How driving high could affect your auto insurance

September 30th, 2019  |  Auto Insurance

Motorists who drive high could see their auto insurance coverage go up in smoke.

Recreational cannabis became legal in Canada Oct. 17, 2018 but there are serious repercussions for those who get behind the wheel after smoking a joint. Similar to alcohol, driving under the influence of marijuana is dangerous with many of same adverse effects. Reaction time is slower, eye sight is hampered and focusing becomes more difficult.

In addition to posing a risk to yourself and others, driving high can result in a criminal conviction and carries insurance implications. First, your insurer will not cover any damage to your vehicle. But the more serious consequence is what happens to your premium up to and including the outright cancellation of your policy.

The new federal drug-impaired driving laws came into effect on June 21, 2019. There are two prohibited levels for THC, the primary psychoactive component of cannabis: it is a less serious offence to have between 2 nanograms (ng) and 5 ng of THC per ml of blood. It is a more serious offence to have 5 ng of THC or more per ml of blood.

The laws set the following penalties for driving while high:

  • A fine of up to $1,000 for driving with 2 nanograms (ng) of THC per millilitre (ml) of blood but less than 5 ng.
  • A fine of $1,000 or higher and possibly jail time if you have more than 5 ng/ml of THC in your blood.
  • A fine of $1,000 or higher and possibly jail time if you have 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 ml of blood and 2.5 ng/ml of THC in your system.

If you’re convicted of impaired driving you will also lose your licence for a year. For repeat offenders, the penalties are harsher, with a maximum of 10 years in prison for impaired driving that causes bodily harm and the possibility a life sentence for causing a fatal accident.

Following a conviction, your insurance will drop you. In order to continue driving, you’ll have to get a high-risk policy. Those rates are drastically higher – we’re talking thousands - and could be even more for impaired driving that causes a collision.

The criminal code conviction will stay on your record for three years, but it could take as long as six to be able to access the mainstream auto insurance market again.

However, an impairment charge that’s thrown out of court won’t affect your auto insurance premium.

It’s also important to note that in Ontario driving high can also affect your no-fault benefits claims.

If you are found to be impaired by alcohol and/or drugs at the time of the accident, your insurer may not be required to pay you an income replacement benefit, a non-earner benefit or other benefits such as lost educational expenses, expenses of visitors and housekeeping and home maintenance benefits.

The exclusion will apply not only to the driver, but also to any passenger of the automobile.

As with alcohol, there are no hard and fast rules about when it is safe to drive after consuming cannabis. Impairment and blood-level concentration of inebriating substances depend things like how much you had and your body type.

The rule of thumb is that it takes three to four hours after smoking a “standard joint” for blood-level concentrations of THC to drop close to or below the legal threshold, Douglas Beirness, senior research and policy advisor at the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction, told Global News in an interview.

For some people, however, it might take longer, he added. And the more cannabis you consume, the longer you’ll have to wait. As for edibles, “it’s a totally different story,” Beirness said. “They take longer to get up there and longer to come down.”

MADD Canada’s recommendation is the same as it is with alcohol – if you know you’re going to be consuming, don’t drive. Plan ahead for a sober ride home – take an Uber, a cab, a designated driver or public transportation.


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