Canadian drivers are not all aware that their prescription drugs affect driving ability

Ottawa, ON (Sept. 9, 2014) – According to a new report from the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, almost 780,000 drivers on Canadian roads admitted to driving under the influence of potentially impairing prescription drugs in 2013.

The new report, The Road Safety Monitor 2013: Drugs and Driving, based on a survey of Canadian drivers, looks at drivers’ views, experiences and behaviours in relation to the use of licit and illicit drugs and driving. While there is less concrete evidence regarding the prevalence, risks and implications of drug-impaired driving in comparison to alcohol-impaired driving, there are indications that the problem is a growing source of concern among road safety professionals and drivers.

“According to Transport Canada, drugs, other than alcohol, are found in about one-third of the fatally injured drivers in Canada who are tested for drugs,” notes TIRF President and CEO Robyn Robertson. “The National Fatality Database, maintained by TIRF, contains an index of over 200 different substances that have been detected in fatally injured drivers in Canada.”

The proportion of Canadian drivers admitting to using both licit and illicit drugs (3.2% prescription drugs; 1.6% marijuana or hashish and 0.8% illegal drugs) before driving underscores the need for more research and increased awareness of the potential risks associated with mixing drug use and driving. While the presence of a particular legal or illegal drug does not necessarily imply impairment of a driver, more research is needed to better understand the effects on driving behaviour.

Over 63% of respondents to the survey said they felt that drug-impaired drivers posed a serious threat to traffic safety with the youngest (71.9%) and oldest (78.5%) of drivers expressing the most concern for drug-impaired drivers. While only a relatively small percentage of the population chose to drive under the influence of drugs in 2013, concern is still warranted due to the relative risk of crashing that has been associated with different drugs.

“Survey results showed that individuals who chose to drive after taking prescription drugs that may affect their driving had a 60% increase in the odds of self-reporting injury as a result of a motor vehicle crash compared to those who did not drive after taking prescription drugs,” explains Robertson. “In addition, drivers who drove under the influence of marijuana had a 71% increase in the odds of reporting that they had been injured in a motor vehicle collision.”

Researchers also remind drivers that it is illegal under the Criminal Code to drive impaired by any legal or illegal drugs. Progress has been made in the detection of drug-impaired driving, and in 2008 the Criminal Code of Canada was strengthened to include specially-trained police officers trained in detecting impairment among drivers, known as Drug Recognition Experts (DREs).

“Drivers need to understand that it is important to read the labels on over-the-counter or prescription medications, and to talk to their doctor or pharmacist about how medication can affect their driving ability,” notes Robertson. “While more research is needed to better understand the specific effects of many drugs, there is clear evidence that consuming both legal and illegal drugs can pose a risk to drivers and the risk is real. Our best tools to address this issue are to increase public awareness, to continue to measure and monitor the problem, and to pursue more research to build knowledge about the problem and ways it can be addressed.”

About the poll

These results are based on the Road Safety Monitor, an annual public opinion poll developed and conducted by TIRF. A total of 1,201 qualified Canadian drivers completed the interview in September 2013. 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. The RSM was made possible by financial support from Beer Canada, the Toyota Canada Foundation, and Aviva Canada. The is available on the TIRF website.

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

SOURCE: Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF)