A growing concern in Canada today, impaired driving causes a large percentage of vehicle crashes every day. Understanding what impaired driving is as well as how it can be prevented is key to reducing the number of traffic accidents and fatalities that occur throughout Canada. Those who have driven while impaired and who are addicted to drugs or alcohol are urged to seek treatment before they cause or are involved in an accident.
Why Impaired Driving is a Concern
Impaired driving is operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or a combination. This is a serious crime throughout Canada because of the severe consequences that can occur in an accident. Impaired driving continues to be a major cause of fatal road crashes across Canada today. Between 2000 and 2009, more than 8,000 people died because of a driver who was under the influence of alcohol. As of right now, younger drivers continue to be the largest group of drivers who die in a vehicle crash while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. With the legalization of marijuana and the increasing use of drugs and alcohol amongst younger adults, the number of people being injured or killed as a result of impaired driving is continuing to increase.
Frequency of Impaired Driving
Impaired driving caused more than 74,700 impaired driving accidents in the year 2014 alone. The number is increasing, especially as marijuana use has become legal and more mainstream. One study showed that between 2000 and 2010, out of all drivers killed in car accidents in Canada, 5.5% had opioids in their system, 8.5% had stimulants in their system, 11.2% had taken sedatives before driving, and 16.4% had used marijuana before driving. Any of these can cause serious impairments for drivers when they are on the road, which leads to more frequent car crashes and more frequent deaths from car accidents.
Testing Impaired Drivers for Drugs and Alcohol
Law enforcement officers are trained to detect drivers who are driving while impaired to stop them before they cause an accident. While the impairments will be different depending on what the person used before driving, law enforcement officers are trained to recognize and evaluate behaviors to determine if someone is driving while impaired. Officers can use a breathalyzer test for alcohol, but this is not something that can be done with impaired driving due to drug use. Instead, evaluating behaviors of the driver can be combined with urine or blood tests to confirm the presence of drugs or alcohol, which can lead to impaired-driving related charges.
Drugs and Alcohol Increase Risk of Crashing
The use of drugs or alcohol has been shown to significantly increase the chance a driver will cause or be involved in an accident. The drugs or alcohol in the driver’s system can slow their reflexes or cause them to not pay as much attention to the road, which means they cannot react to changing traffic patterns and are not as likely to be able to avoid a crash. Depending on the impairment, they’re also more likely to cause an accident because they have difficulty controlling their vehicle while they drive. Studies have shown that marijuana use can make it up to 6 times more likely someone will get in an accident, opioid use makes it up to 8 times more likely, and drivers who take sedatives before driving are up to 5 times more likely to be involved in a vehicle accident.
Why is the Risk of Crashing Higher?
Different types of drugs will have a different impact on drivers. However, any type of drugs, as well as alcohol, will impair a driver’s ability to manage their vehicle on the road. The different effects drugs and alcohol can have on drivers include the following.
• Alcohol – Alcohol reduces the driver’s ability to stay in control of their vehicle. Drivers will often swerve as they cannot drive in a straight line and will not be able to react in time to changing traffic patterns, red lights, or anything else on the road. They may also engage in risky behaviors while driving.
• Stimulants – Drivers who have taken higher doses of stimulants will have an inability to focus and a lowered ability to divide their attention. They may take more risks and be more agitated while they’re driving.
• Opioids – Drivers with opioids in their system may drive slower, have trouble driving in a straight line, show poor vehicle control and have delayed reactions. They may also be tired and have difficulty with their motor coordination.
• Sedatives – Sedatives cause drivers to be drowsy and have impaired motor coordination, which can lead to a slowed reaction time, inattentiveness, and a higher number of errors while driving. Drivers who have taken sedatives can resemble drivers who are under the influence of alcohol.
• Cannabis – Drivers who have consumed cannabis before driving often cannot divide their attention while driving, show poor space management, and cannot concentrate on driving. The effects of cannabis can be higher if they’ve had even a small amount of alcohol with cannabis before driving.
Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol
Those who do drink before driving have a significantly increased risk of being in an accident and of causing an accident because of the lack of control over their vehicle and the reduced motor skills. With an increased risk of being involved in an accident, there is also an increased risk of death due to a car accident. There has been a small decline in the number of people driving while impaired by alcohol in Canada, but overall studies show that more than one-third of drivers killed in a car accident were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident. Right now, the legal limit for alcohol is 80 milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood. However, many provinces are lowering the blood to alcohol limit to 50 milligrams in an attempt to stop more drivers who are impaired while driving. Because of the impairment that can occur even with small amounts of alcohol, no alcohol before driving is advised.
Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana
Cannabis is another huge concern when it comes to impaired driving. In 2012, collisions involving marijuana use accounted for 75 fatalities and more than 4,000 injuries. It also cost an estimated $1 billion, with more than have of that being associated with the fatalities. Today, youths and young adults ranging from 16 to 34 years old represent around 32% of the Canadian population but make up 61% of the fatalities resulting from vehicle accidents where cannabis use was a factor. Marijuana use before driving is increasing, with many people not understanding the impairment and how it can impact their driving. The amount of impairment can vary from person to person, but it is recommended to avoid marijuana use at least a few hours before driving to reduce the risk of an accident.
New Realities of Marijuana Use
Now that marijuana is legal in Canada, it’s becoming more prevalent and is used more often than may other drugs. A recent study has shown that it was the most common drug present in drivers who were killed in a vehicle accident. It’s also becoming more prevalent amongst young drivers and younger drivers are more likely to drive after using marijuana than they would cannabis. A recent study showed 12.6% of drivers 15 to 24 admitted to driving under the influence of marijuana, but only 10.7% admitted to driving after drinking alcohol. Due to the recent legalization, more people are using marijuana, though many may not realize just how much it impacts their ability to drive or how long it may impact them.
Seeking Treatment for Substance Abuse
Hitting rock bottom is different for everyone, but many people will feel as if they’ve hit rock bottom if they cause a serious car accident because of drug or alcohol use, or if they realize they’re driving impaired frequently. An accident or an arrest can be a wake-up call for many people who are driving while intoxicated, whether that’s alcohol, marijuana, or a different drug. At this point, they’re going to want to seek help for their addiction and learn how to recover from it. Treatment and recovery can help them reduce the chance of causing an accident, being seriously injured because of an accident, or being killed in an impaired driving accident. Various treatment options are available, enabling those who need help to get it whether they need assistance with alcohol, marijuana use, or other drug addictions.
Drunk driving is a well-known cause of car accidents, but drug use can lead to impaired driving as well. Driving under the influence of alcohol or any drugs can have devastating effects on those taking the drugs or alcohol and those around them. If you feel you have hit rock bottom or you’re worried about the potential for being involved in an accident because of drug or alcohol use, seek treatment right away. You can get help to start recovering from your addiction and start improving your life today.