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 ages16 to 24, a group Goodale described as “particularly impressionable.”

The minister will formally announce the campaign at 9:30 a.m. ET today at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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.

High driving

A still from the ad campaign Canada’s Liberal government launched to raise public awareness about the risks of driving under the influence of marijuana. (Government of Canada)

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 flower crown selfies.

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. 

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.

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.

Patricia Hynes-Coates, national president of MADD Canada, said young people in particular need to get the message.

“The reality is drug driving is very dangerous and it causes crashes,” she said.

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.

“We heard that high school-aged drivers are far more likely to drive following cannabis use than after drinking alcohol.”

Last week MPs passed the government’s bill to legalize cannabis, sending the legislation to the Senate for further study and debate.