Pubdate: Tue, 22 Nov 2005
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2005, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Andre Picard
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Cannabis and Driving)


Public Health Campaign Aims To Educate Teens On The Perils Of Pot 
Behind The Wheel

Canadians between the ages of 14 and 25 have one of the highest rates 
of pot use in the world. Young people are also more likely to drive a 
car while stoned than while drunk.

Given those startling facts, public-health groups have launched a new 
pot and driving campaign to get young people, and teenagers in 
particular, to consider the consequences of drugged driving.

"The message has sunk in that drinking and driving is dangerous, but 
we can't say the same for pot smoking and driving," said Christiane 
Poulin, the Canada Research Chair in Population Health and Addictions 
and a professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

"In fact, we are today where we were 20 to 30 years ago in informing 
the public about drunk driving."

There was, at the time, an attitude that you could "take one for the 
road" and that alcohol did not have that much of an impact on 
reaction time or driving skills.

Today, that kind of thinking is commonplace among youth who smoke cannabis.

A recent survey showed that one in five high-school drivers had been 
behind the wheel within one hour of smoking pot, and one in four 
students had been a passenger in a car driven by someone stoned.

Research has shown that THC (the active ingredient in cannabis) can 
affect tracking ability -- meaning drivers have a harder time 
following their lane. While it is true that drivers impaired by 
cannabis tend to drive more slowly, pot can also reduce a driver's 
ability to perceive changes in relative speed of other vehicles and 
to increase the reaction time needed to respond. And drivers 
suffering burnout (the drug equivalent of a hangover) tend to fall 
asleep at the wheel.

"We know that young drivers are terrible drivers," said Andrew Murie, 
chief executive officer of the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving 
Canada. "And when you mix impairment -- with alcohol, pot or any 
other drug -- and inexperience, it's a lethal combination."

He said the new campaign is overdue and necessary because "kids have 
this perception that cannabis and driving is okay, that as long as 
you're not drinking and driving, you're fine.

"We want to get out the message that both are dangerous."

Under the Criminal Code, driving a motor vehicle while impaired is an 
offence, regardless of the substance. While there are breath-analysis 
machines to test for alcohol impairment, there is no such technology 
in use for drugs. But the federal government has tabled Bill C-16, 
which would allow police to do field sobriety tests and then to test 
bodily fluids such as blood or urine to determine drug use.

Mr. Murie said he worried that an early election could result in the 
death of Bill C-16, which would be a setback in the battle against 
drugged driving. He said that, for the issue to be taken seriously, 
more technicians must be trained to do drug testing at police 
stations, and coroners must start keeping detailed statistics on 
drug-impaired fatalities the way they do with drunk-driving fatalities.

"The data are really important is changing public perception," Mr. Murie said.

Elinor Wilson, CEO of the Canadian Public Health Association, which 
is co-ordinating the new campaign, said the focus is on educating young people.

"We're not being alarmist. We just want young people to think about 
the consequences of smoking cannabis and driving," Dr. Wilson said.

The campaign, launched yesterday, is largely poster-based, but also 
features educational material to spark discussions in school and 
community groups. MADD has also started running TV ads, and those 
will be stepped up during prom season.

The centrepiece of the new campaign is a poster that shows two pilots 
smoking up in the cockpit of a plane, with the catchphrase: "If it 
doesn't make sense here, why does it make sense when you drive?"
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman