Everyone 21 and over in Canada will be able to legally purchase marijuana at commercial storefronts beginning in October. And for most of the preceding summer, media outlets have been marking the occasion by freaking out over stoned driving.
The legalization-leery point to recent findings that more Canadians involved in fatal accidents tested positive for drugs than they did for alcohol. Results from a recent survey won’t help quell any of the umbrage, as it appears Canadians do indeed like to smoke weed and then drive cars — though judging all the data as a whole, it’s hard to see how stoned drivers qualify as a national issue.
There are about 36.5 million Canadians in Canada, and 1.4 million of them copped to having been in a car driven by someone who had consumed marijuana within the last two hours. If that doesn’t sound like a big deal, consider: the National Cannabis Survey also found that one in seven cannabis users who drive said they drove probably high at least once within the last three months.
As in America, law enforcement and law-enforcement minded politicians in Canada aren’t quite sure what to do about the “stoned driving” problem. There is currently no “marijuana breathalyzer” that can register cannabis intoxication in the way a driver impaired by alcohol can be immediately and scientifically found out (although at least one company swears it has such a device).
There is also serious contention over whether stoned driving even qualifies as a problem. Two separate U.S. studies came to conflicting conclusions on the issue.
And while drug-related accidents in Canada did double between 2009 and 2017, according to 14 years of traffic safety data in Canada, the key factor behind an increase in traffic accidents across all age groups is “distraction,” a broad category that includes drivers who crash because they were noodling on their smartphones.
Any discussion about marijuana and driving and how it is an impending apocalypse should mention smartphones, which — surprise! — are much more popular than marijuana.
It also bears mentioning that Canadians have a surprisingly cavalier attitude towards sobriety and driving generally.
In research published in late 2016, 1 in 4 Canadians polled admitted to driving while intoxicated by alcohol — a rate of incidence far, far above the Canadians who say they use cannabis at all. Only 16 percent of Canadians say they used cannabis at all within the last three months. The fact that more Canadians say that they drive drunk than say they use cannabis in any situation should be proof enough what the real problem is — and it’s not marijuana.
It’s cell phones! Look: The Traffic Injury Research Foundation looked at what fueled fatal collisions over a 14-year period. In that time, “Drivers in all seven age groups were more likely to have been distracted in 2014 than in 2000,” the study said. “This may reflect an overall increase in the percentage of distracted drivers.”
As for drugs:
It appears that between 2009 and 2014, the age group with the largest percentage of fatally injured drivers who tested positive for drugs were 25-34-year-olds. Furthermore, while there is an increase in almost all age categories, the increase is not the same in terms of drug type. In particular, younger drivers are more likely to test positive for marijuana, whereas older drivers are more likely to test positive for narcotic analgesics or CNS depressants (see accompanying fact sheet on marijuana use among drivers in Canada, released by TIRF in 2017).
However, it may also result from more investigating officers citing driver distraction as a contributing factor in fatal collisions. Given the increased attention to this crash contributor in recent years, as well as the ubiquitous use of smartphones, both hypotheses are viable. Without additional data it is not possible to draw definitive conclusions in this regard.
Again: Marijuana is not good for driving. You should not drive impaired, by anything. You put strangers at risk when you do that. It is at very best a selfish act, a dick move. But authorities should also recognize honestly what causes traffic accidents. Marijuana is far down the priorities list.
TELL US, have you ever observed distracted drivers?