Ottawa launches campaign against youth drug-impaired driving

As the July deadline for legalizing marijuana in Canada looms, the Liberals are launching the first in a series of ads to dissuade young people from driving while high.

The first video ad will launch Dec. 18 and run on television and social media, and in movie theatres the country, says Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s office.  The government is spending $3 million on the campaign and targeting the first tranche at people ages 16 to 24, a group Goodale described as “particularly impressionable.”

The 30-second ad is shot to appear as if the viewer is filming a live video on a cellphone.  It starts with a teenaged-looking girl waving to the camera, then filming her friends smoking marijuana. If what the group is passing around in a circle is unclear to the viewer, two puff emojis appear onscreen, followed by a tree and a rolling eye emoji.

In the next shot, the audience is in the passenger seat as one of the smoking teens starts the car. The teens in the back pose for pictures. “Almost there! Chloe’s Party,” reads a sticker on the video.  The driver looks increasingly high while the teen girl from the start takes a heart crown selfie.  The car music is cut off by a loud, long honk.  The car’s window shatters as another vehicle smashes into them, its wheels screeching.  The video then focuses on the phone covered in shattered glass: “Your life can change in an instant. Don’t drive high,” reads a voice.

Task force recommended driving ads

“Too many Canadians badly need to hear that message — too many people downplay the potentially deadly risks of driving high,” said Goodale.

Goodale says recent public opinion research suggests that half of young people 16 to 24  don’t consider driving while high as bad as driving drunk. According to Public Safety Canada, drug-impaired driving has been on the rise here since police-reported data became available in 2009. Young people are the largest group of drivers who die in crashes and test positive for drugs, said the department.

The minister said the government’s goal is to get those statistics “lower, lower, lower.”  Overall, the government has earmarked spending of about $46 million over the next five years on communication. Goodale said it’s prepared to spend more once the campaigns are re-evaluated.

The campaign launched Tuesday is in partnership with MADD Canada, Young Drivers of Canada, the Canadian Automobile Association and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.  Patricia Hynes-Coates, national president of MADD Canada, said young people in particular need to get the message.  “We know that if this campaign and the campaigns MADD Canada runs and all these other organizations are running save one life, then we know it’s well worth running these programs,” she said. “If none of us have to put a loved one into a cold grave, then we have accomplished our jobs.”

Provinces looking at legislation

Those warnings were highlighted in the 2016 report by the task force the Liberal government appointed to study how marijuana could be legalized and regulated in Canada.  It recommended the government target its information campaigns at youth, “given their propensity to both use cannabis and be involved in automobile accidents.”  “A significant proportion of youth believes that cannabis use leads to more cautious driving and that it is difficult for police to detect and charge drivers for cannabis-impaired driving,” wrote the task force in its December 2016 report.

An official in Goodale’s office said the government looked at the U.S. to see what kind of ads work to stop impaired driving.

Last week MPs passed the government’s bill to legalize cannabis, sending the legislation to the Senate for further study and debate.  Several provinces are trying to figure out how to crack down on drug-impaired driving.  Last week, the Saskatchewan government proposed a zero tolerance law that would see drivers’ licences immediately suspended if they are accused of driving under the influence of drugs.

Federal Criminal Code provisions on drug-impaired driving are also expected to take effect in the next couple of months.

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