Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month And Government Hypocrisy

PHOTO CREDIT: Optimal Claim/Creative Commons Share Alike 4.0

It’s May, and you know what that means—an onslaught of messages from federal and provincial government agencies telling us it’s Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. Thanks for your help, guys, but it’s time to call out the hypocrisy. There’s a growing danger for all motorists on Canadian roads, with motorcyclists and other vulnerable road users particularly imperiled—and the government itself is directly responsible for the problem. I’m talking about a rise in impaired driving.

Specifically, I’m talking about cannabis impairment, and I’m particularly unhappy because we all knew this problem was coming. Back in 2018, before the government legalized cannabis, I talked to police across North America (including US-based agencies, as cannabis was also being legalized in the States throughout this time). Every officer I talked to said the same thing. Whether or not they agreed with the legalization of cannabis, they expected it would cause an increase in impaired driving. And now, six years later, we are seeing they were correct.

It’s not just my opinion. Public Safety says that impaired driving is a growing problem. Somewhat amusingly, they reassure us that cannabis use behind the wheel is lessening, though, thanks to “self-reported” data. I can tell you otherwise from talking with law enforcement, and through my own personal observations.

In the years before legalization of cannabis, I was a runner, bicyclist and motorcyclist and I can say it was rare to smell marijuana smoke in traffic. Now? The smell of weed is everywhere.

When cannabis was legalized, we were told it was unlawful to consume cannabis while driving, and that it was illegal to drive while high. With that in mind, I’ve called the police on multiple occasions to report impaired drivers. I’ve never received any indication that police followed up on any of these complaints. In one case, when I called the RCMP, they treated me with indignance when I told them I wanted a follow-up call to ensure that someone had actually addressed the situation. “We don’t comment on ongoing investigations blah blah blah blah.” I’m sure they pursued this incident with their utmost tenacity, though.

Canada’s federal government warns us that it’s illegal to drive under the influence of drugs, while not providing police with the tools to lay DUI charges that stick for cannabis-impaired motorists. PHOTO CREDIT: Government of Canada

Frustrated over law enforcement’s apparent unwillingness to address the increase in impaired driving, I reached out to a contact to ask: What’s up, and what can I do? And my contact laid it out for me. Police are not anxious to pursue impaired driving incidents, said the officer, because they don’t want to lose the case in court.

One of the dirty secrets the federal government never told you back in 2018 was that cannabis-impaired driving can be harder to prove than alcohol-impaired driving. There are obvious cut-and-dried scenarios. If police find a driver crashed into a tree with a blunt smoldering in the ashtray, only the most obtuse or corrupt judges would reject that as evidence, as long as the police did their job correctly.

Current equipment used to test for cannabis impairment can be challenged in court, police say. This makes law enforcement concerned they can make arrests that result in wasted time in court. PHOTO CREDIT: Government of Canada

But when a driver is pulled over on suspicion of cannabis use without physical evidence on-hand, it’s more difficult, because there’s no direct equivalent to a breathalyzer for marijuana use. Currently, Canadian traffic police use a Standard Field Sobriety Test and the observations of Drug Recognition Experts to determine if a driver has used drugs recently. They can then use a device that samples oral fluid to confirm drug use. Justice Canada currently approves the Dräger DrugTest 5000 system and the SoToxa system.

However, it is difficult for current technology to tell how recent a subject’s cannabis use happened (see a news story from Australia here, and academic/government reports here, here, here). Did that driver smoke a joint 30 minutes ago, or several hours ago? A good lawyer will raise this question in court (see here), and a judge may decide that there’s no way to prove the impairment beyond reasonable doubt. Case closed.

So, the police aren’t keen to chase down impaired drivers. Why waste time on a case you can’t win? And it’s no wonder, then, that the Ontario Provincial Police is seeing a massive increase in impaired driving crashes. Ask your friends in the local PD; I’m sure they’re seeing the same.

And that brings me back to my starting point. This isn’t a Reefer Madness diatribe about the evils of Demon Weed—I am saying it is extremely hypocritical for our government to preach a message of safety for motorcyclists when they legalized an intoxicating substance without giving law enforcement the tools needed to keep our roads safe. Impaired drivers can now flout the law with impunity and put others at risk.

The only way to solve this problem is to develop improved, foolproof testing equipment. In the interim, governments should be honest with their citizens about the dangers on the roads. PHOTO CREDIT: Government of Canada

Both right-leaning and left-leaning governments are complicit, even if it is just by failing to aware citizens of the increased danger they’re in. It’s outrageous, and we as motorcyclists and as Canadians deserve better from our leaders at the federal and provincial level.

Is there a solution? Unless they get better testing equipment, I fail to see how the Crown can prosecute cannabis-impaired drivers successfully. Perhaps government should divert significant resources to that, instead of ineffective roadside signage. It would be a good usage for all that much-lauded revenue from provincially-sanctioned weed stores.


  1. 100% Zac! Well written and reasoned points. I also can’t believe how much pot I smell it when riding, if I was a moto cop it would be as easy as shooting fish in a barrel (yes, old person saying). Then there’s those who hotbox, who actually drive around with smoke so thick I can’t imagine how they’d see. But ultimately the feds and its proxies (including today’s media) would be the last to raise any issues, after all it helped get them elected without a thought to how it would affect safety on our roads. Unless we really believe the “don’t drive while high” commercials is in any way effective in deterring those who do it.

  2. Alcohol consumption, cannabis misuse, cell phone distraction, pathetic licencing requirements all contribute to the rise in motor vehicle incidents (I won’t call them accidents because they aren’t). Repeat offenders should be penalized to the full extent of the law, not a slap on the wrist and back on the street. The penalties are out there AND enforceable, the courts just gotta want to.

Join the conversation!