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Behind The Wheel

Detecting drug impaired driving

Detecting and successfully prosecuting drug impaired drivers on B.C.'s highways is not a simple task. Currently the Criminal Code provisions for Drug Recognition Expert examination is the only method used to qualify drug induced impairment where the driver is not obviously incapable of physical control. One day in the not too distant future, the Cannabix marihuana breathalyzer may allow police to deal with the problem though a roadside breath test just as they would an alcohol impaired driver.

A breath testing tool to detect THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, will have to undergo scientific testing to ensure that it accurately measures the concentration on the driver's breath and relates it to the level in their blood. Once that has been determined the laws will need to be changed to indicate the maximum allowable THC level that the driver can have. Finally, the whole scheme will have to survive the challenge of our legal system.

We have not followed the current practices of countries like Britain and Australia. Britain has recently set blood concentration limits of a number of prescription and illegal drugs and enforces them by blood testing. Australia has done the same but uses saliva testing instead. A breath test based system, at least for THC, may be more palatable if it is successful as it is not as invasive a test as the other two are.

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, drug impaired driving almost equalled alcohol impaired driving instances in fatal collisions during 2010. The Centre also reports that young people continue to be the largest group of drivers who die in crashes and test positive for alcohol or drugs. A system to effectively deter drug impaired driving is needed and the Cannabix device may be a made in B.C. component of the solution.


The author is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. To comment or learn more, please visit

Young driver deaths

The BC Coroners Service released recommendations today with the hope of mitigating something that we are already aware of, the fact that motor vehicle collisions are the number one cause of death for youth aged 15 to 18. The first two suggest that we study aspects of the issue in more detail and the third that the Ministry of Justice should develop and implement automated speed enforcement. I agree that a thorough understanding of the issue and a review of other jurisdictions best practices may lead to solutions but the devil and I will probably go ice skating together before automated speed enforcement returns to our province.

I'm going to climb up on my soapbox and pronounce that what we really need is a significant attitude adjustment for many drivers in BC regardless of how old they are. In fact, a lot of the behavioural adjustment is probably needed among the older drivers that these young people learn from. Look around you the next time your are out. The majority of drivers will not follow the speed limit. Sloppy driving practices of all kinds abound. Rarely do I see a conscientious defensive driver who takes pride in driving correctly and exercising courtesy to others.

Some parents do not effectively monitor their children as they learn to drive. The responsibility does not end when you hand over the keys. You must set the limits and then be there when the keys come back after the drive to make sure that they are followed. GLP drivers must have a zero (none, not any, nada) blood alcohol when they drive yet many drive to parties that involve alcohol on the weekends with passenger loads that are contrary to the conditions of their licence.

How do we create drivers that want to follow safe and proper driving practices? I wish that I had the answer to that for you. There would be a lot more to gain than lowering the death rate among young drivers. We would also save significant amounts of money in health care and vehicle insurance and actually create money through increased productivity. Even the environment would benefit through reduced pollution and carbon emissions. Maybe attitude is everything.

Cognitive testing of older drivers

I am often asked about driver testing, particularly now that some older drivers are being given cognitive testing as part of the mandatory medical evaluation at and after age 80. This is called the SIMARD test and was developed at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. It allows the doctor or their medical staff to quickly and accurately identify people who are having cognitive difficulty that would compromise safe driving.

The first of four parts has the examiner slowly read a list of ten words to the subject. When all the words have been read, the person is asked to repeat as many of those words, in any order. Once completed, the task is done for a second time using the same word list.

Part two is a number conversion exercise. The subject is given a sheet of paper with a column of numbers and asked to write the numbers in words. An example of the task is seeing the number 5 and writing the word five.

The third challenge is to name as many items as possible that are sold in a supermarket within one minute. The maximum score is achieved by mentioning 30 distinct items.

Finally, we return to the word list in part one for the final test. The subject is asked to recall as many of the words read to them in part one as they are able to.

While this may seem trivial to you and me, it gives the medical examiner a proven yardstick to apply to their patients and fairly assess the driver. Many people are able to mask cognitive impairment during a routine medical visit and the SIMARD test helps the doctor be confident of their decision whether or not to recommend further testing and possible driving sanctions.


The author is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. To comment or learn more, please visit

Caveat vendor - window tinting

The Victoria Times Colonist is reporting on a crackdown with regard to tinted windows on vehicles by the local Integrated Road Safety Unit (IRSU). The article quotes a business owner who tells his customers that some window tinting is illegal and that the buyer should beware. What the article fails to touch on is that the vendor should also beware.

The comments posted by readers with the article are entertaining. There are those who realize that tint in the wrong places can be significantly hazardous when it comes time for a driver to identify a low contrast target against a low contrast background. Think pedestrian dressed in dark clothing walking along an unlit road at night. The rest spout less well thought out responses including one about it not being illegal for businesses to install tint where is should not be on your car or truck's windows. They are wrong.

It is an offence under the Motor Vehicle Act for anyone to deliver over to a purchaser for use a motor vehicle, trailer or equipment for them that is not in accordance with this Act and the regulations. A violation of this could cost a business owner $109 if IRSU issues a ticket or could be determined by the court if an appearance notice is issued instead.

Either of those two possibilities would pale in comparison to being found contributively negligent by the courts following a crash. Chances are good that the business has no insurance coverage for such a situation and telling the customer that it is illegal will not provide protection. In fact, it helps to confirm negligence. So, caveat vendor too. One significant judgement could leave you bankrupt and out of the tinting business.


The author is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. To comment or learn more, please visit

Read more Behind the Wheel articles

About the author...

Tim Schewe has been writing his column for most of the 20 years in his traffic enforcement service in the RCMP. It was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and now Schewe retired from the Force in January of 2006, but the column became a habit and continues.

E-mail him your questions or concerns: [email protected]


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.

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