TIRF annual poll shows Canadians drinking at home alone before getting behind the wheel increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Ottawa, ON December 14, 2021 – The Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) announces the release of a new fact sheet, Road Safety Monitor 2021 | Drinking & Driving in Canada, sponsored by Beer Canada and Desjardins. It summarizes national poll results combined with data examining trends in alcohol among persons killed in road crashes from TIRF’s National Fatality Database, also sponsored by Desjardins.

The pandemic has affected drinking and driving behaviours among Canadians. In 2021, more than 1 in 4 respondents (27.1%) who reportedly drove when they thought they were over the legal limit did most of their drinking alone at home compared to 19.4% in 2017-2019. While this increase may have been influenced by fewer opportunities to drink socially due to widespread lockdowns, this concerning change warrants close attention as it could have long-term impacts on drinking and driving behaviours as well as implications for the preventative tools and strategies adopted to reduce this problem.

Of concern, in 2021 almost 1 in 10 respondents (9.7%) admitted driving when they thought they were over the legal limit in the past 12 months; rising from 7.5% in 2020. This represents an almost 30% increase in a single year and is the highest reported level since data have been collected by TIRF in the past two decades.

“Targeted messaging to reach this subgroup of Canadians who are drinking at home alone and then getting behind the wheel is essential,” suggests TIRF COO, Ward Vanlaar. “The COVID-19 pandemic has isolated Canadians and challenged traditional enforcement strategies. In the face of these changing circumstances, new approaches and tailored education campaigns are needed to help drivers understand the risks associated with drinking and other high-risk behaviours.”

In the past three decades, there has been significant progress in Canada reducing drinking and driving with declining trends in the number of alcohol-related road deaths as well as the percentage of road deaths attributed to drinking drivers compared to all road deaths. In this regard, the number of Canadians killed in road crashes involving a driving driver declined 56.8% between 1996 and 2018. Although there were two consecutive increases in this number in 2015 and 2016, there was a 13.1% decrease to 466 in 2018. But of concern, the percentage of Canadians that reported driving when they believed themselves to be over the legal limit between 2015 and 2021 consistently increased, notably in more recent years, suggesting road deaths will increase as well from 2019 onward.

The poll also revealed concern about this issue remains high with 2 out of 3 Canadian drivers (66%) identifying drinking and driving as an issue of concern on the public agenda, the largest percentage of any societal issues presented to respondents. In addition, three out of four Canadians (74.4%) regard drinking drivers as a very or extremely serious problem.

“Every life lost due to impaired driving is entirely preventable and absolutely unacceptable. The results of our annual poll demonstrate different tools are needed to reverse this rising trend,” says Steve Brown, TIRF Research Associate & Data Collection. “One in four road deaths in Canada involve a drinking driver. Canadians can reduce this number by making safe choices and also speaking up to family, friends and colleagues about why they choose not to drive after drinking.”

Download fact sheet in English & French:

About the poll
These results are based on the RSM, an annual public opinion poll developed and conducted by TIRF. A total of 1,500 Canadians completed the poll in September of 2021. Results can be considered accurate within plus or minus 2.5%, 19 times out of 20. The majority of the questions were answered using a scale from one to six where six indicated high agreement, concern, or support and one indicated low agreement, concern or support.

About TIRF
The vision of the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) is to ensure people using roads make it home safely every day by eliminating road deaths, serious injuries and their social costs. TIRF’s mission is to be the knowledge source for safe road users and a world leader in research, program and policy development, evaluation, and knowledge transfer. TIRF is a registered charity and depends on grants, awards, and donations to provide services for the public. Visit www.tirf.ca.

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For more information, please contact:

Karen Bowman
Director, Communications & Programs
Traffic Injury Research Foundation
613-238-5235 (office)
1-877-238-5235 (toll-free)
250-797-0833 (direct)
613-238-5292 (fax)
tirf@tirf.ca / karenb@tirf.ca