TORONTO -- Nearly half of drivers who are also marijuana users told a survey they drive better, drive about the same or don't know if cannabis impacts their ability behind the wheel.
The survey -- a poll of 1,000 drivers commissioned by the Canadian Automobile Association South Central Ontario and conducted by Ipsos -- found that 16 per cent of respondents had used marijuana within the last three months.
Attitudes about driving and marijuana use in that group, dubbed current users by the pollster, present a serious public education issue when it comes to drug-impaired driving, CAA director of government relations Teresa Di Felice said.
"One of the challenges is that there is a perception by people who use marijuana that they drive the same or better when they're under the influence marijuana," she said. "That is a concern and puts safety at risk ... There are cognitive impacts. There are concerns. Those two don't mix."
According to the survey, eight per cent of current marijuana users believe they drive better after using marijuana than when they are sober. Another 29 per cent of current cannabis users believe their ability to drive is the same after using marijuana as when sober. Twelve per cent of respondents who are current users said they didn't know if there was any difference between their ability to drive after using marijuana or sober.
The remaining 52 per cent of current marijuana users believe they drive worse after using pot than when sober.
Di Felice calls those results "startling" but says they line up with the view of nearly three quarters of survey respondents that a public education campaign is necessary and those efforts should target young drivers who are more likely to be regular users of pot, she said.
Nearly 75 per cent of respondents either strongly support or somewhat support stricter penalties for drug-impaired drivers.
"Things like fines and suspensions (are) ways of influencing people to recognize not to drive while under the influence of marijuana," she said.
The poll found that 77 per cent of respondents are concerned about road safety when marijuana is legalized on July 1, 2018.
Di Felice said the survey shows the majority of respondents also believe there will be an increase in the frequency of marijuana-impaired driving.
"I think there is just a general perception, and when you also take a look at the fact that almost 50 per cent of people surveyed have at least tried (marijuana) at least once, people recognize that there is an impact on your cognitive ability and therefore it would impact your ability to drive safely," she said.
Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca has previously said proposed changes to Ontario's road safety laws would align drug and alcohol impaired driving offences across the province.
The new legislation would also increase penalties for drivers who fail or refuse to provide a sample for a roadside test.
"I believe that the legislation is strong and decisive," Del Duca said. "I will say, I have concerns. I have concerns about all forms of impairment and distraction on our roads and highways at all times."
Del Duca added that whether a person is using marijuana recreationally or medicinally, they should not get behind the wheel.
"When a person is operating a vehicle they should be free of impairment at all times," he said.