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Drugged driving has deadly outcomes

Dec 1, 2012 | Campaigns, National Safe Driving Week, Vehicle & Road Safety

Messages reminding Canadians to drive sober are a familiar and necessary feature of the holiday season. Impairment behind the wheel is most often associated with alcohol – the classic “Don’t drink and drive.”

But impairment goes far beyond alcohol. Increasingly, motorists are gambling with their safety and the safety of others by knowingly driving under the influence of drugs. These drugs include illegal substances, prescription medications and over-the-counter remedies.

This National Safe Driving Week, the Canada Safety Council seeks to educate Canadians that driving while under the influence of drugs is dangerous, irresponsible and becoming increasingly prevalent. It is posing a significant public safety risk that needs to be curbed through preventative measures, awareness and enforcement of appropriate penalties.

Sobering statistics and measures

Serious injury, driver or passenger death, hurting bystanders, destroying property, lost productivity, more strain on the health-care system – these are just some of the unfortunate, painful and yet totally preventable consequences of driving while impaired by drugs.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse reports that in 2008, 36.7 per cent of fatally injured drivers in Canada tested positive for impairing drugs. That’s more than one in three fatalities where drugs played a role.[i]

This compares with 40.8 per cent of driver fatalities where alcohol was the source of impairment. Among drivers killed who were tested for both drugs and alcohol, 15.1 per cent were found to be positive for both.[ii]

The most common drugs found in fatalities are central nervous system depressants, cannabis, stimulants and narcotics. Female drivers are almost equally likely as males to test positive for drugs. Among fatally injured drivers 55 and older, drug use is more prevalent than alcohol. [iii]

“Unfortunately, people are more afraid of being caught than being killed,” said Jack Smith, President of the Canada Safety Council. “They don’t think it’s going to happen to them until it happens.”

Aware of licensing restrictions and initiatives that catch and punish drunk drivers, some people are turning from alcohol to substances such as drugs to achieve a high. But as the statistics indicate, the outcomes are even more – not less – dangerous and deadly.

There is now a growing body of 491 drug recognition experts (DRE) in Canada, who exclusively work to enforce penalties for driving under the influence of drugs. In cases where impairment by drugs is suspected, sobriety tests are being used to check for the source of impairment. A DRE can be called in to access the condition of a suspected impaired driver and may collect a swab, urine or blood sample. If the results come back positive for the suspected drug or drugs, charges can be laid under the Criminal Code of Canada.[iv]

The message: drivers operating under the influence of drugs stand a good chance of being caught, or worse – being involved in a deadly collision. It’s not worth the risk.


Much like curbing drunk driving, proactive steps can and must be taken to stop drugged driving before it happens.

  • Be responsible. Never drive when impaired.
  • Do not combine drugs and alcohol.
  • Do not use illegal drugs.
  • Do not use drugs of any variety to get high.
  • Know the side effects of your medications. Read the inserts that come with your medications and speak with your pharmacist about the drugs’ possible impacts on your driving abilities.
  • Be aware that drugs interact with each other. Review your list of medications with your pharmacist.
  • As a host, monitor your guests’ behaviour. If you suspect someone is impaired, speak up and make alternate, safe arrangements for transportation.
  • Do not be a passenger in a vehicle where the driver is impaired. Make every safe effort to stop an impaired person from operating a vehicle.
  • Report impaired driving to the police.

Whether by drugs, alcohol, fatigue or some other contributing factor, there is no excuse for impaired driving. Be responsible and be safe this holiday season.


For more information, please contact:
Raynald Marchand
General Manager, Canada Safety Council
(613) 739-1535 (ext. 226)
Catherine Benesch
Communications/Media Program Coordinator, Canada Safety Council
(613) 739-1535 (ext. 228)

[i] Beasley, E., and Beirness, D. (2011) Drug use by fatally injured drivers in Canada (2000 – 2008). Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, Ottawa, Canada.

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Ibid

[iv] 2011-2012 Annual Report of the Traffic Committee of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

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