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Nov 11, 2022

5 min. read

If you’ve consumed cannabis, you shouldn’t drive. The effects can last up to 12 hours and residual effects for up to 24 hours, but it seems some motorists aren’t willing to wait.

A growing concern

About 600,000 Ontarians have driven after consuming cannabis in the past three months, according to a new survey by CAA.

Road safety advocates say the results are alarming, and they’re pushing to raise awareness about the potentially fatal consequences of drug-impaired driving.

Operating a vehicle under the influence is incredibly dangerous, says Peter Wykta, executive director of the non-profit group arrive alive DRIVE SOBER.

“Deaths and injuries caused by impaired driving are completely preventable.”

Survey results

Of those surveyed, six percent of drivers say they have driven after consuming cannabis in the past three months, and among those who drove the same day, 30 percent admitted to feeling high while driving.

Considering that Ontario has nearly 10 million drivers, this suggests that 600,000 people across the province have driven while under the influence of the drug.

In almost half of the cases when people drove after consuming cannabis, they had also consumed alcohol or taken another drug—an especially dangerous combination.

In addition, the survey found that more people eat cannabis edibles—like cookies, gummies and chocolates—than smoke joints.

That worries road safety advocates because edibles can take hours to kick in, so people may get behind the wheel sober, only to become high mid-trip.

“If you want to consume any form of cannabis, plan not to have a car involved,” says Michael Stewart, a community relations consultant with CAA South Central Ontario.

“Driving requires your full attention and a sound state of mind. It’s important to make sure that you’re sober behind the wheel in order to keep you and other drivers safe.”

How cannabis affects your driving

In the survey, almost 70 percent of people who drove after consuming cannabis said that they don’t think the drug significantly impairs their ability to handle a vehicle.

However, studies show that the drug affects nearly every skill related to driving.

It impairs a driver’s motor skills, making it harder to judge distances, and can slow reaction times.

Find a safe way home

Experts urge people who use cannabis to plan for a safe ride.

Call a designated driver, ask a friend or loved one to pick you up, take a cab or use public transit. If that’s not possible, stay at a friend’s house.

“There needs to be a plan in place before you’re in that state of impairment, because at that point, you shouldn’t be making a plan anyway,” Wytka says.

“You should be sticking to the plan you made back when you were sober.”

Even though it can be awkward, Wytka urges people to not let their friends and family drive while high.

See it, report it

Wytka also recommends that drivers call 911 if they see a potentially intoxicated motorist.

Signs of impairment include swerving, speeding, unexplained deceleration and blowing through stops signs and red lights.

Wytka says you don’t need to get close enough to see the vehicle’s licence plate—a general description of the car, the street it’s on and the direction it’s heading is enough for the police.

“You could save a life just by making a quick phone call,” he says.

Severe penalties

Driving under the influence of cannabis is illegal, and the penalties parallel those for drunk driving.

Those caught and who fail a Drug Recognition Expert evaluation face an immediate 90-day suspension of their licence, a seven-day vehicle impoundment and a $550 fine.

If convicted in court, drivers will see their licence suspended for at least a year, along with a range of other mandatory stipulations.

Helping communities

CAA is committed to doing its part to prevent impaired driving by running regular public education campaignsfunding studies on the effect of cannabis on driving, and working with the police and community members to ensure Ontario’s roads are safe.

Ahead of the holiday season, CAA will also relaunch the Do Anything But Drive campaign, which reminds drivers to avoid getting behind the wheel while high.

For more information on the impact of cannabis on driving, click here.

Image credit: rcphotostock/Freepik

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