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Increase in Cannabis Use Among Young Drivers While Alcohol Impairment Decreases

Cannabis use among impaired youth drivers has surged while alcohol impairment has declined, according to a recent Public Safety Canada report.

“There has been a significant reduction in the prevalence of alcohol use among drivers, but a significant increase in the prevalence of drug use, cannabis in particular,” said the 2023 national data report, which was first covered by Blacklock’s Reporter.
Researchers noted that drug use was most prevalent among drivers aged 20 to 24 (14 percent) and decreased with age. They also found that while 2.1 percent of drivers aged 16 to 19 tested positive for alcohol, 10.4 percent tested positive for cannabis. These findings draw on tests of 7,265 randomly selected drivers in British Columbia, Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Manitoba, and Ontario, with data compiled by the Canadian Council of Motor Vehicle Administrators.

“The proportion of [drug-impaired driving] incidents reported by police has significantly increased relative to alcohol-impaired driving over time,” the report said. “This is likely due to a combination of factors including changes in the legislation.”

Drivers affected by cannabis tend to drive faster, weave more frequently, and exhibit slower reaction times, the report said.

The findings of the Public Safety Canada report coincide with the National Drug Driving Study 2024 by the University of British Columbia. Analyzing more than 10,000 Canadian drivers involved in collisions from 2018 to 2023, the study found cannabis has become more prevalent than alcohol in post-crash blood tests.
Prior to the legalization of marijuana in October 2018, the government allocated $161 million over five years to combat drug-impaired driving. Additionally, Parliament passed Bill C-46, An Act To Amend The Criminal Code, which granted police new powers to conduct random roadside drug tests.

Youth Driving Offences

The impact of cannabis legalization on youth driving offences was another focus in the Public Safety Canada report, which cited studies from the Canadian Centre for Substance Use and Addiction and Statistics Canada.

It found that driving-while-impaired charges, including impairments related to all drugs and alcohol, had “increased significantly after cannabis legalization.” In 2015, Canada saw 2,549 impaired driving charges, a number that escalated dramatically to 11,958 charges by 2019—an increase of 369 percent.

The surge in charges varied across provinces and territories post-legalization. Ontario led the surge with a 1,342 percent increase—from 439 cases in 2015 to 6,334 cases in 2019. Nova Scotia and Alberta witnessed increases ranging from 200 to 500 percent.

Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Manitoba experienced increases of less than 100 percent, while Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories saw rates rise between 100 and 200 percent.

Researchers noted that while youth aged 12-17 accounted for less than 3 percent of impaired driving charges overall, they also experienced a notable increase post-legalization. In 2015, 54 charges were laid against young offenders, rising to 127 by 2019—a 135 percent increase. Comparatively, the increase for young adults aged 18-24 was higher, at 258 percent.

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