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On The Road

What Happens When You Drive High

An inside look at what happens when you drive high, and why you should think twice about getting behind the wheel.

by Team Onlia
With all the buzz around cannabis legalization in Canada, there's been decidedly less talk about the law and safety around driving under its influence. We all know the risks and repercussions of driving under the influence of alcohol, but with cannabis becoming an accepted and accessible drug in Canada, it’s important to be equally aware of the risks of driving high.

In 2016 alone, there were over 3,000 drug-impaired driving incidents in Canada. In fact, a drug-impaired driving incidence is recorded in Canada every 3 hours

How does cannabis use impair drivers?

THC is a chemical found in cannabis, and it is known to impair a user's judgment and ability to complete simple tasks. Numerous studies have shown that consuming cannabis products affects:

  • Reaction time
  • Concentration
  • Short-term memory (i.e., following directions)
  • Judgment of speed and time
  • Awareness of surrounding vehicles and their distance 

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How long should I wait before driving?

Cannabis use impacts each individual differently, making it difficult to objectively state how long a user should wait to drive after consuming cannabis. The method of consumption, quantity consumed, and THC level ingested all are contributing factors to impairment. With so many influences at play, the wisest decision is to play it safe and not drive after cannabis use.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Apparently not. According to a 2017 Public Safety Canada research study:

  • 65% of respondents agree that cannabis users often fail to realize that they are impaired from using cannabis
  • 25% believe that the impacts of cannabis consumption are less detrimental to driving ability than alcohol
  • 22% of youth who have used cannabis said they drove while impaired. Most said they did it because they don’t think it’s as dangerous as drunk driving
  • 1 in 3 youth have been a passenger with a cannabis impaired driver

What are the penalties associated with driving high?

Getting behind the wheel when under the influence of cannabis is not only hazardous to yourself and others, it is against the law in Canada. The new offences for drug-impaired driving came into effect in Canada on June 21, 2018, including new fines and penalties for offenders - ranging from a $1,000 fine to life imprisonment.

But, how can they tell if you’re high? If a police officer suspects a driver is under the influence of a drug, they may ask the individual to take a new standardized field sobriety test or provide an oral fluid sample. An additional blood test or drug recognition evaluation can also be requested.

The impact on car insurance

Just as driving high can carry serious fines and even prison time, it also has some serious implications as far as car insurance coverage goes. 

When someone purchases a car insurance policy, both they and their insurance company agree to the Ontario Automobile Insurance Policy (OAP-1), which is the governing policy outlining the rights and obligations around car insurance. One such obligation for an insured person is that they not drive impaired (naturally). If they're convicted of impaired driving following a collision, they stand to lose their coverage for any damage to their vehicle, along with certain accident benefits.

Historically this applied to alcohol-related offences. Not any more. With the legalization of cannabis, the OAP-1 now treats drug impairment, including cannabis, the same way it does alcohol. Simply put: if you drive high, you risk losing out on your car insurance coverage.

How can I prevent impaired driving?

If you have been using cannabis, follow the same rules you would apply to alcohol use:

  • Arrange for a sober drive home (Friend / loved one / taxi / rideshare)
  • Use public transportation
  • Stay over in a safe environment

We’re curious what your safety questions / concerns are about cannabis legalization? Tweet us your thoughts @OnliaCA #OnliaCA.

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