Fatal Accidents Increase Significantly after 4/20 Celebrations

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

April 20 has become an international holiday where people gather to celebrate and consume cannabis. These mass marijuana festivities usually begin at 4:20 p.m. and continue well into the night.

A recent study has revealed that there was a slight increase in fatal U.S. car accidents on April 20 following an analysis of 25 years worth of data. Studies such as this one provide important information to the Federal and Provincial governments in deterring marijuana impaired driving in anticipation of the legalization of marijuana this summer in Canada.

WHAT DID THE STUDY ESTABLISH REGARDING THE USE OF MARIJUANA AND DRIVING ON APRIL 20?

Researchers from the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto compared driver deaths on April 20 with deaths occurring on a day of the week before and the week after during the 25 year study of U.S. data. The study confirmed that fatal car crashes were increased by 12% (142 driver deaths) on the evening of April 20. The study also found that the risk of fatal accidents among young drivers (under the age of 21) increased by 38% in the evening of April 20.

Dr. John Staples, lead author and an internist and researcher at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, stated,

The simplest explanation is that some drivers are impaired by cannabis use, and these drivers are contributing to fatal crashes. There should be very clear messaging to the public: don’t drive high.

Although the study lacks evidence on whether marijuana was involved in any of the April 20th fatalities (as there was no police data on drug testing to confirm that marijuana was involved), researchers believe that the drug was responsible for some of the crashes.

DOES MARIJUANA USE AFFECT DRIVING?

Although marijuana has the reputation of being a relatively harmless drug, it can have short-term affects on reaction time, motor co-ordination, divided attention, short-term memory and decision-making skills.

Marijuana affects each individual differently based upon factors such as the person’s tolerance, and the strain and potency of the marijuana being used. Some who use marijuana experience a sense of relaxation, while others may experience panic, fear, anxiety or psychosis.

Following alcohol, cannabis is the substance most commonly associated with “driving under the influence”.

In Colorado (one of the first states to legalize marijuana in the U.S.), the number of deaths caused by auto-related accidents involving marijuana increased by 145% from 2013 to 2016. By 2016, 20% of all fatal motor vehicle accidents involved marijuana (in comparison to 10% in 2013).

ONTARIO’S PLAN TO KEEP OUR ROADS SAFE FOLLOWING LEGALIZATION

As we have previously blogged about, Ontario has implemented new measures to keep our roads safe by implementing tougher drug-impaired driving laws.

Ontario has enacted zero tolerance rules prohibiting young (age 21 and under) and novice (G1, G2, M1, M2) drivers from having the presence of a drug in their system. For a first offence, young and novice drivers will face a three-day suspension and a $250 fine. A second offence will result in a seven-day suspension and a $350 fine and all subsequent transgressions will result in a thirty-day suspension and a $450 fine.

Commercial drivers will also be subject to zero tolerance rules prohibiting them from having any alcohol and drugs in their system. For any offence, a commercial driver will face a three-day suspension and a $250 to $450 fine.

Ontario has also introduced escalating monetary penalties to all impaired driving offences starting at $250 for a first offence and increasing up to $450 for third and subsequent occurrences.

RECOMMENDATIONS

As we prepare for the legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada this summer, we should consider ways to avoid driving while impaired and being a passenger with an impaired driver.

We should all be reminded to:

  • Always have a designated driver; or
  • Call a friend or loved one to pick you up; or
  • Call a cab or a ridesharing service; or
  • Stay overnight and sleep it off.

It is also strongly recommended that we have an open dialogue with our children and reinforce the dangers of driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs. It is also recommended that parents model safe driving behaviour by never driving any vehicle while impaired.

If you have been charged with a driving offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.