Most Canadians believe it’s essential to educate the general public about the dangers of cannabis and driving. But the need may be even greater than they realize, according to recent surveys.

The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) has found that about 74 per cent of Ontarians feel that public education on impaired driving laws and penalties related to consuming cannabis is important to them. In addition, public awareness campaigns and public education on the health risks and impact of consuming cannabis ranked among the top five suggestions to prevent people from driving impaired. The research was conducted for CAA by Ipsos in 2017.

Closing the gap between understanding the dangers of driving high and changing driver behaviour can take time. (iStock)

Yet closing the gap between understanding the dangers and changing driver behaviour can take time, says Teresa Di Felice, assistant vice president of government and community relations at the CAA SCO. “Over the years, compliance has reached 96 per cent. But despite the law, enforcement and education, about one in every six vehicle occupants who were killed on Ontario’s roads were not wearing seatbelts.”

Similarly, while most people today would not even imagine getting behind the wheel of a car or other vehicle after drinking even a moderate amount of alcohol, that was not always the case. “One for the road!” was once a common saying, and people used to take a “traveler” to drink while they drove. Attitudes have changed after decades of education, public messaging by governments, and new laws, enforcement and penalties.

Similar attitudes regarding cannabis remain slow to change. This is reflected in CAA data that shows 17 per cent of cannabis users who do not drive under its influence believe that the drug has no impact on driving. More shocking: 51 per cent of people who drive while impaired believe they are as good as or better than a sober motorist after consuming cannabis. The alarming misperception points to a need for better education.

In Ontario, 58 road fatalities, or 11 per cent, were the result of not wearing a seatbelt in 2014. Meanwhile 98 deaths — a staggering 19 per cent — were the result of drinking and driving collisions, and 54 deaths — 10 per cent — were the result of drug-involved collisions, according to data published by the Ministry of Transportation in the Ontario Road Safety Annual Report for the same year, the latest for which data is available.

While Ontario can boast that it has some of the safest roads in North America, the annual road data continues to highlight the number of preventable deaths — and is a reminder that there is still work to be done.

Visit caasco.com/cannabis for more about cannabis and driving and look for the hashtag #DontDriveHigh on social media.

Source: The Toronto Star