In advance of cannabis legalization in Canada, the Government of Alberta is using its award-winning Spot The Difference education campaign to put the spotlight on the realities of drug-impaired driving: “there is no difference” between driving drunk and driving high. Both are illegal and the consequences are the same.

There is a common misconception amongst Canadians, and particularly Canadian youth, that driving after using cannabis is safer than driving after consuming alcohol. But research tells a different story.

Studies have found that the crash rate of cannabis impaired drivers is two to six times greater than drivers who are not impaired (Stewart, 2006; Asbridge et al., 2012). A recent roadside study in Ontario revealed that marijuana was the most common illegal drug present in young drivers (Beirness, Beasley, & McClafferty, 2015). In addition, research has found that more young drivers in Ontario drive after using marijuana than after drinking (Boak, Hamilton, Adlaf, & Mann, 2015). Here in Alberta in 2013, over half (55.2%) of drivers killed in collisions had used drugs and the most common drug found was cannabis (CCMTA, 2013).

There are also misconceptions about police ability to detect drug-impaired driving. The fact is, you can be charged with impaired driving if the police officer reasonably suspects that you are impaired by drugs, alcohol, or a combination of substances. Drivers suspected of impairment may be required to complete a roadside breath test, a Standardized Field Sobriety Test, undergo an interview with a Drug Recognition Expert or submit to a blood test.  

It may come as a surprise to some that drugged driving and drunk driving are treated the same under the law. But the truth is that both are impairing substances that significantly increase the likelihood of being involved in a collision. Combining alcohol and cannabis or other drugs greatly increases the impairing factor of both, resulting in an even more dangerous situation behind the wheel.

To educate the public about these misconceptions and their consequences, the Government of Alberta uses its Spot The Difference campaign to engage with youth and their parents, with the message: “Driving drunk or high is driving impaired. Face the same consequences.”

Check out the campaign here:

With cannabis legalization on the horizon, here are some tips to steer clear of impaired driving:

  • Plan ahead if you’re planning to consume – whether that’s alcohol now or cannabis once it’s legal. Call a cab, a friend, or a rideshare company.
  • Don’t get in a car with an impaired driver. Remember that a driver can be impaired by alcohol, drugs, fatigue, or distraction. Don’t let friends or family drive impaired.
  • Remember that even legal and prescription drugs can cause impairment. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if medications will affect your driving.

In Alberta, there is already zero tolerance for alcohol or drugs for those drivers in the Graduated Driving Licencing (GDL) Program.


Asbridge, M., Hayden, J.A., & Cartwright, J.L. (2012). Acute cannabis consumption and motor vehicle collision risk: systematic review of observational studies and meta-analysis. British Medical Journal, 344, e536.

Beirness, D.J., Beasley, E.E., & McClafferty, K. (2015). The 2014 Ontario Roadside Alcohol and Drug Survey. Presentation at the Drugs and Driving Symposium, Centre for Forensic Science, Toronto, Ont., June 2015.

Boak, A., Hamilton, H. A., Adlaf, E. M., & Mann, R. E., (2015). Drug use among Ontario students, 1977–2015: Detailed OSDUHS findings (CAMH Research Document Series No. 41). Toronto, Ont.: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

CCMTA (2013). Alcohol and drug-crash problem in Canada 2013 report (CCMTA Road Safety research Report Series).

Stewart, K. (2006). Overview and Summary. In Drugs and Traffic: A Symposium (pp. 2–11). Woods Hole, United States.

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