3.0 Data to assess the impact of the legislative amendments
This section of the report presents data on impaired driving in Canada relevant to the assessment of the implementation and impact of the Act. The information is organized starting with road safety and traffic injury/fatality data (section 3.1), and prevalence of alcohol and drug use among drivers (section 3.2).
Next, information on self-reported awareness and impact of the legislative changes is presented (section 3.3), followed by a section on criminal justice system data, which includes police enforcement and response to impaired driving (section 3.4), as well as police-reported (section 3.5), and court statistics (section 3.6).
The final section looks at the characteristics of people who drive after using alcohol and drugs (section 3.7), as well as the experiences of Indigenous peoples and racialized groups with police traffic stops (section 3.8).
3.1 Traffic safety, fatalities and injuries on roads in Canada
An overall objective of the Act is to reduce deaths and injuries caused by impaired drivers on Canadian roads. Several data sources were used to assess the impact of the Act on road safety. The first is Transport Canada’s National Collision database. There are also two recent studies (Beirness 2021; Brubacher et al. 2021) which provide relevant data on fatalities among alcohol-impaired drivers, and the extent of alcohol and drug use among injured drivers. These data span both the pre- and post- enactment period of the Act, therefore they act both as a baseline for future comparison and an initial assessment of the impact of the Act.
Overall, the data presented show that impaired driving traffic fatalities decreased in the year post- enactment of the Act. The national drug-impaired driving study showed that cannabis and poly-substance use before driving are emerging issues, though the authors suggest that alcohol-impaired driving still poses the greatest crash risk on Canadian roads (Brubacher et al. 2021).
3.1.1 Transport Canada National Collision Database
Transport Canada maintains the National Collision Database (NCDB), which is a dataset on reportable motor vehicle collisions that occurred on public roads in Canada. The provinces and territories provide these data to Transport Canada where it is combined and used to track the number of deaths, injuries and collisions in Canada. Data from the NCDB, obtained via a special data request to Transport Canada, are presented below to show the extent of injuries and fatalities among different types of road users that occurred in collisions involving an impaired driver between 2016 and 2019.
Table 1 shows that the proportion of injuries in collisions involving an impaired driver has remained consistent over time and across all types of road users. Aside from farm/construction vehicles, which saw an increase from 3 to 7% in the pre- and post-enactment time period (2018 to 2019), there are no notable differences for other road users that experienced an injury in a collision involving an impaired driver.
|Snowmobile/Off Road Vehicle||21.1%||18.6%||21.9%||18.4%|
When looking at fatalities in collisions involving an impaired driver between 2016 and 2019, there is more variation. Specifically, the proportion of fatalities among car/truck/van/motorhome users involving an impaired driver has decreased over the four year period from an average of 27% in the three year period before the Act came into force, to 20% in 2019. There was no notable difference in the overall total percent of fatalities in the timeframe pre-post (2018 to 2019) the Act coming into force (Table 2).
|Snowmobile/Off Road Vehicle||44.1%||23.8%||48.1%||39.2%|
While the NCDB injury data do not show any clear patterns with regards to the impact of the Act on road safety, the data shows a small decrease among car/truck/van/motorhome road users who were fatally injured in collisions involving an impaired driver between 2018 and 2019 when the Act came into force. Additional years of data would be necessary to show if this trend towards decreased fatalities among this group of road users continues.
3.1.2 Impact of MAS on Alcohol-Involved Driver Fatalities
The objective of MAS is to reduce the number of accidents and deaths on the roads caused by impaired drivers, both by intercepting more impaired drivers and deterring those who may have previously thought they could escape police detection. In a study assessing the initial impact of MAS on alcohol-involved driver fatalities, Beirness found a beneficial impact (Beirness 2021). The study examined motor vehicle crash files and toxicology results from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Quebec. Data on alcohol use by drivers fatally injured in crashes between 2016 to 2019 were examined to determine if the number of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities changed pre- and post-implementation of MAS. The analysis found that in the three years prior to the implementation of MAS, the number of non-alcohol-related driver fatalities per year decreased by 6%, from an average of 750 over the three years to 704 in 2019 (Chart 1). During the same time period, there was a 39% decrease in the number of fatalities among drivers deemed to be impaired by alcohol, from an average of 171 over the three years pre-implementation to 104 in 2019 (Chart 1). The data also showed a difference in the proportion of all driver fatalities that were alcohol-involved pre- and post-implementation of MAS. In the period pre-MAS, the proportion of all fatalities that were impaired was 19%, compared to 13% in the time period after MAS came into force.
While this analysis provides encouraging evidence about the impact of MAS in reducing alcohol-related driver fatalities, further research will be needed to confirm these findings, including in other provinces and territories. Other factors will also need to be assessed to confirm what may be impacting the decline in alcohol-involved fatalities.
