Mr. Speaker, I rise today to lend my support to the motion of my friend and colleague the member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel to create a national impaired driving prevention week. A similar effort has been under way in Alberta, where December is recognized as Impaired Driving Month. Both intentions are the same, which is to raise awareness of impaired driving and encourage people to drive sober.
I salute my colleague and others for sharing their personal stories. As a former police officer, I have seen too many preventable and tragic accidents coming from a decision to drive after drinking or taking drugs. It is encouraging that many of the discussions and stories during the debates have focused on the impacts to families and communities, and support for the victims of these accidents.
Any effort that can reduce the unnecessary loss of life and make our roads safer is worth our attention and effort in the House, and we can show that we can rise above partisanship. By supporting a national impaired driving prevention week, my hope is that we can decrease the number of impaired drivers on the road. These campaigns have been proven to work. Over the last 30 years, impaired driving, both by alcohol or drugs, is down 65%. Today, we are at the lowest rate ever recorded. That is both a cause for celebration and a reminder that the job is not yet done. When it comes to impaired driving, one is too many.
Why did impaired driving drop significantly during this time period? First, in my opinion, it was an attitudinal shift. Punishments changed and how we deal with impaired drivers shifted. Gone are the days when police drove people home instead of arresting them. Zero tolerance was adopted, and those who broke the law faced the consequences of their actions. As a society, we changed our view of drinking and driving. The era of “one for the road” ended. Today, most consider impaired driving as a social taboo. Complacency or acceptance of this practice is at an all-time low.
For our youth today, there is pressure to stop friends from driving while impaired, along with education on how to recognize and avoid driving under the influence. All of this has been accomplished through the community and educational efforts of groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, MADD Canada. Through their campaigns, MADD and others have reduced the number of fatalities, accidents, and victims. These groups have rallied the industry to help with educational efforts in win-win scenarios that see more people arrive alive.
However, more can and should be done. Nearly 60% of crash deaths today still involve drivers with alcohol or drugs in their system. The most recent statistics show that over 72,000 incidents of impaired driving in Canada were reported in 2015. As we can see, there is still a lot of room for improvement. We need to continue the trend of fewer impaired drivers and fewer families left to pick up the pieces after losing a loved one. I hope that by dedicating a week specific to this issue we are able to rally educational efforts across various groups, and further empower our police services to protect Canadians from drunk driving.
However, as we debate this motion to prevent impaired driving, a surprising number of members in this House continue to support legalized marijuana. Make no mistake. Marijuana legalization will result in more impaired driving deaths, more accidents, and an increased risk to road safety. History has already shown us the results.
Colorado legalized marijuana a little more than five years ago. A summary of the impacts in the U.S. were far gloomier than what the Liberals' proposed plan says, even though the political promises were the same. In the U.S., the politicians promised that legalization would reduce the impacts of organized crime, increase tax revenue, decrease crime rates, and improve controls over youth access to drugs. Does that sound familiar? However, reports show that organized crime continues to do well, including operating in both the legal and illegal markets for marijuana, where prices are tax-free and significantly lower. Instead of higher revenues, there has been pressure on social services as addiction rates, homelessness, and youth use has increased. For impaired drivers, the first year saw marijuana-related traffic deaths increase by 92%. Youth access spiked, even though the legal age of use is 21 in Colorado. Youth rates were significantly higher in legalized states versus non-legalized states. Drug-related high school suspensions were up 40%. Today in Colorado, business groups, doctors, and health providers are trying to rally the public to reverse that legalization.
Washington state has a similar story, according to the Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area report, which is part of the White House's plan to reduce drugs. They say drivers involved in fatal crashes with drugs in their system increased 122%. Nearly two out of three DUls for marijuana involved youth, with 20% of youth reporting they were in a car with a driver who was under the influence of or used marijuana. Similarly, half of school expulsions and 42% of drug suspensions were marijuana related. These numbers are consistent and clearly show that Canada should be preparing for a major issue related to drug impaired driving.
Sadly, the government has not been listening. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police warn that it will not be ready to equip and train enough police on drug testing processes and procedures in time for the arbitrary summer deadline. This does not help police services serve their communities, it will not help protect innocent victims from impaired drivers, and it is entirely avoidable.
This new national impaired driving prevention week would, no doubt, help educate Canadians on the dangers of using marijuana and driving, and lots of education is needed because many Canadians still believe that the impacts of marijuana and alcohol are the same, if not less, for cannabis. However, unlike alcohol, marijuana takes seconds to impact the brain and the user feels and exhibits the effects immediately. While alcohol peak effects are reached quickly and dissipate within two to three hours, marijuana impairment can last up to 24 hours, depending on the strength of the drug and the frequency of use.
The drug impacts critical functions like thinking, reflexes, perception, balance, motor control, and reaction times, all essential elements to driving. Worse for our kids, the impairment is not immediately recognized by the user or others who interact with them. Where the signs of alcohol impairment can warn us not to get in the car with someone who is under the influence, the same warning signs may not be there for a marijuana high. The least we can do is create a week to educate people on the dangers of driving while impaired, since we know there will be significantly more people driving while impaired when marijuana is legalized. Those who ultimately pay the price for impaired driving are the victims. We cannot debate this issue without making the families, friends, and loved ones of victims central to this issue.
As the member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel has seen and experienced first-hand from his statements in the House, the innocent victims pay a significant price by those who make the decision to drive under the influence. All penalties, jail, community service, criminal records, pale in comparison to that. I ask all MPs who stand in the House to support the member's motion to also re-examine their support for legalizing marijuana. If our goal, as members of the House, is to improve our society and leave a brighter future for our children, the legalization of marijuana does not align with those ideals.
Canada's record for impaired driving has been getting better each year, but 72,000 incidents of impaired driving remain far too many, and with the government's decision to legalize marijuana, without question, it will create thousands more drug impaired drivers. With this law being rushed, the government puts the safety of its citizens at risk.
There is clearly a need to better inform and prepare Canadians. With this new national impaired driving prevention week, it is our hope that industry, community, and public agencies can rally together to improve road safety and educate Canadians. We can continue to improve awareness, social pressure, and enforcement to reduce impaired driving. We can honour and remember innocent victims who were lost by the senseless act of driving while under the influence. With this week, we can play a small part in the creation of a better and safer future.