According to a recent opinion piece published in Business in Vancouver (BIV) and authored by Mike Farnworth, the implementation of new and stricter penalties for driving under the influence of drugs in British Comumbia are predicted to reduce the number of driving accidents in the province. Farnworth is B.C.’s minister of public safety and solicitor general, overseeing B.C. legislation and regulations governing various aspects of cannabis legislation, including how cannabis is sold, consumed and grown at home.
The article describes the data obtained from an independent survey of motorists’ alcohol and drug use in B.C. that was carried out in 2018 before cannabis legalization, and following the implementation of immediate roadside prohibitions (IRPs). The survey was carried out by small police crews that randomly selected vehicles from traffic, and asking drivers for consent to administer a confidential breath sample for alcohol detection and a mouth swab for drug testing.
The survey results reveal a sustained decline in alcohol impaired driving, with one in 20 drivers testing positive for any alcohol, which demonstrates a 50% reduction compared to the results obtained in 2010. Overall, the results show that fewer than 1% of drivers had a blood-alcohol concentration above 0.05%.
Moreover, out of approximately 75% of drivers who had agreed to be tested as part of the survey, 8.5% tested positive for drugs, out of which 70.5% tested positive for cannabis. In addition, drug use was most common among drivers aged older than 55 and aged 19 to 25. According to Farnworth, these age groups need to be targeted through public education and cannabis-affected-driving advertising. He also suggests raising awareness of how mixing alcohol and drugs (such as cannabis) increases accident risk. The survey results showed that nearly 14% of participants had tested positive for either alcohol, drugs or both.
Interestingly, new drivers were up to seven times more likely to test positive for drugs than for alcohol. Therefore, B.C.’s zero tolerance policy for the presence of alcohol was also extended to include drugs such as THC for new drivers in the Graduated Licensing Program.
Under the new provincial laws, the police has more tools to prevent drug-impaired drivers from driving for 90 days, which is an increase from the previous 24-hour prohibition. As such, police officers are authorized to apply this driving prohibition when there are reasonable grounds to believe that a driver has blood drug levels exceeding the legal limit, or when an officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a driver is impaired based on the results of an evaluation by a drug recognition expert.
According to Farnworth, B.C.’s stricter penalties for driving while under the influence of alcohol and drugs will lead to reduced road accidents, as the police and government continues to government track the impact of cannabis legalization on road safety in the province.