Fewer Canadians taking the wheel after drinking, but problem far from fixed: poll

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OTTAWA, Dec. 21 – According to The Road Safety Monitor – the Traffic Injury Research Foundation’s national public opinion poll – fewer Canadians are driving after drinking, but the problem still persists.

The poll shows that the vast majority (85 per cent) of Canadians haven’t driven after drinking at any time during the past month. As well, an overwhelming majority (93 per cent) said they have not driven when they thought they were over the legal limit at any time during the past year.

Trends also show declines in the percentages of Canadians who admit to driving after drinking, as well as those who admitted to having driven when they thought they were over the legal limit.

“The declines in drinking and driving are encouraging, but progress has slowed considerably in recent years,” says Herb Simpson, president and CEO of the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF). “Our poll shows that the problem remains at unacceptable levels, with over 7.8 million trips occurring last year when the driver thought they were over the legal limit; other TIRF studies show there are about 900 deaths attributed to alcohol-related crashes each year.”

The public agrees that the problem needs to be fixed – eight out of 10 Canadians identified drinking and driving as a serious problem.

They also rate drinking and driving as one of the most important social issues facing them today – placing it ahead of other prominent issues, including health care, pollution, and the state of the economy.

“Since Canadians are concerned about the issue, it begs the question; what is needed to make meaningful progress in dealing with it?” says Simpson.

The poll provided some insights by revealing over 60 per cent of drivers are unaware their province had a lower blood alcohol limit than the Criminal Code. “If more Canadians knew the police can suspend their driving privileges for blood alcohol levels of .04 or .05 per cent, they might think twice about getting behind the wheel after drinking,” says Simpson.

Another persisting issue that needs to be addressed is repeat offenders. The poll showed that of the 7.8 million “drunk driving” trips that took place in Canada during the past year, 84 per cent were accounted for by only 3 per cent of drivers.

“Year after year, we find the vast majority of drunk driving is accounted for by a relatively small number of drivers,” says Simpson. “Special attention must be paid to these repeat offenders, or significant progress in dealing with the problem will continue to elude us.”

As for other countermeasures to combat drinking and driving, the poll found three quarters of Canadians agree with immediate vehicle impoundment for drivers who fail a breath alcohol test. Canadians also strongly support alcohol ignition interlocks, with 80 per cent approving usage of the device for those convicted of an impaired driving offence.

This is the fifth year The Road Safety Monitor has been conducted. The drinking and driving component of The Road Safety Monitor is the first of several reports being released on several key issues facing drivers.

A total of 1,218 Canadians completed The Road Safety Monitor’s telephone poll. Results can be considered accurate within plus or minus 2.8 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Primary financial support for The Road Safety Monitor comes from Transport Canada, the Brewers of Canada, and Toyota Canada. Additional financial support also comes from the Canada Safety Council.

About TIRF

Established in 1964, TIRF’s mission is to reduce traffic-related deaths and injuries. TIRF designs, promotes and implements effective programs and policies, based on research. More information about TIRF is available at www.trafficinjuryresearch.com.