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Editorial: Drug driving

["If you're driving, don't drink. If you're drinking … you get the picture."]
Are drunk driving stats an indication of what's to come with the legalization of cannabis?

Unsettling incidents involving young people driving while drunk have grabbed the spotlight in recent days across Atlantic Canada.

It doesn’t augur well for potential law enforcement issues later this year.

In Halifax, a 23-year-old New Brunswick man is facing charges after a 63-year-old well-known and much-liked pedestrian was struck and killed in the downtown last weekend. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver is charged with impaired driving causing death.

In Charlottetown, a 21-year-old man who left the scene of an accident he caused while driving drunk was sentenced last week to six months in jail. The judge commented on the high number of recent drunk-driving cases that involve young people.

Last fall, Newfoundland and Labrador passed tougher rules aimed at cracking down on drinking and driving — with drivers under the age of 22 having to maintain a blood-alcohol level of zero.

Provinces and police wonder if they will be ready to deal with young drivers under the influence of marijuana if drug impairment cases spike once pot is legalized this summer.

A Sydney judge, who garnered headlines for rejecting joint recommendations from Crown and defence involving drinking and driving cases — which he termed too lenient — is now serving on the bench in Truro. He’s continuing his tough campaign on impaired drivers.

Also last fall, New Brunswick passed new laws that will seize drunk drivers’ cars for up to two months, making the province one of the country’s toughest on impaired driving. Statistics Canada says New Brunswick is one of only two provinces where the number of impaired drivers under the age of 20 has actually decreased in the last six years.

With those statistics in play, provinces and police wonder if they will be ready to deal with young drivers under the influence of marijuana if drug impairment cases spike once pot is legalized this summer.

The federal government launched ads in December to dissuade young people from driving while high. The campaign is targeting people ages 16 to 24 because research suggests that half of young people in that category don’t consider driving while high as bad as driving drunk.

Young people must be warned that like alcohol, drugs impair your ability to drive safely and increase the risk of getting into a collision. In fact, marijuana doubles your chance of a car accident and is second only to alcohol as the most commonly detected substance among drivers who die in traffic crashes in Canada.

Almost half of young Canadians aged 16 to 24 report using cannabis. Among those who have smoked pot, 28 per cent say they have operated a vehicle while under the influence. Almost half downplayed the risks of drugs compared to alcohol.

The challenge for governments and law enforcement officials is to raise awareness of driving risks while impaired by alcohol, cannabis or other drugs. New federal Criminal Code provisions on drug-impaired driving take effect later this year, which are sure to grab their attention.

Driving sober is the only sensible, responsible option.

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