What happens if I get into a car accident and there’s cannabis in my system?

woman holding head next to crashed car

Here’s the bottom line: driving a car while under the influence of cannabis is not only illegal, it’s dangerous. Why? Because the drug affects your judgment, reaction time, coordination – all important to keeping you and your fellow drivers safe on the roads. Not surprisingly, according to police reports, in 2016 74 people were killed in collisions involving a driver under the influence of drugs.

But mistakes happen. And not everyone realizes that cannabis can stay in one’s system for a long time (impairment from cannabis can last up to 6 hours and even longer if you’re a new user or if the drug was consumed along with alcohol). So, before you consume cannabis and get behind the wheel, here are some things you should know:

Zero tolerance for young, novice or commercial drivers

Similar to Ontario’s approach to alcohol, you can’t have any cannabis in your system if you’re a driver who is:

  • 21 or under
  • Has a G1, G2, M1 or M2 licence
  • driving a vehicle that requires an A-F driver’s licence or Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration (CVOR)
  • driving a road-building machine

Penalties include licence suspensions and fines. Repeat offenders face longer suspensions and additional consequences such as mandatory education and treatment programs.

General penalties

If police determine that you were driving while impaired, you will face immediate penalties and you can face additional consequences later if convicted in court. Which penalties you face will vary depending on a number of factors including your age, licence type, the amount of cannabis in your system, and previous convictions.

The relatively new federal drug-impaired driving laws set the following penalties for driving while impaired:

  • A fine of up to $1,000 for driving with 2 nanograms (ng) of THC per millilitre (ml) of blood but less than 5 ng.
  • A fine of $1,000 or higher and possibly jail time if you have more than 5 ng/ml of THC in your blood.
  • A fine of $1,000 or higher and possibly jail time if you have 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 ml of blood and 2.5 ng/ml of THC in your system.

If you’re convicted of impaired driving, you will also lose your licence for a year. If this isn’t your first offence of this kind, penalties are even greater, including 10 years maximum in prison if your impaired driving caused bodily harm and the possibility of a life sentence for causing a fatal accident.

Roadside tests

If the police think you were using cannabis while driving, they can ask that you take a roadside Standardized Field Sobriety Test. Police have also been given the ability to use devices that test your saliva for cannabis. If you refuse any of the tests, you can be charged with a criminal offence for failure to comply with a police demand.

Drug evaluation tests at the police station

If the police have reasonable grounds to believe that you were driving under the influence, they can ask that you undergo a drug recognition evaluation or a blood sample at the police station. If an expert at the station finds that you’re impaired, you will be charged with impaired driving (if the police ask for a drug evaluation test, it’s best to comply).

Contact a lawyer

Every person who is asked to undergo a drug evaluation test at the police station has the right to speak with a lawyer before agreeing to it. You also have a right to remain silent if the police ask you questions.

If you’ve been involved in an accident while impaired, we can help. At Howie, Sacks & Henry, our team of compassionate and professional lawyers have decades of experience handling all manner of personal injury claims. Feel free to contact us to learn more – 877-771-7006.

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