3.1.3 National Drug Driving Study
The Act strengthened Canada’s approach to drug-impaired driving in the Criminal Code, particularly in response to the legalization of cannabis in 2018. Brubacher et al. (2021) have been conducting a national drug-impaired driving research project since 2018. The purpose of the project is to study drug use in moderately and severely injured drivers who present to hospital and have bloodwork obtained within six hours of a motor vehicle collision. A project update released in June 2021 provides relevant data on the extent and nature of drug and alcohol use among injured drivers. Data collection began in British Columbia in 2018 and has expanded to 15 hospital sites across the country.Footnote 3 The study includes 6,200 cases, of which 4,976 had blood sample analysis.
Table 3 shows that half of the drivers in the study tested positive for at least one impairing substance (51%). Out of the total number of injured drivers, the most common substance found was cannabis, with 19% testing positive for THC (including 8% with THC ≥ 2 ng/mL and 4% with THC ≥ 5 ng/mL). Alcohol was found in 16% of injured drivers (12% with BAC ≥ 0.08%); 11% tested positive for opiates; 11% for recreational drugs (cocaine, amphetamines); and 21% for sedating medications (including common over-the-counter antihistamine).
Demographic information showed that cannabis use was more common in drivers under age 35, with the 19-24 age group making up the highest proportion (36%), and males (22% versus 11% females). Looking at alcohol use among drivers, it was most common in the 19 to 34 age range (23% for 19-24 year olds and 22% for 25-34). Males were more likely to have used alcohol compared to females (18% versus 10%). Similar trends were found for recreational drugs. In contrast, sedating medications were more commonly found among older ages groups (24% among those aged 55+), and in females compared to males (24% versus 19%) (Table 3). The authors note the crash risk associated with other recreational drugs, sedating medications, and opiates is not well defined in the literature, but is suspected to be in the range of that associated with cannabis (Brubacher et al. 2021: 11).
|Total injured drivers||4,976 (100)||165 (100)||654 (100)||1,121 (100)||804 (100)||787 (100)||1,445 (100)||1,614 (100)||3,362 (100)|
|BAC > 0||773 (16)||30 (18)||151 (23)||248 (22)||140 (17)||100 (13)||104 (7)||167 (10)||606 (18)|
|0 < BAC < 0.05%||120 (2)||6 (4)||18 (3)||36 (3)||23 (3)||12 (2)||25 (2)||22 (1)||98 (3)|
|0.05% ≤ BAC < 0.08%||62 (1)||2 (1)||13 (2)||15 (1)||12 (2)||10 (1)||10 (1)||11 (1)||51 (2)|
|BAC ≥ 0.08%||591 (12)||22 (13)||120 (18)||197 (18)||105 (13)||78 (10)||69 (5)||134 (8)||457 (14)|
|COOH-THC > 0Footnote 1 of Table||1,513 (30)||69 (42)||322 (49)||461 (41)||236 (29)||169 (22)||256 (18)||346 (21)||1,167 (35)|
|THC > 0||933 (19)||40 (24)||233 (36)||284 (25)||143 (18)||105 (13)||128 (9)||184 (11)||749 (22)|
|THC ≥ 2 ng/mL||392 (8)||18 (11)||105 (16)||120 (11)||55 (7)||34 (4)||60 (4)||86 (5)||306 (9)|
|THC ≥ 5ng/mL||174 (4)||7 (4)||39 (6)||64 (6)||25 (3)||11 (1)||28 (2)||38 (2)||136 (4)|
|Other recreational drugsFootnote 2 of Table||540 (11)||15 (9)||79 (12)||169 (15)||121 (15)||88 (11)||68 (5)||124 (8)||416 (12)|
|Sedating medicationsFootnote 3 of Table||1,029 (21)||23 (14)||122 (19)||201 (18)||167 (21)||169 (22)||347 (24)||386 (24)||643 (19)|
|Opiates||547 (11)||16 (10)||53 (8)||126 (11)||100 (12)||84 (11)||168 (12)||161 (10)||386 (12)|
|Any substanceFootnote 4 of Table||2,526 (51)||85 (52)||407 (62)||630 (56)||443 (55)||359 (46)||602 (42)||724 (45)||1,802 (54)|
The authors view driving after cannabis use as an emerging problem in Canada that may become more prevalent than alcohol, though the current literature is unclear about the crash risk after using cannabis. Among the impairing substances, alcohol remains the biggest crash risk, and the risks associated with cannabis-impaired driving are mitigated by the low THC levels found among drivers testing positive for cannabis use. The authors also highlighted the prevalence of polysubstance use in the study, with 14% of drivers testing positive for more than one impairing substance.
