Has Legal Cannabis Made Canada’s Roads Less Safe?

Canada legalized recreational marijuana in October 2018 via the federal Cannabis Act. Opponents of the act believed the health and safety risks associated with legal marijuana outweighed the many benefits of legalization. One of the chief safety concerns was the impact on road safety. Everyone in Canada knows that driving under the influence is dangerous; critics, including more than one car accident lawyer, believed legalization would lead to a spike in intoxicated driving, which would in turn lead to more serious injuries and deaths.

It has now been nearly three years since the Cannabis Act was passed, and its impact on road safety is gradually coming into view. Here’s what we know so far:

Marijuana and Driving

There’s no question that driving while under the influence of marijuana is dangerous. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada, citing a report titled ‘Clearing the Smoke on Cannabis Use and Driving’ from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, ‘cannabis can have a negative impact on driving, including reduced concentration and attention span, slower reaction time, and an altered perception of time and distance.’ The same report says that simulated and on-road driving studies ‘showed drivers had increased variability in lane position, following distance and speed following cannabis use’ and that ‘cannabis use also affected ability to react to unexpected events, such as a pedestrian darting out onto the roadway.’

These dangers are compounded when marijuana and alcohol are used together. Citing another report by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, with Transport Canada, MADD explains that ‘mixing cannabis with alcohol greatly increases the negative impact on driving skills. A recent study comparing British Columbia roadside survey results with post-mortem data on fatally-injured drivers reported that cannabis use alone increases the risk of a fatal crash fivefold and that cannabis use, when combined with alcohol, increases the risk fortyfold.’

The Impact of Legalization

As many proponents of legalization pointed out in the run-up to the Cannabis Act, the fact that driving while intoxicated by marijuana is dangerous doesn’t necessarily mean that legalization would increase the risk of injuries or fatalities. There was every chance that the stringent new impaired driving laws incorporated into the act would dissuade people from stoned driving. There was also hope that Canadians would simply be too smart to drive while high – after all, alcohol-impaired driving rates are far lower today than they were in the 1970s or 80s.

A recent study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence suggests that the Cannabis Act has not had the negative effect on road safety that some advocates feared. The study looked at the number of traffic accident-related emergency room visits in Ontario and Alberta – the provinces with the most cannabis stores in Canada – in the three years before legalization vs the year after. The results were divided into four categories: all drivers in Ontario, all driers in Alberta, 14- to 17-year-old drivers in Alberta, and 16- to 18-year-old drivers in Ontario.

The largest change came among all drivers in Ontario, with 28.93 more emergency department visits occurring after legalization than before. In Alberta, emergency room visits were up by 9.17 among all drivers.

Young drivers in both provinces fared much better. There were just 0.09 more emergency room visits among 16- to 18-year-old drivers in Ontario and 0.66 fewer visits among drivers aged 14-17 in Alberta. The study’s conclusion was that “implementation of the Cannabis Act was not associated with evidence of significant post-legalization changes in traffic-injury emergency department (ED) visits in Ontario or Alberta among all drivers or youth drivers, in particular.”

What to do if You’ve Been Injured in a Crash Involving Marijuana Intoxication

Even though marijuana legalization doesn’t appear to have caused a significant increase in emergency department visits or traffic fatalities, impaired driving remains a common cause of accidents in Canada. If you’ve been injured in an accident involving an impaired driver, contact an experienced car accident lawyer as soon as possible.

In Ontario, every car accident victim is entitled to accident benefits through the province’s Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule (SABS). Your lawyer will be able to help you navigate the claims process and, if your insurer refuses to offer an appropriate amount, represent you in an accident benefits dispute.

If the driver who hit you was impaired, you may also be able to seek additional compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. Your car accident lawyer will explain the pros and cons of pursuing a personal injury claim and explain the next steps in the legal process. Contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.

Image: Shutterstock

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