British Columbia Roadside Survey 2010
Operating a motor vehicle while impaired is extremely risky and poses a danger to the driver and passengers in the vehicle, other drivers and pedestrians. It is also a criminal offence in Canada. Amendments to the Criminal Code in 2008 gave police the power to examine and deal with drivers suspected of drug-impaired driving.
In suspected alcohol-impaired driving cases, drivers are required to provide a breath sample to determine the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) levels. However, testing for drug-impairment is much more complex. Drivers are required to perform physical tests of impairment (Standardized Field Sobriety Test). In the event that evidence of impairment is detected, the driver must accompany the enforcement officer to the station and proceed to be examined by a highly trainned Drug Recognition Expert (DRE). The DRE uses a set of standardized procedures established by the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program (DEC).
Concern has increased about the use of drugs by drivers and the lag in drug-impaired driving research in comparison to that of alcohol-impaired driving research. As a leader in drug-impaired driving research, CCSA has conducted a number of projects in this subect area, and completed its second Alcohol and Drug Use Among Drivers: British Columbia Roadside Survey in 2010 that seeks to monitor and establish the extent of drug use by drivers.
In the spring of 2010, the Government of British Columbia announced new sanctions for impaired drivers. As part of an evaluation of the impact of these new sanctions, a random survey of drivers was conducted at preselected locations in British Columbia from Wednesday to Saturday nights in June 2010. The primary purpose was to gather information on the prevalence of alcohol use among nighttime drivers, to be used as a pre-legislation baseline for the evaluation.
Purpose of Study
This study was also intended to extend the findings from a previous Roadside Survey (Beirness & Beasley 2009; 2010) to include a community in northern British Columbia as well as a community from the province’s interior. An additional goal was to gather information on the prevalence of drug use among drivers in the selected communities, to complement and expand the information gathered as part of the 2008 Roadside Survey.
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Driver Selection and Testing
Drivers were randomly sampled from the traffic stream between 21:00 and 03:00 and were asked to provide a voluntary breath sample to measure their alcohol use and an oral fluid sample to be tested subsequently for the presence of drugs. Of the 2,840 vehicles selected, 86% of drivers provided a breath sample and 71% provided a sample of oral fluid.
The results show that drug use among drivers is not uncommon and that the pattern of drug use by drivers differs from that of alcohol use. For example, whereas the prevalence of alcohol use increases during late-night hours—particularly on Friday and Saturday nights—drug use appears more consistent across days and times. The different patterns of alcohol and drug use by drivers suggest that driving after drug use presents a unique behaviour that differs from driving after drinking, which indicates a need for a separate and distinct approach to enforcement, public education, prevention and research. In comparison to previous surveys conducted in British Columbia since 1995, the proportion of drivers found to have been drinking has reduced substantially. However, the proportion of drivers with BACs over 80 mg/dL remains higher than in 1995, suggesting the need for further initiatives directed specifically at this high-risk group.