We still haven’t got our game to­gether on al­co­hol, writes Lor­raine Som­mer­feld.

Regina Leader-Post - - DRIVING - Driv­ing.ca

Canada loves be­ing way up there, even No. 1, in those sur­veys about the best places to visit or live. Not so cool? We’re also No. 1 in al­co­hol-re­lated ve­hi­cle deaths among wealthy coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to a study by the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol (CDC) re­port­ing on 2015.

If we can’t get our game to­gether on al­co­hol, what’s go­ing to hap­pen when we add le­gal­ized mar­i­juana to the mix? I pity the cops tasked with judg­ing a cor­nu­copia of drug-ad­dled driv­ers, dab­bling from both the il­le­gal and le­gal sides of the aisle.

Sta­tis­tics are magic things; traf­fic fa­tal­i­ties are in­deed down 43 per cent since 2000, but “pro­por­tion of deaths linked to al­co­hol im­pair­ment was 34 per cent, higher than any of the other coun­tries in the sur­vey.” Car man­u­fac­tur­ers are sav­ing us from our­selves with truly in­no­va­tive safety fea­tures, but we mer­rily go on test­ing them with a hard­core group of drunks who refuse to give up the wheel.

Po­lice and politi­cians and ad­vo­cacy groups have long been deal­ing with tack­ling booze, which con­tin­ues to make up the vast ma­jor­ity of im­paired charges. For in­stance, in Toronto last year, there were 1,376 ar­rests for driv­ing while im­paired, with 86 im­paired by drugs. In 2015, there were only 24 im­paired-by­drug ar­rests. The more ac­ces­si­ble a sub­stance is, the more likely po­lice will see an in­crease in the num­ber of drug-im­paired ar­rests. But with the loom­ing le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana, it’s hard not to an­tic­i­pate a cor­re­spond­ing spike in not just its us­age, but ac­cep­tance.

Wash­ing­ton state re­ports that since the le­gal­iza­tion of cannabis five years ago, a full one-third of the im­pair­ment charges is­sued to driv­ers is for the drug.

I don’t care if you smoke dope; I do care if you get be­hind the wheel af­ter you’ve done so. Pot can sab­o­tage your re­ac­tion time and your fo­cus, and if le­gal­ity en­tices a new group of smok­ers (and driv­ers) who haven’t pre­vi­ously ex­pe­ri­enced the ef­fects of the drug, whole new land­scapes of im­pair­ment will be on our roads.

Po­lice agen­cies in all ju­ris­dic­tions of Canada have been work­ing for years to train spe­cialty of­fi­cers to de­tect im­pair­ment in driv­ers due to those sub­stances not read­ily sci­en­tif­i­cally mea­sured road­side: the co­caine, the meth, the opi­ates, the de­pres­sants and the hal­lu­cino­gens. Road­side so­bri­ety tests have long in­cluded more than a blow test, and re­cent pi­lot pro­grams are in­tro­duc­ing saliva tests.

Other coun­tries have in­tro­duced dru­g­a­lyz­ers, which test for the top eight pre­scribed drugs — Clon­azepam, Di­azepam, Flu­ni­trazepam and Lo­razepam, to name a few — and the top eight street drugs, in­clud­ing co­caine, cannabis, LSD, ec­stasy, etc. The dru­g­a­lyzer units used in Great Bri­tain cost about $4,000 and about $10 for a test strip.

Po­lice in parts of Canada are al­ready test­ing sim­i­lar units. Toronto, Van­cou­ver, Hal­i­fax and Gatineau, as well as the RCMP in North Bat­tle­ford, Sask., and Yel­lowknife, are ad­min­is­ter­ing a saliva test to those who vol­un­teer to anony­mously pro­vide a sam­ple. The re­sults can’t be used in court, and are be­ing used to es­tab­lish pro­to­col go­ing for­ward on how or if the units might be used.

Const. Clint Stibbe with Toronto Po­lice Ser­vices warns that just be­cause a drug is le­gal, doesn’t mean you will avoid a charge if you are un­der im­pair­ment from it.

As of Fe­bru­ary of this year, Drug Recog­ni­tion Of­fi­cers (DREs) are con­sid­ered ex­perts by the Supreme Court of Canada. With no cur­rent mea­sur­able lev­els of im­pair­ment in place (as there is for al­co­hol) in most parts of Canada, .08 BAC is in­dictable ter­ri­tory for be­ing im­paired, but .05 BAC is where sus­pen­sions and im­pound­ment set in and tes­ti­mony from th­ese DREs is ac­cepted in court as ex­pert tes­ti­mony at trial.

Cannabis presents its own unique hur­dles for judg­ing im­pair­ment; the drug is es­ti­mated to stay in your sys­tem for about 30 days, but that num­ber can vary wildly, de­pend­ing on if you’re a one-time or long-term user. Mea­sur­ing the buzz, or im­pair­ment, can be even more dif­fi­cult. Stibbe warns that while a saliva test is a tempting thresh­old, it is sim­ply an­other tool for law en­force­ment to use to aug­ment their pow­ers of de­tec­tion.

A re­port re­leased this month con­cluded that for 2017, “the Toronto Po­lice Ser­vice has seen an 11 per cent de­crease in al­co­hol-re­lated im­paired driv­ing ar­rests. Drug-im­paired driv­ing ar­rests have in­creased by ap­prox­i­mately 18 per cent yearto-date.” Which means the po­lice are go­ing to need all the help they can get.

There are a lot of sub­stances, both le­gal and il­le­gal, that peo­ple can in­gest be­fore get­ting be­hind the wheel. I doubt the le­gal­iza­tion of cannabis will ever ap­proach the spec­tac­u­lar car­nage we’ve man­aged to achieve with al­co­hol, and the pro­hi­bi­tion of that prod­uct did lit­tle to stop it any­way. We will be see­ing new and im­proved ways for peo­ple to twist un­der the law and pay a lot of lawyers to help them.

But keep in mind that at this junc­ture, with or with­out a de­fin­i­tive ver­sion of a breath­a­lyzer for street drugs, those DREs are con­sid­ered ex­perts in the eyes of the law.


Po­lice are try­ing out dru­g­a­lyzer units which test for the top pre­scribed and street drugs.


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