Concern over drinking and driving warranted: TIRF Poll

OTTAWA, Dec. 15, 2008 – A new poll by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) reveals that a significant number of Canadians are personally affected by drinking and driving crashes, making it a real cause for concern.

The public opinion poll conducted in September investigated how many Canadians had a family member or close friend who were involved in a drinking and driving crash.

According to the results, an estimated 7.5 million Canadians report knowing a family member or close friend who has been the victim of a drinking and driving collision, and an estimated 5.4 million Canadians indicate that they know a family member or friend who caused a collision because of driving after drinking.

“It’s not surprising that about 80% of the public continues to be very or extremely concerned about drinking and driving” says Ward Vanlaar, research scientist at TIRF. “Each year about 1/3 of all road fatalities are alcohol-related and this clearly impacts a significant number of Canadians.

According to official statistics, in 2006, 907 Canadians were killed in a traffic crash involving a drinking driver. This represents an increase since 2005. “Since 2000 progress has been slower, and the 2005 and 2006 data suggest that progress is inconsistent,” says Ward Vanlaar.

The poll also revealed that drinking and driving continues to be ranked by the public as the most important concern of all road safety issues. Vanlaar says he’s not surprised by these results, “Given the lack of progress, combined with the number of Canadians affected by the profound consequences of these crashes, a high level of concern is warranted.”

However, this level of concern has not translated into changes in behavior for some Canadians, as there has been an increase in the number of Canadians who admit to driving after having consumed alcohol.

Approximately eighteen per cent of Canadians polled admitted to driving after consuming any amount of alcohol in the past 30 days in 2008. This figure has increased from reported levels in 2006, and further suggests that progress in the fight against drinking and driving has halted.

About 5.2% of Canadians admitted to driving when they thought they were over the legal limit in the past 12 months. The drop in 2008 to 5.2% from 8.2% in 2007 appears to be considerable and may be partly due to the recent passage of Bill C-2, designed to strengthen drunk driving legislation, and the media attention these amendments have received.

“Although such a large decline may be encouraging,” says Vanlaar. “It is too soon to tell whether the percentage of drivers who admit to driving when they thought they were over the legal limit in the past year is truly declining or not.”

In addition, the poll also revealed that many Canadians admit to riding with a drinking driver. Some 6.2% of those polled indicated that they had been a passenger in a motor vehicle driven by someone who has been drinking on one occasion; another 6.4% indicated that they had been a passenger on two such occasions. Vanlaar reminds these people that they are putting themselves in danger, “Even when blood alcohol concentrations are low, the risk of crashing increases substantially.”

Of interest, over a third (36.6%) of those who drove when they thought they were over the legal limit report doing most of their drinking at the home of a friend or relative. Approximately 25.4% reported doing most of their drinking at the bar, while 18.1% and 16.4% reported doing most their drinking in their own home and in a restaurant, respectively.

This means that at least 80% of those who drink and drive are in the midst of friends or family, a finding that has important implications for dealing with the problem. “Those who know someone who is about to drink and drive are in a position to prevent the people they care about from getting behind the wheel after drinking,” says Vanlaar. “They can tell the driver they are not safe to drive and refuse to be a passenger.”

“Such a pattern suggests a variety of messages and approaches to enforcement may be needed to influence behaviour and reduce driving after drinking,” says Ian Faris, President and CEO of the Brewers Association of Canada and one of two funders of the TIRF poll. “It also indicates that Canadians may need more encouragement to take action and stop drunk drivers.”

Canadians were also asked about different countermeasures to combat drinking and driving. Results show that Canadians continue to show support for various technologies, programs, and penalties for those who drink and drive.

A first for the poll included a closer examination of the data to look at regional trends. “What we discovered was that overall, national and regional results on drinking and driving did not differ significantly and that emerging patterns in each of the regions are very comparable to national trends,” says Vanlaar.

About the poll

These results are based on the Road Safety Monitor (RSM), an annual public opinion poll developed and conducted by TIRF. A total of 1,201 Canadians completed the poll. Results can be considered accurate within plus or minus 2.9%, 19 times out of 20. Financial support for this report and other reports in The Road Safety Monitor series comes from Transport Canada and the Brewers Association of 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. Visit us online at: