Drugged driving – pot linked to car accidents
As recreational use of marijuana gets closer to being legalized in Canada we need to ensure we have systems in place in order to avoid injury and death on the roads due to drugged driving. The discussions around legalization must include an assessment regarding road safety, education on consequences of driving under the influence, impaired driving, the development and implementation of testing and penalties to enforce the laws.
We need to work together to get a system in place before we have a public safety crisis on our roads. Combined with distracted driving, we could see an enormous increase in car accidents, injuries and fatalities due to driving under the influence of drugs. When cannabis is legalized, people will have the right to use marijuana recreationally. And with that, will come the possibility of more people driving while impaired by marijuana.
Why drugged driving is dangerous
According to Driving stoned: Marijuana legalization and drug-impaired driving, as published in BC Medical, that after alcohol, cannabis is the most frequently detected drug in drivers after a car crash. It is a fact that cannabis does impair one’s ability to drive. There is a reduction in the ability to drive safely. And the more you take, the higher the impairment. There is an array of deficits including negative impacts to peripheral vision, motor control, executive functioning and balance.
Testing for drug levels
There are issues with scientific testing of cannabis in the blood stream. Because the main psychoactive ingredient – THC – is a fat soluble, it can stay in the human system for long periods of time. Washington State decriminalized recreational marijuana, in November 2012. The most common standard used to define marijuana-impairment is 5 ng/mL. Marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient, THC, is fat soluble, making it difficult to connect a person’s current state of impairment to a blood level.
Marijuana and road traffic accidents
According to Marilyn Huestis of NIDA, who conducted a published study on marijuana, active THC quickly falls below the 5-nanogram limit within 24 hours. “The level of 5 nanograms per mil is pretty high,” she said. “We know that people are impaired at lower levels than 5, but the balancing act is trying to find a number that can reliably separate (the impaired from the not-impaired), which is almost impossible to do.” This threshold is not scientific but is an administrative number to indicate a level of impairment that will impact road safety.
Roadside screening tests for cannabis
According to Tim Stockwell, Director of the Centre for Addictions Research of BC (CARBC) and a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Victoria, a simple and cost effective road side screen test can be used but would need to be validated with a more scientific methodology such as a blood test. In Australia, roadside screening is done via a saliva sample. He suggests a mobile testing unit to ensure police can administer quick and effective tests. We need to come to an agreement as to what constitutes drugged driving.
Implementation of roadside screening
Currently, British Columbia does not have any safety systems in place related to detecting drug impaired driving. It is imperative that laws similar to impaired driving by alcohol are put in place in order to secure road and public safety. A standardized testing process and road side screening for drugged driving must correspond with the legalization of marijuana. According to Professor Stockwell, he recommends starting with a scientific experiment until we get it to a point that it works for the new legislation coming to Canada. It has been some time since laws have significantly changed related to personal injury in British Columbia, but we will have to wait and see what unfolds in this new territory.
If you have been injured in an accident and suspect the driver was under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both, call the experienced team at MacLean Personal Injury Law.
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