Attention drivers: If high, don't get behind the wheel, Ontario police organization says

If you're high on drugs, just don't drive, an organization that represents police chiefs across Ontario said Tuesday.

Association says more money may be needed for police budgets when pot legalized

Ontario Provincial Police Chief Supt. Chuck Cox says: 'It's unclear how legalization will impact police from a day-to-day operational perspective, including how it will impact, of course, police budgets.' (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

If you're high on marijuana, just don't drive, says an organization that represents police chiefs across Ontario.

The federal government has not yet established a legal limit on the amount of marijuana that can be consumed by a driver legally and Ontario police chiefs say they think the best advice is simply not to drive while impaired by drugs.

"Federal and provincial legislation has and is being developed that will act as a deterrent and provide police with the powers to properly investigate and arrest drug-impaired drivers," Ontario Provincial Police Chief Supt. Chuck Cox told reporters at a news conference in Toronto on Tuesday.

"However, it's unclear how legalization will impact police from a day-to-day operational perspective, including how it will impact, of course, police budgets."

Drug-impaired driving 'already an issue'

Cox says this isn't a new issue. Officers have been trained as "drug recognition evaluators" and trained how to use roadside standard field sobriety tests, but police services will likely have a need for more of these experts and more specialized training in the near future. 
Toronto Police Supt. Scott Baptist says: 'Please slow down. Calm down. Be a considerate driver. Put the phone down and make safe driving your only priority while behind the wheel. If you've been drinking or you've been using drugs, please don't drive.' (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

"I can tell you that drug-impaired driving is already an issue in the province of Ontario. With the expected legalization and regulation of cannabis, we anticipate, based on the experience in other jurisdictions that have already legalized, that drug impaired driving will increase," he said.

According to Toronto police statistics for the past four years, however, the number of charges of impaired driving due to alcohol and having a blood-alcohol level over 80 mg is much greater than the number of charges of impaired driving due to drugs.

In 2017, for example, Toronto police laid 1,193 charges of impaired operation of a vehicle due to alcohol and having a blood-alcohol level over 80 milligrams. That same year, police laid 69 charges of impaired operation of a vehicle due to drugs.

And in 2016, Toronto police laid 1,309 charges of impaired operation of a vehicle due to alcohol and having a blood-alcohol level over 80 milligrams. That same year, police laid 87 charges of impaired operation of a vehicle due to drugs. 
The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police showed a photo of this smashed car as it launched its annual Drive Safe! campaign in Toronto on Tuesday. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

Cox, along with other police managers, launched the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police's annual Drive Safe! campaign at the Toronto Police College on Tuesday. Its theme this year is: "Who is in Control?"

The campaign, coordinated by the association in support of Canada Road Safety Week, means police officers across the country are carrying out "specialized and targeted" enforcement of driving laws over in the next seven days to prevent crashes that cause deaths and injuries. 

A total of 101 people have been killed on OPP-patrolled highways due to vehicle crashes so this year, Cox said.

'Absolutely critical that we change behaviours'

Toronto Police Supt. Scott Baptist, co-chair of the association's traffic committee, said the campaign will target drivers who are speeding, aggressive, distracted or impaired. With the legalization of marijuana looming, the campaign is also placing more emphasis this year on motorists who are driving while high.

Baptist said the message from police applies to drivers impaired by alcohol or drugs.

"It's absolutely critical that we change behaviours in this province," Baptist said.

"Our message is pretty simple. Every member of our community, of every community across this province, has an expectation of one another, an expectation that we will obey the law and that we will drive our vehicles safely so that every member of every family can arrive home safely at the end of the day. And unfortunately, this is not the case," Baptist said. 
The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police launched its annual Drive Safe! campaign in Toronto on Tuesday. Its theme this year is: 'Who is in Control?' It will target drivers who are speeding, aggressive, distracted or impaired. (Alison Chiasson/CBC)

"Police officers and our emergency services partners routinely witness the devastating tragedies that occur when motorists do not obey the law and do not make the safe operation of their vehicle their number one and only priority. Who is in control? It is critical that every driver is in complete control of their vehicle at all times and operating it in accordance of the law."

Speeding, distracted driving, aggressive driving and driving while impaired are the leading preventable causes of vehicle crashes that cause deaths and injuries in Canada, he said.

Road deaths 'completely unacceptable'

Last year, 62 people were killed in crashes in Toronto. Aggressive driving is believed to have caused one-third of the fatal incidents, while impaired driving is believed to be responsible for seven. So far in 2018, 22 people have been killed on Toronto roads

Last year, Toronto police charged 13,365 drivers with distracted driving and another 24,495 drivers with speeding, Baptist said.

"This is completely unacceptable," he said.

Baptist said he would like to tell drivers before the May long weekend: "Please slow down. Calm down. Be a considerate driver. Put the phone down and make safe driving your only priority while behind the wheel. If you've been drinking or you've been using drugs, please don't drive. Stay over. Call a cab. Call a friend. Do anything, but do not get behind the wheel of a car."