Driving any type of vehicle requires your full attention. It’s a skill that demands the ability to react quickly, one that requires constant scanning of your surroundings and one that needs you to be alert.
And yet, too often Canadians find reasons to justify getting behind the wheel in a state of inebriation, whether it’s alcohol or drug fuelled. To mark National Road Safety Week, which is being held this year from May 15 - 21, the Canada Safety Council wants to emphasize the importance of full lucidity behind the wheel.
According to Statistics Canada, 72,039 impaired driving incidents were reported by police in 2015. The rate of these incidents (201 incidents per 100,000 population) is at its lowest since data on this subject began to be collected in 1986.
However, almost 3,000 of those incidents were drug-related, a figure which is double the proportion from 2009, when drug-impaired data first started being collected. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two most commonly detected substances in drivers who die in traffic crashes in Canada are alcohol and cannabis, respectively.
Both substances can affect drivers in different ways. Alcohol, for instance, acts as a depressant and slows down the central nervous system, leading to delayed reaction times and impaired hand-eye co-ordination, judgment and concentration – skills that are vital for a motorist.
On the other hand, cannabis can affect motor skills including body movement, balance and co-ordination. Perception of time is also impacted, which can cause issues. Often, drug-impaired drivers will attempt to counteract the negative effects of cannabis by driving more slowly and methodically; however, this can lead to a driver remaining stopped at a traffic light or a stop sign for far longer than is reasonable, and this unpredictability can lead to a collision.
It is also important to note that alcohol and cannabis can have a multiplicative effect, meaning that a driver who has consumed both alcohol and cannabis will be significantly more impaired than someone who has consumed one or the other.
The feeling of impairment can be deceptive at times. Err on the side of caution. Don’t get behind the wheel. To put it bluntly, there is never a good time or reason to drive while impaired. Why put your own life, and the lives of other road users, at risk? There are many alternatives to driving impaired. Plan ahead. Ensure you have a designated driver, call a taxi or stay where you are and sleep off the impairment.
Manager, National Projects, Canada Safety Council