it this way: “Any conversation about cannabis with young drivers has to acknowledge one fact upfront, … they’re the generation that drinks and drives the least of any other. The ‘don’t drink and drive’ message really took hold with younger drivers. We’re hoping they’ll come to see cannabis in a similar light.”
The problem is this new messaging challenge is significant. The article cites a recent Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) survey in which 69% of Canadians have said while they believe driving high is dangerous, “nearly one in 10 said they had driven … while under the influence of cannabis, and one in five said they had been a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone under the influence. In the 18 to 34-age category, however, 20% said, “they think a driver under the influence of cannabis is the same or better [emphasis added] behind the wheel as a sober driver.” One may suspect that the interviews were under the influence of some form of an intoxicant when they said this.
Cannabis and driving ability
The necessary messaging needs to focus on what is known about the effects of cannabis on driving ability. Dr Jeff Brubacher, a clinical toxicologist and UBC Department of Emergency Medicine Associate Professor specializing in cannabis-and-driving research is quoted on a number of points. The first is the effects of cannabis on the human brain and, in turn, on driving skill. THC, the active ingredient in cannabis that is consumed by smoking, vaping or imbibing acts on “areas that control pleasure, memory, concentration, motor control, coordination and sensory perception.”
Rather than improving driving skill, it “slows down reaction time, interferes with …motor skills, and [interferes with the] ability to pay attention and multitask. … Drivers intoxicated by cannabis are likely to weave more … right out of the lane or off the road, and they may be more easily distracted than if they’re sober.” And to further complicate this messaging challenge, “weed affects everyone differently” so, at this point, there is still “no way for drivers to measure their own [cannabis] impairment.” Where is the surprise in any of this?
Blood samples from crash victims treated at BC-based hospitals for the last five years show 7-8% of drivers testing positive for cannabis. Younger drivers compose the highest usage age category. This article says cannabis-impaired driving “doubles your risk of a car crash” and it says, “add alcohol and the risk of crashing and degree of impairment go up quite dramatically.”
It never ends.
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Road Rules by Cedric Hughes and Leslie McGuffin