The holidays are quickly approaching, and this year, as we celebrate the season in intimate groups, there may be a few festive cocktails or a cannabis-infused treat involved. That, in addition to the risks winter driving already poses, is why it’s important to exercise caution when out on the road, and to always avoid driving while impaired.
Below we’ve included a list of things you should know about mixing alcohol or cannabis with driving.
Driving drunk OR high is extremely dangerous
In Canada, awareness of the dangers associated with driving under the influence of alcohol is relatively high, but the same is not true with cannabis. In a 2018 poll conducted by CAA National, only 77 percent of Canadians said they would plan alternative travel arrangements after using cannabis, suggesting that nearly a quarter of Canadians would take the risk of driving while under the influence.
A growing body of research shows that cannabis can dramatically affect your ability to drive. The drug blunts your coordination, slows your reaction time and causes you to misjudge distances.
A surprising number of people drive while impaired
Despite the dangers, approximately 1.2 million Ontarians have gotten behind the wheel while high, according to a CAA study conducted by DIG Insights. That’s a sign many Canadians still don’t understand the dangers of cannabis-impaired driving.
Moreover, in 2019 the rate of alcohol-impaired driving increased by 15% and the rate of drug-impaired driving increased by 43%.
People are combining alcohol and cannabis
Cannabis is second only to alcohol as the drug most frequently found among drivers involved in crashes and drivers charged with impaired driving. It is also the drug most frequently mixed with alcohol usage in vehicle crashes; a CAA study found that more than half of Ontario drivers who use cannabis typically pair it with another substance, like alcohol.
What many Canadians may not know is that alcohol increases the intoxicating and impairing effects of cannabis. Consuming cannabis and alcohol at the same time can significantly raise your risk of over-intoxication and impairment. Cannabis over-intoxication can include anxiety, panic, nausea, vomiting, and paranoia.
Driving under the influence has stiff penalties
In Ontario, it is illegal to operate any type of motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If police determine that you are driving while impaired, you will face penalties immediately.
For alcohol, if a breathalyzer test indicates that your blood alcohol content is more than 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood, you face consequences under Ontario’s impaired driving law.
In terms of cannabis, if a driver has more than 5 nanograms of THC (the psychoactive component in cannabis) in their blood, they face a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first offence. A second offence will net at least 30 days in jail and a third, 120. Those penalties can be combined with licence suspensions and a host of other fines.
The risks associated with injuring or causing death while driving impaired can be as harsh as facing life in prison. There is also a zero-tolerance approach for alcohol and cannabis took effect for young, novice and commercial drivers.
The consumption of edibles creates new dangers
Unlike a joint, which makes smokers feel high almost immediately, cannabis-infused food sometimes takes hours to take effect. New edibles users may jump behind the wheel thinking they’re fine, only to be overwhelmed by a high mid-drive. Additionally, eating an edible can affect you longer than inhaling cannabis. And while research varies, edibles may remain in your system for up to 12 hours.
Ignorance is not a legal defence
Under our legal system, Canadians are expected to know what the law says and, therefore, cannot claim ignorance if caught driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. New cannabis users caught driving high also cannot claim ignorance of the effects of the drug. Just like with alcohol consumption, cannabis needs to be used responsibly.
If you choose to consume alcohol or cannabis this holiday season, be sure to plan ahead. Public transit, a taxi, rideshare services, and carpooling with a designated driver are all safe options. Driving under the influence simply isn’t worth the risk.
CAA Niagara is there for you on the road, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Should the unexpected happen, Members can request roadside assistance online, by calling 1-800-263-3616, or through the CAA Mobile app.
Discover more helpful winter driving blog content here.