Over the past year the RCMP have seen an eight per cent increase in impaired driving charges and are anecdotally seeing an increase in drivers impaired by marijuana.
The fourth quarter policing update released last week highlights the efforts the RCMP are making to curb impaired and distracted driving in the community.
In the 2016-2017 fiscal year the RCMP handed out 60 impaired driving tickets, compared to 65 in the most recent year. The increase is above the annual goal of increasing impaired driving related charges by five per cent.
Spokesperson Cpl. Laurel Kading from the St. Albert RCMP said that the increase is due to more enforcement in that area as part of the traffic safety proactive policing initiatives.
“Some of this is self-initiated things where we are out … increasing the number of checkstops we are doing. We are checking more vehicles purposely looking for specific things,” Kading said.
Kading said that a small part of the increase in impaired driving related charges is due to an increase in residents driving under the influence of marijuana.
She said that over the past year or two the RCMP are noticing a spike in drivers who are impaired by marijuana.
Overall though, Kading said that the increase in drugged driving will not be accurately reflected in impaired driving numbers because officers are issuing suspensions rather than lay Criminal Code charges.
“What they are mostly doing with them as we wait to see where the law goes, we are often suspending people’s licence for 24 hours or whatever period of time is appropriate,” Kading said.
Kading said that part of the reason they believe they have seen the increase in drugged drivers is because legalization is around the corner and the public does not understand the dangers of driving while under the influence of drugs.
“Some people are treating it the same way that they would tobacco,” Kading said.
“What they are not connecting with is that it is an intoxicating substance and it is mind-altering.”
Ethan Bayne, executive director of strategy and planning of the Alberta Cannabis Secretariat, said in a presentation on Monday night to the Sturgeon Rural Crime Watch that drug impaired driving is not a new issue in society.
“In terms of drug impaired driving we are probably 30 to 40 years behind where we are with alcohol impaired driving just in terms of societal attitude and acceptability,” Bayne said.
“We see a disturbing number of people who admit to doing it and a disturbing number of people who even think it makes them a better driver.”
Right now, there is no approved device to test for drivers that are suspected to be impaired by marijuana and the RCMP relies on drug recognition experts who are trained to examine drivers visually for drug use. They will look for signs and symptoms of drug use in a driver once they are pulled over.
Currently 25 per cent of the St. Albert RCMP members have been trained internally by RCMP drug recognition experts. The information was provided on the detection and investigation of drivers impaired by drugs.
Cannabis is expected to become legal in Canada sometime in the summer of 2018.