Pubdate: Fri, 28 Dec 2007
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2007 Times Colonist
Author: Rob Shaw
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Cannabis and Driving)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)


When Saanich police set up a roadblock just days before Christmas,
they said they weren't surprised to see a man drive up with a joint
hanging out of his mouth. He'd tried to finish it before he reached
the officers, but apparently didn't make it in time.

It's not just drunk drivers that Vancouver Island police say they've
been catching this holiday season -- increasingly, people behind the
wheel are high on some sort of drug, as well.

The night the Saanich man and his unfinished marijuana cigarette
rolled through the roadblock on Dec. 18, police issued the same number
of 24-hour licence suspensions for drivers impaired on drugs as they
did for drivers intoxicated on alcohol.

They also caught a woman who was "absolutely whacked" on drugs and who
was found nodding off while driving and slumped over the steering
wheel just up the street from where officers were running their
roadblock, said Staff Sgt. Mike Irwin, who co-ordinates roadblocks for
Saanich police.

"We're probably averaging two or three or four [drug impaired
suspensions] a night," he said.

Generally, police say they still see more drunk drivers than people
they suspect to be high. Partly this is because officers say it's
easier to spot alcohol use than it is to identify a person who is
under the influence of cocaine, ecstasy or marijuana.

"Predominant is the alcohol," said Irwin. "It just hits you, the
smell. Unless you have guys opening up the window after smoking a
fatty ... it's far more difficult to establish whether they're [drug]

The federal government introduced a bill in November that will let
police demand roadside sobriety tests and body-fluid samples from
drivers suspected of drug impairment, and raises minimum fines and
jail time for those people who drive while impaired on drugs. Police
say they are excited to use the new legislation, but the bill is still
being debated in the Senate.

A study by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse in 2006 found the
number of Canadians who admitted to driving after smoking drugs has
doubled since the 1980s.

There isn't the same social taboo around driving high as there is
around driving drunk, said Victoria police Sgt. Rob Dibden, who heads
the department's Focused Enforcement Team.

"It's not mainstream in the media," he said. "People don't always
relate drugs and driving like they do alcohol ... But it is still
impairment, regardless of if it is alcohol or drugs."

He said Victoria has seen far fewer impaired drivers in the past
couple of years, but are catching more people who are driving high,
and investigate more crashes because of drug impairment.

"I know myself prior to the last year I've never issued a 24-hour
suspension or wrote up a drug-impaired charge to go to Crown," said
Nanaimo RCMP Cpl. John Blaase, who runs the traffic unit. "In this
last year I've done quite a few. For me, it is quite a significant

Blaase said officers have become better at spotting people who are
high. Most departments now have trained drug recognition experts who
specialize in identifying such individuals.

But not all police say the problem is increasing. North Island traffic
services Cpl. Garry McDowell said roadblocks in his area show drunk
driving continues to rise, while drugged driving has simply become "a
regular occurrence."

Traffic enforcement campaigns are adapting to include a focus on
drivers who get behind the wheel while high, said Chris Foord,
co-chair Capital Regional District Traffic Safety Commission. He said
enforcement efforts in 2007 put a renewed emphasis on the problem.

"I would suspect it's not something that has been focused on for
awhile," said Foord. "The minute you start to focus on it, you realize
there's more of it than anyone thought."
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