Pubdate: Tue, 20 May 2008
Source: Chronicle Herald (CN NS)
Copyright: 2008 The Halifax Herald Limited
Author: Devin Stevens
Bookmark: (Cannabis and Driving)


Researcher Wants To Study The Effect Of Being High While Driving

Mark Asbridge wants Canadians to know exactly how risky it is to use
drugs and get behind the wheel.

In three years, he hopes to have the scientific data to prove

"We want to actually know how much THC, or cocaine, or benzodiazepines
are in (an impaired driver's) system," said Mr. Asbridge, an assistant
professor of epidemiology and community health at Dalhousie University.

"Do we see collisions in people who have higher levels of cannabis in
their system? Is the severity of the collision worse when people are
more impaired or less impaired?"

To find out, Mr. Asbridge and his staff will survey drivers in
hospital emergency departments.

Researchers will ask drivers involved in car accidents for permission
to test their blood. They'll also ask for a short face-to-face
interview about each driver's past and present drug use.

Participation is voluntary.

Mr. Asbridge said he has had an 87 per cent participation rate in
similar studies.

The research will be done at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences
Centre in Halifax, as well as St. Michael's and Humber River Regional
hospitals in Toronto.

Mr. Asbridge said there have been studies in the past about drugs and
driving, but those usually happen in controlled laboratory settings.
Some researchers have given participants a few joints and asked them
to drive, using a safety system much like a driver-training car. Other
studies rely on drug users reporting their own behaviour.

Mr. Asbridge said he wants a more real-world approach. That's why he
and his staff will talk to crash victims in hospitals.

"Different studies look at whether different drugs are present, if
alcohol is present," he said.

"We want to look at if the injuries change with multiple drugs versus
single drugs. How does alcohol and cannabis relate to each other?"

The $650,000 study will be completed in 2011. Mr. Asbridge said he
hopes hard numbers will help Canadians make smart choices before
taking the wheel.

"The reason it's an important question is that there's a lot of policy
activity around this issue at the federal level right now."

Ottawa passed Bill C-2, in part, to crack down on impaired driving. It
gives police greater access to blood, breath or urine tests when they
suspect a driver is high. The bill also increases the punishment for
driving while impaired. It goes into effect on July 2.

"There's not a heck of a lot of Canadian (scientific) evidence that's
been used to support the legislation," said Mr. Asbridge.

"We're hoping part of the benefits of our research is to help inform
the policy process. Ideally, the policy would have followed the
research, but politicians don't follow that model."

A 2002 Statistics Canada report found that three million Canadians
aged 15 or older smoked marijuana or hashish at least once in the
previous year.

RCMP Sgt. Mark Gallagher said he has seen car wrecks caused by drug
use and knows it affects a person's ability to drive.

"Their argument is that they know what they're doing," Sgt. Gallagher
said in a phone interview. "Well, the same argument is made by people
who drink.

"They say their senses are heightened. Well, their senses are
heightened for sensory touches, but when you're talking about depth
perception, reaction, all these things, there have been scientific
tests saying it's much lower."
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin