Progress halts with Canada’s drinking and driving problem: TIRF Poll

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OTTAWA, Dec. 20, 2007 – A new poll by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) reveals that progress in reducing Canada’s drinking and driving problem has halted.

“We’re no longer seeing a pattern of declines in drinking and driving behaviour,” says Ward Vanlaar, a research scientist for TIRF. “This is very similar to what’s occurring in other countries.”

Indicators the poll used to gauge progress showed little change. However, an indicator for the percentage of Canadians who drove over the legal limit climbed to 8.2 per cent, up from 5.6 per cent in 2004.

Vanlaar suspects several factors are responsible for the halted progress, but he pinpoints repeat drinking drivers as a major contributor.

“Repeat drinking drivers were responsible for 6.6 million drunk-driving trips in Canada last year; that adds up to about 90 per cent of all drunk-driving activity,” says Vanlaar. “Clearly this group isn’t getting the message.”

Vanlaar also suspects a lack of concern about the problem among drinking drivers may be stifling progress.

“Not surprisingly, those who were most likely to drive while over the legal limit were least concerned about drinking and driving,” says Vanlaar.

The poll also generated a profile of drinking drivers. When compared to sober motorists, drinking drivers were more typically male and had more traffic tickets.

Of some interest, drinking drivers didn’t seem to understand that drinking and driving substantially increases the risk of a collision. In fact, research shows that the risk of collision increases dramatically at blood alcohol concentrations above .08.

“By knowing the profile of drinking drivers, we can better shape countermeasures to target this group,” says Ian Faris, president and CEO of the Brewers Association of Canada, and one of three funders of the TIRF poll. “This may lead to renewed progress.”

In terms of countermeasures to combat drinking and driving, the poll found over 80 per cent of Canadians supported the use of mandatory ignition interlocks and immediate vehicle impoundment for drinking drivers.

In addition, some 80 per cent of Canadians favoured physical coordination tests for suspected drinking drivers, while 70 per cent wanted to see more police spot checks. These findings are very comparable to results of a study released last week by Transport Canada and MADD that looked at impaired driving.

“Canada has implemented several countermeasures that research has proven effective,” says Vanlaar. “Now we must ensure these countermeasures are applied to offenders.”

“We recognize Canadians’ concerns about road safety and impaired driving,” says Paul Boase, chief of road users at Transport Canada, whose agency also helps fund the TIRF poll. “The safety of the travelling public is Transport Canada’s top priority.”

Boase notes that Transport Canada is actively working with the provinces and other partners to implement solutions as part of Road Safety Vision 2010, a program that seeks to make Canada’s roads the safest in the world.

About the poll:

Results of this poll appear in The Road Safety Monitor 2007: Drinking and Driving, available at: www.trafficinjuryresearch.com.

A total of 1,238 Canadians completed the poll. Results can be considered accurate within plus or minus 2.8 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Financial support for this report and other reports in The Road Safety Monitor series comes from Transport Canada, the Brewers Association of Canada, and Toyota Canada.

About TIRF:

Established in 1964, TIRF’s mission is to reduce traffic-related deaths and injuries. As a national, independent, charitable road safety institute — TIRF designs, promotes, and implements effective programs and policies, based on sound research. TIRF is a registered charity and depends on grants, contracts, and donations to provide services for the public. More information about TIRF can be found at: www.trafficinjuryresearch.com.