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Drug-impaired driving a serious issue among teens

"Driving under the influence" may be as prevalent for drugs as for alcohol

Published: October 28, 2014, 2:00 PM
Updated: June 7, 2015, 9:51 AM

Driving under the influence of drugs

Most of us are familiar with the term DUI – Driving Under The Influence. It's a serious problem that has been with us for decades and, tragically, affects thousands of Canadian lives every year.

But it has recently taken on additional significance, because alcohol is not the only issue. There is growing concern about drug-impaired driving, “particularly among teen drivers.” 

Driving under the influence of drugs is just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol, according to the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF), a globally-respected Canadian organization.

In a report released this month, TIRF urges parents to play an active role by discussing with their children the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs.

Drug-related crash fatalities increasing

It says recent studies of Canadian data “indicate that the number of teen fatalities from auto collisions who tested positive for drugs, rose significantly between 2000 and 2010, to a level comparable to those who tested positive for alcohol.”

TIRF says the studies showed that in 2000, more 16-19 year-old drivers who were killed in crashes tested positive for alcohol than for drugs – 40.3% compared to 23.6%.

But, by 2010 the situation had changed dramatically! By then the proportion of alcohol-related fatal crashes had decreased slightly to 36.6% while that for drug-related deaths among teens increased by more than half to 39.2%

Those figures would indicate that the two issues were equally important by 2010 – the latest year for which full data is available. But the trend suggests that four years later – that is, now – drug-related deaths will have become the more prominent issue.

Ward Vanlaar, Vice-President Research for TIRF, says, “This upward trend demonstrates that our society needs to increase awareness of the dangers, similar to what we have with alcohol. “Anybody looking at the data will understand why, especially when they see a peak year like 2006 where close to half, 43.7 per cent, of fatally injured teens tested positive for drugs in their system.”

Multiple drugs in use

TIRF's studies indicate that the drugs involved include prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications in addition to “illicit substances.” It says some were used in combination and all could affect a driver’s ability.

“An examination of the 2008 to 2010 period revealed that cannabis was by far the most prevalent substance, with 28.6% of fatally-injured drivers testing positive for this substance,” the report says.

State Farm insurance, one of the sources of funding for the study, says parents play a vital role in helping teens form safe driving habits. “Through regular conversations teens can be taught the risks of alcohol and drugs, from cannabis to cold medications, when behind the wheel,” it says,

The company says that, while teens make up the smallest percentage of drivers on the road, they have a higher risk of death per kilometre than any other age group. “Many of those deaths are preventable.

Parents may find that conversations about driving under the influence of drugs are difficult, but they are necessary to empower teenagers to make better decisions that could save lives.”

TIRF was established in 1964. The Ottawa-based independent road safety institute is a world renowned source for research related to the human causes and effects of road safety crashes. Its mission is to reduce traffic-related deaths and injuries. TIRF designs, promotes, and implements effective programs and policies, based on sound research. It is a registered charity and depends on grants, contracts, and donations to provide services.