Research Papers

A Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers in Ontario 2014

Version 1
Date added June 30, 2016
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Category 2016 CARSP XXVI Halifax
Tags Research and Evaluation, Session 5B
Author/Auteur Doug Beirness
Stream/Volet Research and Evaluation

Slidedeck Presentation Only (no paper submitted)

5B - Beirness


Background/Context: After 30 years of intensive efforts to reduce the magnitude of the alcohol-crash problem, recent attention has been directed towards the use of drugs by drivers. As an initial step towards understanding the issue, it is essential to determine the extent of drug use by drivers.

Aims/Objectives: The principle aim of the study was to obtain an objective, valid estimate of the prevalence of driving after drinking and driving after drug use in the province of Ontario. Secondary aims were to examine the extent of alcohol and drug use by drivers according to demographic, temporal, and situational characteristics.

Methods/Target Group: Roadside surveys of alcohol and drug use among drivers were conducted in seven communities throughout Ontario in June/July and September/October 2014. Drivers were randomly selected from the traffic stream between the hours of 21:00 and 03:00 on Wednesday through Saturday nights and asked to provide a voluntary breath sample to measure their alcohol use and an oral fluid sample to test for the presence of selected drugs.

Results/Activities: Among the 2,648 vehicles selected, 2,443 drivers (92.3%) agreed to participate. Among participants, 95.9% provided a breath sample and 87.4% provided an oral fluid sample.

Key findings include:

  • 14.5 % of sampled drivers were positive for alcohol, drugs or both;
  • 4% of drivers were positive for alcohol;
  • 10.2% of drivers were positive for drugs; cannabis was the most commonly detected drug;
  • No drivers aged 16-18 tested positive for alcohol; however, 6.6% of this age group tested positive for cannabis;
  • Males and females were equally likely to test positive for drugs;
  • Drivers aged 19 to 24 years were most likely to test positive for drugs (21%) and accounted for 35% of all drug-positive drivers;
  • Drug type varied according to age; cannabis use peaked among younger drivers and decreased with age. Opioids and stimulants were most common among older drivers;

Discussion/Deliverables: While driving after drinking at all levels of BAC has decreased considerably over the past three decades, there remains a small percentage of drivers who continue to drink and drive with high BACs. Further research is needed to better understand these individuals and explore further initiatives directed specifically at these high-risk groups. The prevalence of drug use among drivers highlights the need for a comprehensive drugs and driving strategy.

Conclusions: This was the first study to provide objective measures of drug use by drivers in Ontario. It was apparent that drug use among drivers is not uncommon and, in fact, exceeds the rate of driving after drinking. It should be noted, however, that a positive drug test merely indicates the presence of a potentially impairing substance and does not necessarily indicate that the person was impaired. Nevertheless, the data illustrate a need for a comprehensive strategy that includes enforcement, public education, prevention, and legislation. Key target groups include young drivers (i.e., under 25 years of age) who use cannabis, drivers aged 25 to 34 who use cannabis and stimulants, and older drivers who use opioid pain medications.

Doug Beirness