Impaired Walking

From Issue: 
Vol LV No. 2, April 2011

You hear the message “Don’t drink and drive” all the time, but how about “Don’t drink and walk”?

We’ve been told time and time again to find alternatives to driving home after having a few drinks (agreeably so), walking being one of those alternatives. For that reason this advice may sound ridiculous, but the statistics indicate otherwise.

In 2008, nearly 40 per cent of pedestrians killed on Canadian roads were impaired, with two-thirds of them having a blood alcohol concentration more than double the legal limit. In fact, of all the fatally injured pedestrians with alcohol in their systems, fewer than one in five was at or below the legal driving limit of 0.08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC), according to the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators* (CCMTA).

In terms of age groups who are most at risk, fatally injured pedestrians aged 20-25 were the most likely to have been drinking. Approximately 85 per cent of 20-25 year olds had been drinking. By contrast, only 15 per cent of tested pedestrians over the age of 55 had been drinking.

Males account for about 75 per cent of all the fatally injured pedestrians who had been drinking, and 78.6 per cent of drinking male pedestrians had BAC over 0.08. However, males dominate the picture because they account for almost two-thirds of all pedestrian fatalities. Among fatally injured female pedestrians – only 27.3 per cent had been drinking and approximately 70 per cent of drinking female pedestrians had BAC over 0.08.

Our neighbours to the south have remarkably similar statistics. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in 2008, 38 per cent of fatally injured pedestrians 16 and older had BAC at or above 0.08. The percentage rose to 53 per cent for collisions occuring between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

These statistics may actually underestimate the problem of impaired pedestrian fatalities since many fatally injured pedestrians aren’t tested for alcohol. In Canada, for example, of the 365 pedestrians killed on our roads in 2008, 209 of them — or 57.3 per cent of the total — were able to be tested for the presence of alcohol.

Impaired pedestrians, not just impaired drivers, contribute to the overall extent of the fatal alcohol crash problem each year in Canada. Walking on roadways while impaired can be particularly risky. However, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t choose walking as a method to get you home safely. Walking is a great alternative to not getting behind the wheel while impaired, pedestrians just need to be aware that there are risks. Being aware of those risks ahead of time will hopefully help to get you home safe.

Walking is definitely encouraged, but if you are going to be having a few or more drinks, it is best to heed some safety advice.

  • Wear brighter clothing so cars are able to see you. Wearing darker clothes makes you blend in with your surroundings, making it virtually impossible for drivers to see you.
  • Pay attention to the cars around you. Be sure that driver’s see you before crossing the street, even if it’s at an intersection.
  • Don’t jaywalk; always cross at intersections.
  • Stick to the buddy system; don’t walk alone when you are impaired.
  • Take a cab, or arrange for another method of transportation if walking home becomes too risky, i.e., you are not able to walk in a straight line.
  • Don’t walk in a snowstorm or heavy rainfall. Drivers have a hard enough time seeing, and may not see a pedestrian close to the road.

Drivers should also be aware, especially during nightime hours, and in areas where restaurants and bars are located. Impaired pedestrians may be unpredictable, and come out between parked cars, or from other unexpected areas.

The Canada Safety Council urges you to be smart and plan ahead if you plan on walking home after a few drinks.

*The CCMTA report, published in 2010, is based on 2008 data in national databases maintained by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation.