Drug and Driving: A Compendium of Research Studies


Impaired driving involving illicit drugs and/or legal drugs that are abused causes needless injuries and deaths on Canadian roads each year. The Department of Justice Canada report titled Strengthening Drug-Impaired Driving Investigations points out that,

Drug users are disproportionately involved in fatal accidents. A study by the Société de l’assurance du Québec determined that more than 30% of fatal accidents in the province involved drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol.[1]

A Traffic Injury Research Foundation poll in 2002 found that close to 20% of Canadian drivers had driven within two hours of taking a potentially impairing drug (over-the-counter, prescription or illegal). The Ontario Student Drug Use Survey in 2003 found that close to 20% of high school drivers in the province reported driving within one hour of using cannabis at least one in the preceding year.[2]

It is clear that drug-impaired driving is a serious, wide-spread problem that requires effective responses. There is a broad spectrum of options, from strictly preventative to strictly punitive approaches. As seen in relation to alcohol-impaired driving, it is likely that a combination of both preventative and punitive responses provides the best results.[3] Nevertheless, this annotated bibliography focuses on studies pertaining to identification and to prosecution of drug-impaired driving. Moreover it concentrates on studies about drug-impaired, rather than alcohol-impaired, driving.

As described in the section that follows, there have been a substantial number of studies relating to drug-impaired driving worldwide. However, there has been a paucity of research that brings together data from these various sources. Assessment of the merits of proposed legislative changes in the future and identification of alternative options will require up-to-date knowledge of current literature pertaining to drug-impaired driving.

This annotated bibliography attempts to meet these needs. Its objective is to provide a listing of drug-impaired driving research published in English, since 1999.[4] Qualitative and quantitative research, relevant surveys and other materials pertaining to drug-impaired driving are included among its listings.

This annotated bibliography was researched and written by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) and Sherilyn A. Palmer from the Department of Justice Canada. TIRF is an independent charitable institute, which engages in research relating to the causes of road crashes on an ongoing basis. TIRF also continues to develop and promote effective preventative programs and policies, with a focus on safety on Canadian roads.[5]

In terms of structure, this bibliography organizes listings according to the country in which the drug-impaired population was studied (rather than the country in which the research was analyzed, published or presented). Those studies involving multiple countries and more than one continent are listed under the rubric of "International", while studies involving several European countries are listed under the rubric of "Europe". These two broad categories are followed by alphabetically-ordered individual countries in which single-country studies have been conducted.[6] Under these rubrics, studies included in this annotated bibliography are listed alphabetically according to the last name of the first author.

Rather than adopting a traditional format, a point-form approach is used. Citations for the various studies and succinct summaries of their descriptions, data and research findings are given. This approach facilitates studies and their contents to be found quickly and easily. It also provides insights into the countries in which studies of drug-impaired driving have been conducted and the issues that have been researched.

It is hoped that this annotated bibliography will provide criminal justice professionals, researchers, policy makers, legislators and the general public with useful information about research relating to drug-impaired driving in Canada and throughout the world.

Legislative Background

Section 253 of the Criminal Code of Canada includes two separate and distinct offences for impaired driving. Under Paragraph 253(a) of the Criminal Code, it is an offence to operate a motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft or railway equipment while one’s ability is impaired by alcohol or a drug. (The combination of a drug and alcohol is also included, even when each alone would not constitute impairment.) Secondly, under Paragraph 253(b) of the Criminal Code it is an offence to operate a motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft or railway equipment with a blood alcohol concentration that exceeds 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood.[7] The failure of the Criminal Code to set a "legal limit" for any drug - other than for alcohol - raises substantial problems for identification and prosecution of drug-impaired driving in Canada.

The lack of clear and effective legislative responses to drug-impaired driving has been a longstanding concern. In 1999, for example, a Department of Justice Canada report pointed out that,

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights reviewed the impaired driving provision of the Criminal Code and heard from police and scientific witnesses that drug-impaired driving is a serious [but preventable] problem on Canadian roads. In its report, Toward Eliminating Impaired Driving, the Standing Committee recommended that federal/provincial/territorial officials consider ways to improve the Criminal Code’s provisions relating to investigation of drug-impaired driving.[8]

At the federal level, in the past few years several legislative reforms have been introduced to Parliament to respond to drug-impaired driving. The Parliamentary website provides summaries of these bills and the reasons they have not become law.

The House of Commons Special Committee on the Non-medical Use of Drugs (Bill C-38) published the most recent parliamentary report involving drug-impaired driving in the fall of 2003.[9] It briefly called Parliament to develop a strategy to address the issue of drug-impaired following a review of Bill C-17. On 26 April 2004, Bill C-32[10] was introduced in the House of Commons and later referred to Committee for study before second reading. Substantially similar to …[ the more recent ] Bill C-16, Bill C-32 would have amended the Criminal Code to deal with drug impaired driving, but died on the Order Paper in May 2004 when an election [of June 28, 2004] was called.[11]

Subsequently Bill C-16[12] and Bill C-17[13] also died on the Order Paper at dissolution of Parliament when the federal election of January 23, 2006 was called.

On November 21, 2006, the Government of Canada tabled the current Bill C-32 in the House of Commons. Bill C-32 would make Canada’s streets safer by cracking down on drug-impaired driving. The proposed legislation will get tough on drug impaired driving by

  1. physical sobriety tests at the roadside based on suspicion of a drug in the body,
  2. Drug Recognition Evaluations at the station based on reasonable belief that the driver committed a drug-impaired driving offence, and
  3. a bodily substance sample to test for the presence of a drug.

Refusal of a demand would be an offence carrying the same penalties as those that exist for impaired driving.  This structure for 253(a) impaired investigations parallels that which already exists for 253(b) alcohol concentration investigations.

As these legislative reforms have not yet been adopted, the above-mentioned issues relating to identification, evidence gathering and prosecution of drug-impaired driving offences remain unresolved. In this context, the present annotated bibliography is meant to provide useful sources, data and information pertaining to drug-impaired driving from studies conducted in Canada and abroad.

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