(Source: Canadian Underwriter)

More than 63% of the 1,201 qualified Canadian drivers taking part in a Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) survey reported that they felt drug-impaired drivers posed a serious threat to traffic safety.

Survey results show the youngest (71.9%) and oldest (78.5%) polled drivers expressed the most concern about drug-impaired drivers, notes a statement from TIRF, a national, independent, charitable road safety institute whose mission is to reduce traffic-related deaths and injuries.

The finding is included in The Road Safety Monitor 2013: Drugs and Driving, an annual public opinion poll developed and conducted by TIRF, with financial support from Beer Canada, the Toyota Canada Foundation and Aviva Canada.

Traffic Injury Research Foundation released results of a survey on driving and drug use

Drivers completed interviews in September 2013, either by phone or online, with results considered accurate within plus or minus 2.8%, 19 times out of 20.

Almost 780,000 drivers on Canadian roads admitted to driving under the influence of potentially impairing prescription drugs in 2013, notes the report, which explores drivers’ views, experiences and behaviours in relation to the use of licit and illicit drugs and driving.

While only a relatively small percentage of the population chose to drive under the influence of drugs last year, TIRF points out, concern is still warranted as a result of the relative risk of crashing found to be 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,” TIRF president and CEO Robyn Robertson says in the statement. “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,” Robertson notes.

Citing Transport Canada, she says that drugs, other than alcohol, “are found in about one-third of the fatally injured drivers in Canada who are tested for drugs.”

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, TIRF argues.

“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,” notes the foundation statement.

TIRF acknowledges that there is less concrete evidence regarding the prevalence, risks and implications of drug-impaired driving in comparison to alcohol-impaired driving, but adds there are indications the problem is a growing source of concern among road safety professionals and drivers.

Robertson advises drivers to talk to their doctors about how medications can affect driving ability. And while more research is needed to better understand the specific effects of many drugs, she says “there is clear evidence that consuming both legal and illegal drugs can pose a risk to drivers and the risk is real.”

Percentage of Canadians who were concerned about impaired driving: 2013

Percentage of drivers who engaged in impaired-driving behaviours, by drug classification and gender: 2013

Trends in the percentage of Canadians who are very or extremely concerned about drug-impaired drivers, 2008-2013

Trends in the percentage of drug-impaired drivers in Canada, 2002-2013