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Put Legislation That Deters Drugged Driving In The Fast Lane

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Consuming drugs and getting behind the wheel of a car denotes serious carelessness. It is a deliberate choice and a serious crime that tragically kills and injures innocent Canadians, including young families, every year.

More efficient drug screening tools have been needed for quite some time. Canada is already behind a bevy of jurisdictions around the world that have approved the use of roadside drug screening devices, including some in the U.S, Australia, Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom.

The technology is already available. These devices in Canada would greatly improve the ability of police officers to detect drug-impaired drivers and provide quick and conclusive results that clearly indicate the presence or absence of drugs when impairment might be perceived.

The legislation that I have tabled in the Senate, Bill S-230, would allow police in Canada to use a non-invasive roadside saliva-testing device that would detect illegal drugs in a driver's body. If tested positive for a drug, the driver would either be brought to a police station to undergo further impairment tests by a specialized Drug Recognition Evaluator or asked for a blood or urine sample, whatever the case may require.

claude carignan
Senator Claude Carignan. (Photo: REUTERS/Patrick Doyle)

I highly anticipate that this legislation will deter the act of drug-impaired driving and, in addition, make it more efficient for law enforcement to detect and investigate impaired driving before more deaths on the road occur.

The problem of drug-impaired driving has been increasing -- mostly among young drivers. According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, as many drivers died in road crashes after using drugs as those who had been drinking. MADD statistics concur, finding 614 road fatalities in 2012 where a driver had drugs present in their system, compared to 476 fatalities where a driver had alcohol in their system.

In 2013, according to Government of Canada statistics, 97 per cent of prosecutions caused by impaired driving in Canada were due to alcohol, as opposed to only three per cent from drugs. This major difference is because there are currently no roadside screening devices to identify drug-impaired drivers.

Currently, police can use a breathalyzer to detect the presence of alcohol in a driver's body, but they have nothing to detect the presence of drugs on the road. If a police officer believes a driver is drug impaired, they would have to have reasonable grounds to send the driver to a police station for further testing by an expert. As it is, drug-impaired‎ numbers are under-reported because of the limited tools available for law enforcement to detect drugs. This leads to drug-impaired drivers often bypassing Drug Recognition Expert evaluations due to their unavailability, or time restrictions on the tests.

We cannot allow preventable drug-impaired driving to go without consequence.

According to the Road Safety Monitor 2013, the average percentage of fatally injured drivers tested for drugs between 2000 and 2008 was 47.2 per cent, so statistics of drug impaired driving are very obviously under reported.

Illicit drugs impair the ability to drive because of their impact on the brain. According to the RCMP, drug-impaired driving is related to slower reaction times, difficulty concentrating, drowsy and/or disoriented feelings, difficulty judging distances and making decisions, trouble staying in one lane, and greater difficulty maintaining a constant speed. In addition, various studies have also demonstrated that the combined use of an illegal drug plus alcohol carries significantly greater cognitive impairment and collision risks than the use of one substance alone.

The United Nations' Commission on Narcotic Drugs Resolution 54/2, sponsored by the U.S. and endorsed by Canada, underscores the importance of prevention and enforcement measures that tackle drug-affected driving while increasing road safety.

We cannot allow preventable drug-impaired driving to go without consequence and allow innocent lives to be lost on our roads in Canada as a result. I am hopeful that my Bill, S-230 will be strongly supported.

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