Pubdate: Wed, 20 Dec 2006
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2006, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Andre Picard, Public Health Reporter
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Cannabis and Driving)


Marijuana Users Feel They Won'T Get Caught, Researchers Say, Calling
For Harsher Laws

The number of people getting behind the wheel after smoking pot has
more than doubled in the past 15 years, a trend spurred by the belief
that being nabbed for drugged driving is far less likely than being
caught driving drunk, new research shows.

Young people, in particular, are now as likely to drive while stoned
as to drive while drunk -- with about one in five having done so in
the past year -- according to a study by the Canadian Centre on
Substance Abuse.

"People who drive under the influence of cannabis do so because they
think they won't get caught," Doug Beirness, senior research associate
at the CCSA, said in an interview. "They're not too far off the mark,"
he said before calling on legislators to "give police the tools they
need to identify and charge those driving under the influence of
cannabis and other drugs."

Last month, the federal government announced plans to introduce
legislation that would give police broad powers to arrest and test
people they suspect of driving while under the influence of drugs. But
there are concerns the legislation will not pass before the next
federal election.

The new research is based on data from 4,639 people who participated
in the Canadian Addiction Survey.

It shows that 4.8 per cent of Canada's 20 million drivers have
operated a motor vehicle in the past year while under the influence of
cannabis. By comparison, 18 per cent of Canadians said they have
driven after consuming alcohol, including 5.6 per cent who said they
had been behind the wheel while over the legal limit.

Motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death for young
people. About 40 per cent of vehicle fatalities among teenagers are
alcohol-related. (Because coroners do not routinely test for drugs,
comparable numbers are not available.)

Another unrelated study, published yesterday in the medical journal
Addiction, highlights the risks to teenage passengers of impaired drivers.

The research shows that one in four teens has hitched a ride with a
drunk driver during the past year and half of them have done so on a
number of occasions.

"The rate of drunk driving has gone down but what is not catching
notice is that there are still a lot of passengers of drunk drivers
and they are at significant risk," said Christiane Poulin, the Canada
Research Chair in Population Health and Addictions and a professor at
Dalhousie University in Halifax.

While drunk and stoned drivers are predominantly male, most of their
passengers are female, the research shows. Teenagers who live in rural
areas, who live in poor families and who do not have a driver's
licence themselves are far more likely to accept rides from impaired

"The harsh reality is that not all teenagers have the opportunity to
be safe," Dr. Poulin said. "They can be very conscientious but then be
stuck at a bush party or a beach party with no way to get home."

Andrew Murie, chief executive officer for MADD Canada, said protecting
passengers -- teenage girls in particular -- from drunk or drugged
drivers is difficult.

"For some reason, they will make smart decisions about not driving
themselves but then they will get into a car with a boyfriend who is
grossly drunk," he said.

Mr. Murie said parents have to take greater responsibility for the
behaviour of teenagers, and control access to car keys as a way of
limiting impaired driving. "The messaging has to be clear: The vehicle
will be held back if there is any hint of drinking or drug use," he

Mr. Murie said a lot of parents are strict about the issue of drinking
and driving but they remain too lax about drugged driving.

"Lots of parents are aware of drug use by their teenagers but they do
it themselves so they don't take the issue seriously," he said.
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