By: Sunanna Bhasin/Opinions Columnist
I remember heading to a sports tournament with friends a few years ago and having our taxi driver educate us on what drunk driving looked like. He pointed out one car in particular, just a few metres ahead of us. It was weaving in and out of its lane in an unpredictable pattern, travelling at relatively high speeds and the driver never signalled when switching lanes. I was shocked that the driver was drunk or severely impaired, but I was sure that he or she would be pulled over as soon as a cop caught sight of the sign of reckless driving. What would follow would be a brief interrogation and a breathalyser test. If the blood alcohol content was found to be greater than 0.08 mg/ml, then it would be goodbye to the offender’s driver’s license.
It was that simple. However with the election of the Liberal government, it is a possibility that marijuana may be legalized in the near future. With legalization and easier access to the drug, there is the chance of an increase in driving under the influence involving pot. Yet, how can police monitor driving high when there is no efficient test currently available?
The interesting thing about cannabis is that its main ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol — responsible for its psychological effects — can stay in the blood and urine days after ingestion. Unlike alcohol, which leaves the body before sobriety sets in, marijuana’s THC remains in the blood long after its effects have worn off. While taking a blood test can identify levels of active, or recently ingested THC, roadside blood tests are inefficient and time-consuming, not to mention expensive. In the time that it would take to conclude whether a driver is high, police could be missing those driving drunk. The question is should we be prioritizing one over the other?
The typical drunk driver exhibits three warning signs on the road: weaving within one lane weaving in and out of the lane and speeding. A high driver may weave within his or her lane but is less likely to display as extreme behaviour as a drunk driver. One may find reassurance in the fact that cannabis users are often aware of their impairment, and make conscious efforts to compensate for that on the road by keeping greater distances between themselves and other cars and driving more slowly. Drunk drivers, on the other hand, are often unaware of their inability to drive and do so anyway because of a false sense of confidence.
This does not make driving high less dangerous. Reaction time is affected in both cases, which can result in collisions and serious accidents. Because a stoned driver may not be displaying warning signs, the drivers around them might not realize that they should be concerned. The legalization of marijuana could add to the invisible threats drivers face daily. Surely, wrongly believing one is in control is worse than making the conscious effort to battle the impairment one is aware of being under when high.
The reality is that while both drunk and stoned drivers are a threat to road safety, so are distracted and tired drivers, and there are no tests to determine if someone is too overwhelmed with fatigue to be behind the wheel. The only way to prevent impaired driving is to continue advocating against it and educating the public on the risks. Given the research available, drunk drivers tend to do much more damage than stoned drivers, as there isn’t a clear positive correlation between traffic accidents and cannabis use, while there is a significant amount of evidence in regards to the risks of driving under the influence of alcohol. Finding a means to test for marijuana consumption would be wise nonetheless, but focusing on drunk drivers should remain the priority.