Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The Big Problem with High Driving

One way Ottawa will likely screw up Marijuana legislation

I’m taking a pretty safe bet here, but i’m going to make the prediction that when Ottawa  releases its long awaited marijuana legislation not all parts of it will be perfect. I’m sure your saying to yourself, “Wow he’s really going out on a limb here.” I know, generating controversy all over town. To make things more interesting though, I have a more precise prediction. Ottawa will likely make a total mess of the legislation concerned with marijuana-impaired  driving, why? Because they have no idea what they’re doing. Frankly, no one really does. 
(An illustration of Canada's police competency re: marijuana)

Firstly I want to talk about the tests that are currently on the market. Well, “tests” might be a bit strong as there’s basically one that seems to be employed in the handful of European countries and Australia that do roadside drug testing. The test is about as blunt as can be. You basically lick what looks like a home pregnancy test and in 3-5 minutes the  registers whether there is any trace of a range of sbutatcnes. This costs about $1.5 million dollars a year in Australia, which adjusted for Canada’s population and currency means a similar effort would cost Canada $2.17 million. This doesn’t sound like that much money on a whole, but the problem is in the amount of drugs these test can register in ones system. By all accounts the tests can find traces in people who have used a drug in the past two weeks. Even for those who haven't used drugs, this probably seems blunt.

(A Dutch traffic jam - the new reality
in Canada if alcohol were treated the same as pot)

If we applied this sort of a test to alcohol and any Canadian who had drank a beer in the last two weeks was an “impaired” driver, well Toronto might start to look a bit more like Amsterdam than anyone could have predicted.

Some closing thoughts on this oral testing before I move on to the next part of this argument, courtesy of Australian national university visiting fellow and health&justice expert David McDonald 
"Our system breaches human rights and is a gross waste of public funds," he said. "It's an infringement of our rights ... because, unlike roadside breath testing, there is no body of scientific evidence that shows this roadside oral fluid testing actually improves road safety”

This moves us on nicely to the next problem with testing:

Its really, really, hard to figure out how much marijuana effects a persons driving. 

Now the obvious statement at this point is, if you feel high, or impaired from any substance you shouldn’t drive. Hopefully this post will date itself in a few years once self driving Ubers rule society - but until then I want to make it clear that in no way do I condone driving under the influence of any substance that may impair a person in any facet. With that being said I can move on. 

As early as 1995 studies were presented that showed the component functions needed to drive (tracking, motor coordination, divided attention, and visual function) were impaired by marijuana. This isn’t surprising, but the fact is these studies merely measured the component parts of driving, not the act itself. When tested on simulators in various studies, high drivers preformed certain tasks worse, like weaving within their own lanes, but overall, drove slower than controls, overestimated their own impairment, and didn’t weave into other lanes or speed like more traditionally impaired drivers were prone too. Furthermore, in a 2013 study researchers found that in several areas where medical marijuana laws were instituted  traffic fatalities actually fell, specifically evening accidents, and drunk-driving accidents.

What this seems to suggest is that as well as being next to impossible to reasonably determine if someone is currently high, high drivers may not pose nearly the same danger as their alcohol consuming compatriots, and further than that, people that  drink alcohol and driven might opt to smoke marijuana instead reducing the overall traffic fatalities during peak periods. 
Setting no legal limit for marijuana impairment is obviously not an option, and that’s not what i’m arguing for. Considering the above argument however, combined with the fact that there is no evidence to suggest marijuana legalization increases consumption rates, here’s what I think: be prudent. Wait a little. Part of the reason there’s no good answer is because due to the ongoing war on drugs it’s pretty hard to study the effects of illegal drugs en masse. 

Since the preliminary research suggests that testing for high driving is at best blunt, and at worst a complete violation of civil liberty, that high drivers may not be as dangerous as some would believe, an that there won’t be a boom in either marijuana users, or traffic fatalities, why wouldn’t one wait? In my opinion, Ottawa should pass the bare minimum legislation, reaffirming/making it illegal to drive while impaired by marijuana, and leave the police with the same powers they currently have - to preform roadside assessments of a drivers impairment. Once we have some data and statistics to work with, as well as reports from police actually dealing with this issue, we can begin to generate some forward thinking legislation. 

However, if we rush things, as Ottawa likely will, what could be Canada’s first opportunity in some time to gain prominence as a progressive power on the world stage, could end up looking like a stoned boondoggle. At least that's the bet i'm hedging.

No comments:

Post a Comment