Canada police boning up on signs and symptoms of drugged driving

Drugged driving is taking a toll on traffic safety enforcement.

Drugged driving is an ongoing safety issue in Canada, and its prevalence has intensified in recent years. In 2010, for instance, the number of people in the country who died from accidents involving drug use was only 5 percentage points shy of the share of fatal crashes where drunk driving was to blame, according to the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse and Addiction. Today, deadly accidents where drug use was to blame exceed those associated with alcohol abuse.

Eight years later, drugged driving continues to adversely affect the country's highways and byways. To restore order and rid the roads of motorists operating under the influence, the government is rolling out new training curriculum for police officers to learn and implement in their highway patrol.

Appropriately titled, the curriculum is called "Introduction to Drug-Impaired Driving." Developed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, along with the input from police units among the provinces and territories, the training will be paired with field sobriety testing training that officers learn and implement in the field when they have reason to believe motorists are operating under the influence of an intoxicating substance, which is usually alcohol. This curriculum will focus on the signs and symptoms indicative of cannabis use, in particular, and how they intersect with impaired driving laws on the books.

The program will also provide more clarity on how certain medical conditions can mirror the symptoms of drug use, something police officers increasingly must take into consideration when assessing drivers' physiological state.

Ralph Goodale, minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, said far too many individuals are not taking drugged driving as seriously they ought to be.

"People who think drugs do not impair their driving ability are selfish and dangerous," Goodale warned. "Drug-impaired driving is illegal and will not be tolerated. The increased training for police and border services officers will help keep our roads safe from drug-impaired drivers who put their own needs above the safety of their passengers, other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians."

Nearly 3,100 motorists cited for drug impairment in 2016
Drug-impaired driving, in virtually all its forms, is more common today than it's been in the past. Indeed, according to government figures, 3,098 motorists in 2016 were cited for operating their vehicles while under the influence of drugs. That's up from 2,755 countrywide in 2015.

Cannabis use is also on the rise, to the point where some motorists who use don't think it adversely impacts their cognitive capabilities. Among Canadians who own up to using – whether regularly or sporadically – nearly 30 percent say they've driven a car while under the drug's influence.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said drugs can no longer take a back seat to alcohol when it comes to their impact on drivers' cognitive function.

"Driving after using drugs, even some prescription drugs, is just as dangerous as drinking and driving, Lucki explained. "Everyone has a role to play in road safety." Lucki further stated that in tandem with the RCMP's expansion of police officers' drug impairment training, people working together can help resolve this ongoing traffic hazard.

Medical marijuana legal in Canada
Marijuana in Canada has been a bit of a hot-button issue for many years, with its use for medical purposes recently legalized by the Government of Canada. Legislation was introduced late last year to make cannabis legal for recreational use, as well, with the Senate set to vote on the measure in the not-too-distant future.

According to recent polling data from Public Safety Canada, 8 in 10 Canadians say they know of someone who uses or used marijuana. A majority – 56 percent – say they've consumed cannabis at least once. Thirty-three percent of Canadians acknowledge having ridden in the same vehicle of a motorist who was high on marijuana at the time.

Canada has a goal of being the safest roads to travel in the world. The government hopes this renewed effort and combating dangerous driving will help make it's aim a reality.