Drugs and Driving

Impaired is impaired

Drugged Driving

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), defines the terms “drugged driving”, and “drug-impaired driving” as driving a motor vehicle while impaired by any type of drug or medication or combination of drugs, medications, and alcohol. These include cannabis, illegal substances, mind-altering prescription medications, and over-the-counter remedies and medications that affect an individual’s ability to drive safely.1

Young drivers are already at higher risk of road accidents, as new drivers often lack experience behind the wheel.

Your teen may be old enough to drive a vehicle or operate farm machinery, lawnmowers, boats, dirt bikes or other moving vehicles. Cannabis in any form, including edibles, can seriously impair the ability to operate machinery or vehicles of any kind.

Studies show that driving high nearly doubles the risk of an accident, and a study commissioned by DFK Canada that over one third (37%) of teens feel that driving high (after marijuana use) is not as risky as drunk driving, while one in four high school seniors say they have ridden in a car with a high driver.  Source: DFK Attitudinal Tracking Survey 2017

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, there are common misperceptions regarding drugs and driving among youth:

  • Impaired driving is not a serious problem;
  • Cannabis-impaired driving is safer than alcohol-impaired driving;
  • Some drug use does not adversely affect driving ability;
  • Some drug use improves driving ability due to compensation strategies; and
  • The likelihood of being pulled over for impaired driving is low.

Our campaign, “The Call That Comes After,” aims to drive home the dangers of high driving and being a passenger in a car with a driver who has used marijuana to parents and teens. We urge parents to try it out and use it to begin an important conversation with their kids about the dangers of driving high. 

Weed out the Risk

The fact that cannabis is now legal has raised some concerns about road safety, especially among young drivers who, for the most part, do not understand that driving under the influence of cannabis can be extremely dangerous.

Weed out the Risk is an educational program that aims to inform both young drivers of the risks associated with driving under the influence of cannabis.

The Bottom Line

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or a combination of the two is very dangerous.  The use of any psychoactive (mind-altering) drug makes it highly unsafe to drive a car and is illegal—just like driving after drinking alcohol.  Driving under the influence of drugs endangers not only the driver's life but also the lives of passengers and other road users.

Drugs and Driving - Some Facts

High Driving is about to overtake drinking and driving.


A significant proportion of fatally injured drivers tested positive for drug use and levels were close to those of alcohol across Canada. Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or a combination of the two is extremely dangerous.

Young drivers and their friends who are passengers in the car, need to know that a driver’s capabilities to drive safely after having smoked pot or taken prescription drugs can seriously be impaired.

This is something we all need to work on together in order to change the attitudes of youth.

16-24-year-olds have the highest fatality rate for both alcohol and drugs.
Drivers between 16–24 years old account for most driver fatality cases; they also happen to be the group containing the largest proportion of drinking-driver fatalities (27.6%) and drug-positive driver fatalities (26.9%).2

Nearly one-third of teens (30%) did not consider driving under the influence of cannabis to be as bad as alcohol.3

While there is a clear understanding of the dangers of drunk driving by drivers of all ages, things are not so clear when it comes to the issue of driving under the influence of drugs like cannabis.

Studies continue to show that there is a significant percentage (30%) of young people of driving age who either strongly agree or agree that using cannabis before driving is not as risky as drinking and driving.   Too many young people remain unaware that driving while under the influence of prescription or illegal drugs like cannabis can seriously affect their driving capabilities.

An issue that needs to be addressed urgently.

Among young drivers, the high driving problem is rapidly becoming comparable to the drunk-driving problem.

Results of alcohol and drug tests performed on drivers who died in motor vehicle crashes in 2008 in Canada reveal that 37% were positive for drugs compared to 41% that tested positive for alcohol. 4


Over one in five (22.4%) high school seniors have gotten into a car with a high driver 5

The likelihood of riding in a vehicle with a driver who had been using drugs significantly increases with school grade level.

Relaxed attitudes towards drugged driving are a part of the problem.  It’s just not considered as dangerous as drunk driving, neither by teenagers nor their parents.  There continues to be a clear misunderstanding that it can be a dangerous thing.


Young drivers and their friends who are passengers in the car need to understand that driving can be negatively affected after smoking cannabis or taking prescription drugs.


Nearly one in five parents of teenagers do not consider driving while high on cannabis to be as bad as drinking and driving. 6


That being said, a significant number of parents DO understand that driving while on drugs is as dangerous as driving while impaired by alcohol.

81% of parents strongly/somewhat agree that driving while high on cannabis is as risky as drinking and driving.  

Parents can make a big difference in the lives of young drivers by staying informed about the issue and talking to their teens. Conversations about risky behaviour like driving while high and being a passenger in the car with a high driver are important to have on a regular basis.








Driving while high kills


A significant proportion of fatally injured drivers tested positive for drug use and levels were close to those of alcohol across Canada.

Drivers between the ages of 16 and 24 years old account for most driver fatality cases. They also happen to be the group that contains the largest proportion of drinking driver fatalities ( 27.6%) and drug positive related fatalities (26.9%) 7




Teenage Drug Usage

Cannabis: The number of youth (22%) and young adults (26%) who used cannabis in 2013 was more than two and a half times that of adults 25 and older(8%)8

After alcohol, cannabis is the second most used substance among young Canadians aged 15 to 24.

When compared to young people in other developed countries, young Canadians are the most likely to have used cannabis, according to a report in the 2013 UNICEF Research Center.

