Dangers of both drunk and ‘drugged’ driving

Throughout the year, there is much focus on the dangers of drunk driving – but no so much on the potential perils of ‘drugged driving’.

Until now.

Provincial officials are stepping up a campaign to get folks thinking about the dangers of getting behind the wheel while in a drugged state – or worse, with a mix of drugs and alcohol coursing through their systems.

According to the province, few drivers are aware of the penalties for drugged driving and may believe alcohol-impaired drivers are more likely to be stopped by police than drug-impaired drivers.

“It comes as a surprise to many people that drunk driving and drugged driving carry the same criminal charges. This is because both substances impair a driver’s ability and increase the likelihood of being involved in a collision,” said Brian Mason, minister of transportation.

The Traffic Injury Research Foundation determined that in Canada during 2012, drugs were detected in 40% of fatally injured drivers.

Alberta is slightly above the national average at 41%.

This represents 82 drivers who were killed in collisions during 2012 who tested positive for drugs.

For perspective, 71 fatally injured drivers tested positive for alcohol during that same year. Of those, 34 had both alcohol and drugs in their system.

Anything that impairs your ability to drive – alcohol or drugs, whether legal or illegal – may result in an impaired driving charge.

Mixing alcohol and drugs of any sort is also a concern. Combining impairing substances has major risks. Always use substances responsibly.

According to a study done by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, cannabis creates performance deficits in many skills required to drive safely, such as tracking, reaction time, visual function, concentration, short-term memory and divided attention.

Studies of driving performance (both simulated and on-road) show increased likelihood to swerve, following distance and speed as a function of cannabis use.

Also, many types of illegal and prescription drugs can impair a person’s ability to drive. Such effects can include reduced ability to divide attention, poor time and space management, and reduced ability to allocate concentration. These effects can increase the crash risk by up to eight times. Such crashes sometimes result in death.

People in general seem to becoming more aware of the issue. In the 2014 Driver Attitude Survey, seven in 10 Albertans agreed that too many people are driving under the influence of legal or illegal drugs.

But that survey also noted only 55% of Albertans make other driving arrangements when they have taken drugs which can affect their ability to drive.

Another area of particular concern is the prevalence of driving after drug use among young drivers.

According to the 2012 Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey, 5% of youth aged 15–24 reported driving after using marijuana during the past year, compared to 9.4% after consuming alcohol.

And data from the National Fatality Database revealed that between 2000 and 2010, marijuana was the most common illicit drug present among fatally injured drivers aged 15 to 24 in Canada.

The 2011 Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey revealed that individuals aged 15 to 24 were more likely to be passengers of an individual who had consumed alcohol or other drugs, rather than to drive impaired themselves.

Riding with a driver who has used drugs or alcohol can lead to consequences just as tragic as driving while impaired.

“Impaired driving is Canada’s leading cause of criminal death in Canada,” said Andrew Murie, CEO MADD Canada.

“The number of drugs present in motor vehicle fatalities in Canada (also) continues to grow. It is absolutely essential that when you are using drugs that you not drive and create that risk of death or injury to yourself or others.”

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