Research Papers

An In-Depth Examination of Driver Fatalities Involving Drugs

Filename carsp-2017-drugs-paper-002.docx
Filesize 92 KB
Version 1
Date added June 28, 2017
Downloaded 0 times/fois
Category 2017 CARSP XXVII Toronto
Tags Research and Evaluation, Session 6A
Author/Auteur Paul Boase, Doug Beirness, Erin Beasley
Stream/Volet Research and Evaluation

Slidedeck Presentation

6A 1 Boase


"Following three decades of research, legislation, policy, and countermeasure initiatives focused on the alcohol-crash problem, safety advocates, policy makers, legislators, and enforcement agencies have begun to express greater concern about the use of drugs by drivers. Although the misuse of drugs has long been considered a major social problem, the acute and devastating consequences of driving while under the influence of drugs has only recently come to the forefront as a public safety issue. This has become more salient as the Federal Government has signaled their intention to legalize the use of cannabis in the Spring of 2017. This research was designed to complement and extend ongoing work on drug impaired driving, focusing specifically on gaining an in-depth understanding of the involvement of drugs in motor vehicle driver fatalities. Coroner records were matched with motor vehicle crash records to obtain as much information as possible about the crash, the driving actions/behaviours immediately antecedent to the crash, the circumstances and events prior to the crash, and any information about the driver to determine the extent to which the use of drugs (and/or alcohol) may have compromised the ability to operate the vehicle in a safe and prudent manner. In addition, the project sought to examine differences among driver fatalities involving drugs alone, alcohol alone, a combination of alcohol and drugs, and neither drugs nor alcohol. The approach involved a detailed examination of the details surrounding crashes in which the driver of a motor vehicle was killed and was tested for the presence and amount of alcohol and drugs. With the cooperation and assistance of coroners/medical examiners in three provinces – Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia – case files were identified and made available for our review. These files contained coroner reports, autopsy reports, and toxicology reports on the results of toxicological tests for alcohol and drugs. Where necessary, these records were matched with crash records from motor vehicle departments to obtain details about the characteristics, circumstances, and police-reported factors contributing the crash. The typical alcohol-related driver fatality involves single vehicle crash in which the vehicle leaves the road, rolls, and/or hits a fixed object such as a post or tree occurring late at night on a weekend, the crashes of drug-positive drivers present a somewhat different pattern. Drug-involved fatalities are more likely than alcohol-related crashes to involved female drivers, all age groups, and occur during daylight hours, on weekdays, and involve more than one vehicle. Crashes that involve a driver who used both alcohol and drugs tend to resemble alcohol-related crashes; drug-positive cases tend to resemble drug-free crashes.

About one-quarter of cases in which the driver tested positive for drugs, the available data provided no evidence to support a conclusion that the drug(s) played a role in the crash. In another 25% of cases, the evidence provided only minimal support for the contributory role of drugs. The results of this exercise provide valuable information about the involvement of drugs and/or alcohol in fatal collisions, particularly those in which the driver tested positive for drugs. This information can be used to:

*Enhance our understanding of the role of drugs in fatal crashes so as to deal with the problem more effectively;
*Inform the Road Safety Strategy and other national and regional road safety initiatives;
*Provide police with the type of information necessary to facilitate crash investigations where drugs are suspected;
*Assist police in the enforcement of drug-impaired driving statutes;
*Give greater public profile to the role of drugs in fatal crashes;
*Provide policy makers with the evidence required to further efforts to reduce drug-impaired driving;
*Contribute to the development and implementation of well-targeted prevention efforts; and Such research can improve communication, collaboration and cooperation between provincial coroners/medical examiners and road safety professionals. Coroners and medical examiners play a significant, but often unrecognized, role in understanding the causes of fatal road crashes. For many years, coroners have provided access to data on the use of alcohol by fatally injured drivers. These data have contributed greatly to our understanding of the alcohol-crash problem and the impact of countermeasures. They have an equally important role in the drugs and driving problem. "

Paul Boase, Doug Beirness, Erin Beasley