Are Canadians changing their drinking and driving habits?: TIRF Poll

OTTAWA, Dec. 22, 2009 – A new poll by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) reveals that Canadians may be changing their habits regarding driving after drinking.

The public opinion poll conducted in September investigated how many Canadians drove after drinking in the last year.

Nineteen per cent of Canadians polled admitted to driving after consuming any amount of alcohol in the past 30 days in 2009. This figure has consistently increased since 2005 and further suggests a stable upward trend in the number of people who admit to this behaviour.

The good news is that researchers were also able to identify a decrease in the number of Canadians who drove when they thought they were over the legal limit in 2008 and 2009; this in comparison to those who admitted to the same behaviour in 2007. About 5.6% of Canadians admitted to driving when they thought they were over the legal limit in the past 12 months. This is a slight increase compared to 2008 (5.2%) but does confirm the considerable drop from 8.2% in 2007.

“In the 2008 Road Safety Monitor on drinking and driving, it was suggested that the drop in 2008 may be partly due to the recent passage of Bill C-2 and the media attention the amendment had received.”, explains TIRF research scientist Ward Vanlaar. “In light of this possible explanation, a small increase from 2008 to 2009 is not surprising given that the effect of legislation can dissipate over time after its introduction.”

According to official statistics, in 2007, 863 Canadians were killed in a traffic crash involving a drinking driver. This represents an increase since 2004. However there have been steady declines, from 1,296 in 1995 to 815 in 2004.

One hypothesis is that these results in combination with the decreased number of fatalities suggest the number of people who are drinking and driving at higher levels of alcohol consumption is decreasing. Further monitoring of this pattern will help provide a better understanding of the possible trend.

“It is evident that much of the substantial decrease in fatalities through to 2004 occurred during the 1990s,” says Vanlaar. “While the recent data would suggest that progress has halted, the 2007 data regarding a decrease in those persons who reported driving when they thought they were over the legal limit may be indicative of a new downward trend. More data will have to be collected to further monitor this.”

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. As in previous years, Vanlaar says he�s not surprised by these results.

“Data in the early 2000s indicate that the progress we experienced during the 1990s has halted.” says Vanlaar. “This combined with the number of Canadians who continue to be affected by the financial, physical, and emotional consequences of these crashes means that a high level of concern is warranted.”

Drinking drivers are not the only ones who continue to put themselves at risk as 5.1% of those polled (1.7 million people) admitted to riding with a drinking driver in the last month. Some 6.6% of respondents (2.2 million people) indicated that they had been a passenger in a motor vehicle driven by someone who has been drinking on two or more such occasions.

“These results do not differ considerably from last year�s results.” says Vanlaar, “However, passengers should remember that even when blood alcohol concentrations are low, the risk of crashing substantially increases.” 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.

For the second year in a row, the poll included a closer examination of regional drinking and driving attitudes and behaviours. Both the regional and national reports are available on TIRF�s website, (

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 1,200 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, the Brewers Association of Canada and the Canadian Trucking Alliance. For the first time, half of all respondents were contacted by phone and the other half on-line as part of a gradual transition to a complete online survey.

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. For more information, visit