Between 1995 and 2016, the number of people who died in a motor vehicle crash involving a drinking driver generally decreased by about 55 percent, but the two most recent years for which data is available (2015 and 2016) saw a year-over-year increase as reported by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation in its annual Road Safety Monitor (RSM) in December 2019.
The RSM also includes survey results from drivers who self-report on their drinking and driving behaviour. While the percentage of drivers who reported driving after consuming any amount of alcohol has generally steadily declined since 2010, the number who reported driving while believing they were over the legal limit increased from 5.5 percent in 2018 to 8.6 percent in 2019 – the highest figure since 2015.
The RSM reports on the general driving public. It's unclear to what extent impairment affects people who drive for work, but employers and supervisors should be vigilant and do all they can to reduce this type of risky behaviour given the potential negative consequences. Employers can address this issue through company impaired-driving policies that are carefully planned, clearly written, and consistently applied.
WorkSafeBC offers a resource that addresses how to manage impairment in the workplace and develop an impairment policy. A thorough impairment policy will identify that managing the risk of impairment is a shared responsibility -- employees have a responsibility to identify when they believe they are impaired and are unable to safely drive.
Being impaired means having reduced ability to perform a task; in this case, driving a vehicle. Alcohol, cannabis, prescription drugs, illegal drugs, and fatigue can all cause impairment, slowing reaction time and affecting judgment. Mixing two or more of them, such as consuming alcohol and cannabis together, reduces a driver’s abilities even further. ICBC numbers show that nearly a quarter of B.C. crash fatalities are related to impaired driving. Of these almost 70 percent are male drivers and 16 to 25-year-old drivers are over-represented when compared to the total number of licensed drivers in that age group.
In Canada, the legalization of cannabis in October 2018 has coincided with a doubling of the number of people driving under the influence of that substance. Again, these figures do not provide data specific to people who are driving for work. But it’s worth noting that TIRF’s Road Safety Monitor 2019: Trends in Marijuana Use Among Canadian Drivers shows that 7 percent of respondents drove within two hours of using marijuana, as compared to 3.3 percent in 2018, while those who reported driving within two hours of consuming alcohol along with marijuana also increased, from 1.7 percent to 3 percent.
All of these statistics point to a disturbing – although notably short – upswing in impaired driving related to alcohol and cannabis at a time when public awareness should be at an all-time high. The current trends underline the need for stronger education on impaired driving, specifically helping drivers understand they cannot accurately judge their own level of impairment or their capability to drive, and alerting them to the dangers of driving while impaired.
Road Safety at Work provides free resources for companies seeking to establish or improve their policies, including the online course, Building Effective Policies and Procedures, and a toolkit, Building Strong Road Safety Policies.