Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak in favour of Bill S-230, the drug-impaired driving detection act.
I would like to thank Senator Claude Carignan for his dedication to the bill and for guiding this piece of legislation through the Senate and I thank my colleague for bringing it to the House.
This bill seeks to authorize law enforcement officials to use roadside screening devices to detect the presence of drugs in the body of a driver suspected of being impaired.
The authority to use non-invasive drug screening devices similar to our current alcohol screening devices would allow law enforcement officers to immediately recognize a driver operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs. About 3,000 of 75,000 impaired driving incidents reported by police across Canada in 2015 involved drugs, seven of which were fatal.
To me, the bill is trying to make our roads and our communities significantly safer. Although there is a lack of statistics on the subject of drug-impaired driving, the information we do have is staggering. What is even more concerning is how the Liberal government is moving so quickly toward legalizing marijuana while not addressing one of the more dangerous effects of impaired driving. This bill is necessary and timely as we approach the deadlines the current government has set for itself regarding marijuana legalization.
I will mention a couple of statistics from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse regarding marijuana and road safety. Marijuana was the most common illicit drug present among drivers in fatal motor vehicle collisions. It is also the most common illegal drug among young drivers. More young drivers in Ontario drive after using marijuana than after drinking alcohol. In 2011, 13% of young Canadians aged 15 to 24 admitted to driving after taking marijuana, but only 11% reported driving after drinking.
Statistics show that there has been a rapid rise in the presence of drugs in fatal motor vehicle accidents. MADD Canada states that drug-impaired fatalities now exceed the number of alcohol fatalities by 25%. We invest a lot of effort and money in the prevention of drinking and driving and in support of groups working to prevent the same, yet we are beginning to learn that drug-impaired driving is statistically even more common.
Law enforcement officers currently have the tools they need to measure blood alcohol levels roadside, but the tools to measure drug impairment are still not available across Canada. As such, it is significantly harder to prosecute drug-impaired driving, which is a necessary first step in preventing further risk on our roads. Without the necessary tools, fatalities and crashes as a result of drug-impaired driving are on the rise, but arrests and charges are not. This is unacceptable and does nothing to prevent this dangerous habit.
This needs to become a priority for the federal government, especially before the legalization of marijuana. Other countries have already undertaken this challenge and are responding very well to legislation against drug-impaired driving. There are best practices that we could be using as models, or we could create an entirely Canadian system. Regardless, legislation on drug-impaired driving needs to be finalized as soon as possible.
I would like to outline exactly why I believe drug-impaired driving is dangerous and wrong. As a youth leader for over 32 years, I can explain first-hand some of the many consequences drugs can have on the human body. I will try to stick to drug-related side effects or consequences that would have an effect on driving.
Drug-impaired drivers may have a slower reaction time, be disoriented, or be overly tired. Drug-impaired drivers may have difficulty concentrating, staying in their own lane, judging distances, or judging or maintaining a constant speed. Drug-impaired drivers may be more easily distracted by their surroundings, both inside and outside the vehicle. These consequences are only magnified when alcohol is also present in their system. Drug-impaired drivers may show other signs of poor judgment, such as texting while driving or talking on a phone while driving, both of which are root causes of fatalities.
One's reaction to drugs can also evolve over time and can both escalate and de-escalate rapidly. Drugs can impact one's mood, vision, mental state, and even have physical effects on drivers.
Any of these factors can increase the number of accidents, injuries, or casualties on our roads. Legislated screening tools would allow our law enforcement officers to properly patrol our streets and allow them to remove dangerous drivers from the roads. The evidence from the screening devices would lead to higher conviction rates and would help raise awareness on this issue.
According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, just as many drivers die in road crashes while under the influence of drugs as those who are under the influence of alcohol. MADD has very similar statistics which demonstrate that, in 2016, there were 614 vehicle accident fatalities where drugs were present in the driver's system, compared to the 476 fatalities where alcohol was present in the driver's system. Looking at these numbers, drugs seem statistically more dangerous than alcohol.
Along the same lines as the MADD study, a roadside survey in British Columbia, conducted in 2012, collected voluntary saliva and breathalyzer samples from drivers. The final results indicated that 7.4% of the drivers were drug impaired and only 5.4% were alcohol impaired.
If we can agree that drug-impaired driving is more prevalent than alcohol-impaired driving and that drug-impaired driving causes a significant number of fatalities, should we not be legislating drug-impaired driving the same as or more severely than we legislate alcohol-impaired driving?
Logically, legislation preventing drug-impaired drivers from operating a vehicle would have a positive impact on our communities. As we near the date on which the Liberal government announces its marijuana legislation, we need to equip our law enforcement officers with the proper tools to keep us safe.
It is also important to remark that drug-impaired driving cases often take up to twice as long to be completed in court than their alcohol-impaired driving counterparts. Drug-impaired driving cases are also less likely to result in a guilty sentence.
The use of drugs while driving, or prior to driving, is on the rise and will only increase with the government's legislation. The statistics correlating drug-impaired driving with vehicle crashes are astounding. The crash rate of marijuana users is two to six times higher than it is for drivers who are not impaired. Drivers who test positive for the use of sedatives are two to eight times more likely to be involved in a fatal traffic crash. Drivers who test positive for the use of opioids are up to eight times more likely to be involved in a traffic accident, and drivers who are impaired by cocaine are two to 10 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash.
Legislation similar to Bill S-230 is already present across the globe. In the United States, several states that have legalized marijuana have also introduced legislation on its use while driving. Washington and Colorado have set their legal limit at five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood, while Nevada and Ohio have a lower limit of two nanograms. Other states have declared zero-tolerance legislation. Determining what is safe will be difficult. I recommend leaving those measurements to the medical and law enforcement professionals.
Other countries with similar legislation include Australia, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, and the United Kingdom, and the list goes on. All of these countries have found value in legislation toward preventing drug-impaired driving. We are behind on this matter. As a country, we have an obligation to respond to this issue. I hope that a response is ready before we legalize the most commonly used illegal drug in our country.
To conclude, I am pleased to speak to this important and timely piece of legislation. As we move closer to the deadline, there are many issues that need to be addressed, including roadside testing of impaired drivers. I could list many others, and I am sure that when we come to debate, we will.
I am calling on the government to ensure the safety of our roads and of Canadians. We now have good tools available in the world to prove a level of impairment for alcohol. We could have the same for drugs. We need to equip our law enforcement officers with what they need to keep our roads safe.
The social movement against drinking and driving has been tremendous. I am hoping that a similar effort will be put into preventing drug-impaired driving in Canada.
Until we get screening technology across this country, we are going to continue to do a poor job of detecting drug-impaired drivers on our roads. As we lower the age and legalize marijuana, these young boys, who are most prevalent in terms of drug-impaired driving, will only increase in number. We need stronger rules, and we need to equip our law enforcement officers with the tools to enforce those rules more effectively.