TIRF Poll: Educate passengers about the involved risk of riding with a drinking driver

OTTAWA, Dec. 19, 2011 – A new poll by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) reveals that almost 5 million Canadians admitted to riding with a driver who had been drinking alcohol. The public opinion poll conducted in September 2011 investigated Canadians’ behaviours and actions in relation to drinking and driving.

When asked, 6.8% of Canadians surveyed indicated that they been a passenger in a motor vehicle driven by someone who had been drinking any amount of alcohol on one occasion in the last month. Another 6.7% indicated that they had done so on two or more occasions. This corresponds to an estimated 2.4 million and 2.3 million people respectively, for a total of 4.7 million people who rode with a driver who had been drinking. Of the drivers who admitted to driving when they thought they were over the legal limit in the last 12 months, 42.2% of drivers who admitted to doing this did so with a passenger in the vehicle.

“While these two measures are not directly comparable due to the different time frames, they do confirm that people willingly -albeit perhaps not knowingly -expose themselves to the risks involved with drinking and driving,” explains TIRF Research Associate Kyla Marcoux, lead author on the study. “These findings also speak to the importance of educating the public, specifically about the dangers of being a passenger in a vehicle driven by a driver who is over the legal limit.”

While Canadians may not fully appreciate the dangers of riding with a driver who has been drinking, generally speaking, they seem to understand the dangers of drinking and driving. Another TIRF report released earlier this month found that 86% of young drivers aged 16-24 surveyed agreed or strongly agreed to not being able to drive safely after consuming alcohol. Seventy-seven percent of drivers aged 25 or older agreed to the same.

“This level of awareness among Canadian drivers is also in line with the decline in the number of people killed in a traffic crash involving a drinking driver,” explains Marcoux. “In 2009, the most recent year for which data are available, 714 Canadians were killed in a traffic crash involving a drinking driver. While this number is still too high, this is the lowest it has been in almost 15 years.”

The positive self-reported attitude towards not drinking and driving is also apparent in the actions of Canadian drivers as almost 80% of Canadians surveyed in the poll said that they had not driven after consuming any amount of alcohol in the last thirty days. When asked if they had driven when they thought they were over the legal limit in the last 12 months, only 5.4% of drivers admitted to this behaviour.

“Trend-wise, the percentages from 2008 to 2011 do appear to confirm the considerable drop from the 8.2% of drivers who reported driving when they thought they were over the legal limit in 2007,” notes Marcoux. “This, in conjunction with the drop in fatalities involving a drinking driver is very encouraging.”

Historically much of the focus of ‘don’t drink and drive’ messaging has been successfully geared towards drivers. With this new information in hand regarding passengers, researchers encourage road safety and community groups to reach out to passengers and help them understand the involved risk, how to identify a driver who has been drinking and how they can positively change driver behaviour by speaking up, by offering alternative solutions or by refusing to ride with a drinking driver.

For the fourth 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, www.tirf.ca.

About the poll

These results are based on the RSM, an annual public opinion poll developed and conducted by TIRF. A total of 1,208 Canadians completed the poll in September and October of 2011. Results can be considered accurate within plus or minus 2.8%, 19 times out of 20. For the third time, some respondents were contacted by phone and some online.

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 www.tirf.ca.