Sask. safe driving advocate encouraged by new impaired driving laws

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Sask. safe driving advocate encouraged by new impaired driving laws

New driving laws introduced alongside Canada's bill to legalize marijuana are a "tremendous step in the right direction," according to a Saskatchewan safe driving advocate. 

Wendell Waldron of MADD says the new laws close loopholes and make it easier for police and the courts to crack down on both drunk and drug-impaired drivers.

"We now have legislation that will allow the police to detect, investigate and most importantly prosecute drug impaired driving. That's what I'm most impressed about. We've given police the tools to do their jobs properly," Waldron said. 

Justin Trudeau's Liberal government introduced sweeping changes to the country's impaired driving laws this week that include mandatory road side breathalyzer screening and laws aimed at cracking down on people who are high behind the wheel. 

The new rules could become law as early as July 2018. 

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One of the most significant changes introduced alongside the marijuana legalization bill is the introduction of road-side saliva tests. Drivers suspected of being high will now be forced to provide an "oral fluid sample" to police if they are pulled over on suspicion of driving while high. If that test comes back positive, drivers will have to then submit to further testing—inlcuding blood tests—to see if they are over the legal limit. 

Waldron said those new tools coupled with mandatory road side breathalyzer tests for suspected drunk drivers are just what advocacy groups like MADD have been asking for. 

"We have updated impaired driving laws that will make a significant improvement, reduction in fatalities and injuries," Waldon said.

New offences on the books

Three new drug-related offences will be also be created for drivers who have consumed drugs within two hours of driving. A driver who is found to have two nanograms but less than five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood could face a maximum fine of up to $1,000 (THC is the primary psychoactive found in cannabis).

A driver who has a blood level of more than five nanograms of THC, or has been drinking alcohol and smoking pot at the same time, will face a fine and the possibility of jail time. In more serious cases, a drug-impaired driver could face up to 10 years if convicted.

Drunk driving well documented problem in Sask. 

Waldron said while officials already know drugged driving is a problem in provinces like Ontario and British Columbia, it's still unclear how big of a problem driving while high is in Saskatchewan. 

But, the fact that the new rules also crack down on drunk driving will be good for Saskatchewan, he said. For example, the new proposed legislation would get rid of loopholes that allow drivers to claim they had just consumed alcohol and therefore were not legally drunk because the booze had not entered their blood stream. 

According to MADD, Saskatchewan's DUI fatality rate is three to five times the national average. On average, one person dies per week as a result of impaired driving.