Date Published: 2023/04/12

Read Time: mins

Cannabis and driving: The risks and consequences of driving impaired

A set of car keys lie beside a small pile of dried cannabis on a white backdrop.

Cannabis use impacts a driver's cognitive and physical abilities, putting themselves and others at serious risk. Yet, many drivers continue to get behind the wheel while impaired by cannabis. According to the Government of Canada, one in four cannabis users say they have operated a vehicle while under the influence, and one in three Canadians report they have ridden in a vehicle operated by a driver who was under the effects of cannabis. It is a common misbelief that consuming cannabis is safer than drinking if you’re planning on driving. Remember it’s never safe to drive while under the influence. After alcohol, cannabis is the substance most commonly found in drivers who die in traffic crashes.

Read on to learn more about the risks and consequences of driving under the influence of cannabis.

How cannabis impairs driving

Cannabis (whether smoked, vaped, or ingested) impairs your ability to drive by slowing your reaction time, affecting your motor skills and reducing your ability to concentrate. Cannabis inebriation can lead to a variety of unsafe driving behaviours, including:

  • Slower reaction times to traffic signals, hazards, and other drivers
  • Difficulty in judging speed and distance
  • Reduced ability to make quick decisions
  • Impaired coordination and motor skills
  • Impaired memory and attention
  • Increased risk-taking behaviour

When is it safe to drive after consuming cannabis?

This is different for everyone and is dependent on several factors including how the cannabis is consumed. Cannabis edibles, or cannabis-infused food and drink, can pose additional risks when it comes to driving. Since the effects of edibles typically take longer to set in, it can be easy to over-consume or misjudge the amount of time needed to recover and no longer be impaired. It's important to be aware of the dosage and timing of edibles and to avoid driving until the effects have completely worn off.

Busted: Cannabis and driving myths

Here are a few of the most common myths about cannabis and driving — and the truth about them.

Myth: Cannabis makes you a better driver
Truth: This is false. Cannabis impairs your driving and increases your risk of being involved in a collision.

Myth: It's okay to drive after consuming cannabis as long as you don't feel impaired.
Truth: Cannabis can impair your driving even if you don't feel impaired. It's always safer to plan for a designated driver or use alternative transportation.

Myth: If you wait a few hours after consuming cannabis, it's safe to drive.
Truth: The effects of cannabis can last for several hours or even longer, depending on how it's consumed. Always wait until you are completely sober before getting behind the wheel.

Legal consequences of driving impaired

Driving while under the influence of cannabis is illegal in Canada and can result in serious consequences. The legal limits for THC (the psychoactive component in cannabis) that a driver can have in their bloodstream and the respective penalties are determined by provincial or territorial law. Exceeding these limits can result in serious consequences, including:

  • Fines and penalties
  • License suspension 
  • Vehicle impoundment
  • Criminal charges and possible jail time

Even if THC levels are below the legal limit, using cannabis and driving can still result in charges if signs of impairment are exhibited. Check your provincial or territorial government website for information on the cannabis-impaired driving laws and penalties where you live. 

What happens to your insurance if you drive impaired?

Insurance providers view impaired driving as a serious risk and may increase your premiums or even cancel your policy if you are convicted of driving while impaired by cannabis. Some insurance companies may refuse to provide coverage for drivers who have been convicted of impaired driving, while others may offer coverage but at much higher rates. 

Protect yourself and others on the road, and stay eligible for affordable auto insurance coverage, by committing to never driving while impaired. Plan for a designated driver, use alternative transportation, or wait until you are completely sober before driving.

If you’re shopping for car insurance, contact an Orbit insurance broker to get a free quote. Or, if you’re a current Orbit Insurance policyholder, call 877-976-7248 to review your policy or learn more about your coverage options.