The effects of cannabis on driving:

Cannabis significantly affects the skills necessary for driving.  Cannabis causes euphoria, slowed thinking, confusion, impaired memory and learning, increased heart rate and anxiety. These effects are felt within minutes, peak after about half an hour and can last up to two hours.9

Research shows that impairment increases significantly when cannabis is combined with alcohol.

Driving while on cannabis demonstrates slowed thinking, which delays reaction time to important events occurring on the road.   It also distorts time and distance perception, making it difficult for the driver to navigate turns into oncoming traffic. Concentration and attention span are also decreased, increasing the likelihood that the driver will be distracted from watching the road.

The crash rate of cannabis users can be anywhere from two to six times higher than sober drivers, depending on the duration and quantity of the drug.

Considerable evidence from both real and simulated driving studies indicates that marijuana can negatively affect a driver’s attentiveness, perception of time and speed, and ability to draw on information obtained from past experiences.

Cannabis is relatively easy to get and many young people feel it is less likely they will get arrested for driving high because a breathalyzer cannot detect it.10  These factors combine to make cannabis the most likely drug to be in the body of young drivers while driving.

Illegal Drugs: ecstasy, cocaine, and LSD, methamphetamines, crack, and heroin and crystal meth.

The effects of illegal drugs on driving:

The list of hard, illegal drugs includes hallucinogens, ecstasy, cocaine, and LSD, Methamphetamine, crack, heroin, and crystal meth.

All of these cause various effects such as hallucinations, impulsivity, irritability, dizziness, anxiety, loss of coordination, and a false sense of alertness.

Cocaine is the most common illegal drug found in fatally injured drivers next to cannabis.  It is associated with speeding, losing control of the vehicle, making unsafe turns in front of other vehicles, aggressive driving and inattentive driving.11

Those who drive under the influence of cocaine are two to ten times more likely to crash than an unimpaired driver. 12


Prescription drugs: One in ten Canadian high school students have taken prescription drugs not prescribed to them, that’s roughly 300,000 teenagers.


Prescription drugs are medications like painkillers, depressants or stimulants. They should never be taken without a prescription from a doctor and used under medical supervision, however, they are often being used non-medically by young people.

Teenagers are taking these drugs from their own medicine cabinets at home to experiment with, without knowing the potential harm they can cause, including allergic reactions and overdoses, both leading to death. Examples include benzodiazepine, oxycodone, rohypnol, attention deficit disorder pills, and sedatives.

The effects of prescription drugs on driving:

The effects of specific drugs differ depending on how they act in the brain, but all impair faculties necessary for the safe operation of a vehicle. These faculties include motor skills, balance and coordination, perception, attention, reaction time, and judgment. These drugs cause feelings of euphoria, drowsiness, and relaxation and decrease the sensation of pain.

What can you do?

Talk to your teens
As parents, we know it’s not always easy to talk to your teenagers, but it is important that you do.
Your children need to learn about the consequences of drug and alcohol use from you, the parent. Frequent family discussions go a long way toward preventing substance use by kids.
Need a few pointers on how to get the conversation going?
Click Here>>

Tips for Parents
You do make a difference! Research shows that just by talking to your kids about drugs, you can reduce experimental trial by up to 50%.  More>>

Marijuana – Myths vs Facts
There’s still a lot of confusion about cannabis and its effects on the developing brains of young people. Click Here>> and get to know the facts.

Parenting Column
Get expert advice on a number of hard-to-handle issues all parents face at one time or another. More>>

What to Look for Checklist
Signs & Symptoms of Teen Drinking and Drug Use.  More>>


High Driving: References & Resources

The inclusion of an organization does not imply endorsement or authorization by Drug Free Kids Canada.  The sources of information listed below are intended only as a partial list of the resources available to viewers of this website. You are encouraged to conduct additional research for resources.

Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) 

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health  (CAMH)

Traffic Injury Research Foundation – Young and New Driver Resource Centre

DrugsandDriving.ca   –  An interactive website developed at the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research of BC.   The project’s goal is to raise the awareness of young drivers between the ages of 16 and 25 of the issues surrounding substance-impaired driving.  The website also provides a downloadable learning resource for teachers of Grade 10 students. We encourage you and your teens to take a look at the site together.

Addiction Tribe –  This US online recovery support website provides statistics and information on teens and drugged driving in that country.

New Zealand Drug Foundation  –  New Zealand’s Drug Foundation website

  1. Weekes 2005
  2. Beasley and Beirness, 2011
  3. PDFC 2015 online national tracking survey conducted between Oct. 28 and Nov. 3, 2015, designed by Audience Insights and executed by Vision Critical, with a sample of 821 parents with children aged 13 to 19 and with 611 teens aged 13 to 19.
  4.  Beirness 2012
  5. CAMH – OSDUHUS 2017
  6. PDFC 2015 online national tracking survey conducted between Oct. 28 and Nov. 3, 2015, designed by Audience Insights and executed by Vision Critical, with a sample of 821 parents with children aged 13 to 19 and with 611 teens aged 13 to 19.
  7. Beasley and Beirness, 2011
  8. Statistics Canada’s 2013 Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drug Survey (CTADS).
  9. Shinar 2006
  10. Hanson 2011
  11.  Shinar 2006
  12. DRUID 2012
  13. CAMH Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (2015 OSDUHS)