As marijuana inches its way toward legalization in Canada, Quebec’s automobile insurance board is launching an awareness campaign on the effects of cannabis while driving.
The SAAQ is focussing on 18 to 24-year-old drivers with the campaign that began Tuesday and will run until May 14, mainly on French-language television stations and on various digital platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Spotify. It will also run on English radio stations.
Cannabis most certainly produces effects that impair the ability to drive said Quebec Transport Minister Laurent Lessard -- a message that was echoed by Mario Vaillancourt of the SAAQ.
"It decreases concentration, vision, your ability to drive. I think it's important for us to repeat this message," said Vaillancourt.
The SAAQ says that according to coroner's reports between 2011 and 2015, 18 percent of drivers who died on Quebec roads had cannabis in their blood. Among drivers 16 to 24 who suffered fatal car crashes, that number was 30 percent.
According to Statistics Canada, roughly 13 percent of those under age 25 smoke marijuana at least once per week.
For comparison, about 30 percent of drivers of all ages who die in a crash in Quebec had blood-alcohol levels over the legal limit.
"We always plan this kind of campaign at this time of the year, but everyone knows the context now. We hope that more people will be aware of the risk," said Vaillancourt.
Several studies show that drug use affects the cognitive and motor functions required to drive safely, said SAAQ President and CEO Nathalie Tremblay
The new federal law will explicitly permit police to take saliva samples to test for drugs -- but people are already doing other tests for drivers suspected of being impaired.
Quebec City police say they are constantly looking for drivers using marijuana and other drugs, including those who go through roadblocks.
Driving impaired by drugs is a criminal offence, with penalties that can include fines, loss of driver's licence, and jail time.
Marijuana is set to be legalized in Canada by July 1, 2018.