Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse

Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse

March 28, 2011 08:51 ET

Research Shows Drug-impaired Driving is as Prevalent as Alcohol-impaired Driving and its Possible Link to Fatally Injured Drivers

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - March 28, 2011) - The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) today released two studies: Alcohol and Drug Use Among Drivers: British Columbia Roadside Survey 2010 and A Comparison of Drug and Alcohol-involved Motor Vehicle Driver Fatalities. These studies reveal that driving after drug use is a growing issue that is as prevalent as driving after alcohol use—and that drug-impairment may also be a contributing factor to collisions and fatal road crashes.

"There seems to be a public perception that drug use doesn't affect drivers to the same extent as drinking," said Doug Beirness, Senior Research and Policy Analyst at CCSA. "In fact, many drugs can affect the physical and cognitive processes necessary to operate a vehicle safely, posing a serious risk to the driver and other road users."

The 2010 Roadside Survey randomly selected 2,840 vehicles among night-time drivers from five B.C. cities—Vancouver, Saanich, Abbotsford, Prince George and Kelowna. Drivers were asked to provide voluntary breath and oral fluid samples to test for the presence of drugs and alcohol.

The survey found that 7.2 percent of drivers tested positive for drugs and 9.9 percent had been drinking. Cannabis and cocaine were the two most frequently found substances. It also found drug use to be more evenly distributed across all survey nights and times, rather than just on weekends and at late-night hours as is the case with alcohol.

"The research findings are enlightening but we have only begun to scratch the surface of this problem," said Beirness. "Drugs and driving is a more complex issue than drinking and driving. There is a need for further studies to better understand the behaviour and to help guide appropriate policies and programs to deal with it effectively."

The second study, A Comparison of Drug and Alcohol-involved Motor Vehicle Driver Fatalities, focused on comparing and contrasting characteristics of fatally injured drivers and the circumstances of fatal collisions involving those who test positive for alcohol, drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol.

CCSA researchers examined more than 14,000 driver fatalities. Results indicated that 33 percent of fatally injured drivers were positive for drugs compared to 37 percent who were positive for alcohol. The overall pattern of findings indicate that the use of drugs by drivers is an issue distinct and separate from that of alcohol use by drivers and needs a different approach to prevention, education and enforcement to reduce the number of fatal crashes involving drivers that use drugs.

"The two studies provide a baseline from which we can start closing the gap between the years of research related to alcohol-impaired driving compared to that on drugs and driving," said Michel Perron, Chief Executive Officer of CCSA. "In Canada and internationally, we are just beginning to understand the scope of the drugs-and-driving issue. The objective is to continue engaging in research that ultimately guides the development of evidence-based prevention, policy and enforcement efforts across Canada and possibly extending abroad."

The release of the studies is timely as it falls on the heels of the U.S.-sponsored (and Canada-supported) resolution to address drugs and driving, which was accepted by the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) this past week. The resolution highlights a CCSA-led international symposium on drugs and driving to be held in Montreal, Quebec, on July 17–18, 2011.

In an effort to improve overall road safety, CCSA continues to work closely with the U.S. White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction to bring together the latest research and policy initiatives to build on the drugs-and-driving resolution presented to the CND and address the issue at an international level.

About CCSA:

With a legislated mandate to reduce alcohol- and other drug-related harms, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) provides leadership on national priorities, fosters knowledge translation within the field and creates sustainable partnerships that maximize collective efforts. CCSA receives funding support from Health Canada.

Contact Information

  • CCSA
    Yasmina Pepa
    Communication Advisor
    613-235-4048 ext. 276
    ypepa@ccsa.ca