Pubdate: Wed, 24 May 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Authors: Leia Minaker & Jacob Shelley
Page: A13


Motor-vehicle collisions kill more Canadians aged 16 to 25 than any
other cause. More than half of these deaths are related to the use of
drugs or alcohol.

For many young people, this statistic may seem far removed from their
day-today lives. For many parents, it may seem to represent something
that happens to other people's children.

But the research tells a different story, and our recent study out of
the University of Waterloo has found that almost half of Grade 11 and
12 students across Canada - representing 351,900 teens - reported
engaging in at least one alcohol-or marijuana-related driving or
passenger behaviours that may put them at risk.

Our study, based on more than 24,600 surveys in all 10 provinces,
looked at the habits of Canadian high school drivers in Grade 11 and
12, and passengers in Grade 9 to 12 as they related to alcohol and
marijuana use. The findings were concerning. Of the Grade 11 and 12
students surveyed, about 9 per cent - representing 66,600 teens across
Canada - had driven within an hour of consuming alcohol, and 9.4 per
cent had driven within two hours of using marijuana.

For passengers, the numbers were even higher. More than a third of
students in Grade 9 to 12 reported riding in a vehicle when the driver
had consumed at least one alcoholic drink in the previous hour, and
one-in-five got in a vehicle when the driver had used marijuana in the
previous two hours.

Boys had higher odds of driving after drinking than girls, and girls
had higher odds of being a passenger in that situation. School region
socio-economic status wasn't a factor.

While the fact young people were engaging in this behaviour may not be
surprising given the traffic collision data, some of the differences
between provinces should give us pause, particularly as it relates to

In Ontario, 7 per cent of students reported driving after using
marijuana. In Saskatchewan, the rate was nearly three times higher at
20 per cent. While 17 per cent of young people in Ontario reported
riding in a vehicle with someone who had used marijuana in
Newfoundland and Labrador, the rate was 31 per cent.

At a time when the federal and provincial governments are drafting
legislation to legalize recreational marijuana, we need to think of
all of the steps needed if we are to truly mitigate some of the risks
related to driving under the influence. We must arm law enforcement,
educators and parents with the tools that they need to keep people

These steps include ways to keep marijuana out of the hands of minors
if it were to become more widely accessible, and creating strong
policies to reduce marijuana-impaired driving.

As the first G20 country to legalize recreational marijuana, Canada
can learn from some of the successful alcohol and tobacco control
policies around the world when it comes to achieving our collective
goals of saving lives. We'll need to think about factors, such as
minimum purchasing age, limits on potency, the various forms of
marijuana and product regulation, mandatory fines for driving high,
and license suspensions.

Many of these measures could take years, and we should ensure they are
in place as we move toward wider availability of marijuana.

While education is ongoing on the drinking-and-driving front, we need
to consider ways to communicate the risks of driving high to people
who may not fully comprehend the risks.

With marijuana on the verge of becoming available for recreational use
in retail outlets and the possibility of greater availability, we need
to take a science-based approach to policy and regulation. It must be
regulated in a way that restricts youth access, marijuana-impaired
driving, as well as ensuring that we tackle the issue of black-market

As the federal and provincial governments continue to prepare for
legalization, we must demand that they rely heavily on scientific
evidence and data in making their decisions and to develop effective

As we still have some way to go in curbing impaired driving related to
one drug, alcohol, we need to take great care to ensure that we're
adequately prepared for another.

Leia Minaker is a professor at the University of Waterloo and the 
university's Propel Centre for Population Health Impact. Jacob Shelley 
is a professor at the University of Western Ontario's Faculty of Law.
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