3.1.4 Impacts of cannabis legalization on cannabis-impaired driving
In a paper commissioned by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, Asbridge (2021) looked at the recent evidence on the impact of cannabis legalization on cannabis-impaired driving in Canada. The study examines literature from the past five years, looking at several aspects of cannabis-impaired driving in the pre-post legalization context. Specifically, the paper looks at the prevalence of cannabis-impaired driving pre-post legalization; the impact of cannabis use on driving ability and crash risk; risk perception for driving after the use of cannabis; and the impact of legalization on the policing of cannabis-impaired driving.
When looking at the impact of cannabis legalization on cannabis-impaired drivers presenting to emergency departments in British Columbia between January 2013 and March 2020, there was a significant increase in drivers testing positive for cannabis post legalization. Specifically, there was a 33% increase in drivers with THC>0 and a 129% increase in drivers with THC≥2ng/mL. There was only a marginally significant increase for drivers with THC≥5ng/mL. Male drivers and those 50 years or older had the highest increase post-legalization (Asbridge 2021).
Another recent study examined the impact of cannabis legalization on traffic injuries, specifically in Ontario and Alberta using data from 2015 to 2019. Callaghan et al. (2021) looked at associations between weekly counts of emergency department traffic injury presentations and cannabis legalization. The data used for the analysis included close to 100% of all emergency visits in the two provinces. The analysis found no association between the implementation of the Cannabis Act and any significant changes in the patterns of traffic-injury emergency department visits. This finding was consistent when looking at all drivers and looking at youth drivers separately. The authors reference a number of factors that may have contributed to their finding that cannabis legalization was not associated with any significant differences in emergency department visits. This includes the measures introduced under the Act around cannabis-impaired driving.
3.2 Prevalence of drugs and alcohol on Canadian roads
The ultimate objective of the Act is to reduce deaths and injuries caused by impaired drivers, including by reducing the prevalence of impaired drivers on Canadian roads; however, it can be expected that it may take time for road users to be aware of and deterred by the measures introduced. In fact, NJS 2021 data suggests that public awareness of the Act’s changes are low (Department of Justice 2021). Data on the general prevalence of alcohol and drug use on Canadian roads (not just among those who were injured or died) allows for an assessment of the extent to which we see a reduction in alcohol or drug use before driving post-implementation of the Act.
Roadside surveys provide the best data on the extent of impaired driving among the general population because the methodology involves random selection of drivers on the road. Currently, Canadian roadside survey data is available only for the pre-implementation period. These data will serve as a baseline for future comparison. The data presented below show a marked reduction in the prevalence of alcohol use by drivers over the past two decades, and an increase in the number of drivers testing positive for cannabis use since the data became available in 2008.
Other data sources on the prevalence of alcohol and drug use among drivers include self-reported data from public opinion surveys such as the NJS 2021 (Department of Justice 2021), TIRF’s Roadsafety Monitor (Ward et al., 2020), MADD Canada’s National Survey On Driving After Alcohol, Cannabis Or Illicit Drug Use (MADD Canada 2021), as well as the National Cannabis Survey (Rotermann 2020) and the Canadian Cannabis Survey (Health Canada 2020a). Overall, the self-reported data sources on prevalence of alcohol or cannabis use before driving suggest that there has been a decrease in the behaviour over time.
3.2.1 Roadside surveys
Roadside surveys have been used in jurisdictions across Canada to assess the extent of alcohol and (more recently) drug use by drivers. The Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrator (CCMTA) developed a standardized methodology to enhance comparability across time and jurisdiction. In anticipation of the legalization of cannabis, CCMTA (CCMTA 2019) conducted an analysis of five roadside surveys conducted in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories to provide a baseline of the extent of drug and alcohol impaired driving in the two years pre-legalization.
Across the five studies, there were 7,265 vehicles randomly selected, with 81% drivers agreeing to participate. Almost all (95%) of those provided a breath sample and 90% an oral fluid sample. The testing found that 4% of drivers tested positive for alcohol, 10% for drugs, and 8% for cannabis (THC). The authors highlight that there have been substantial reductions in the prevalence of alcohol use by drivers when looking at the current results in comparison to roadside surveys over the past twenty years. Consistent with the finding of Brubacher’s National Drug Driving Study, there has also been an increase in the percentage of drivers who tested positive for cannabis since drug use was first assessed in British Columbia in 2008 (CCMTA 2019).
3.2.2 Self-reported data on prevalence of alcohol use before driving
The NJS 2021 (Department of Justice 2021) asked respondents about their drinking and driving behaviours. One in four respondents (26%) reported having driven within two hours of consuming (an unspecified amount of) alcohol at some point in the previous two years. Those who reported driving in the two hours after consuming alcohol were also more likely to be aware of recent changes in the legislation (38% were aware). They were also more likely to say that these changes did not have an impact on their decision to drive after drinking (61%); most indicated this was because they limit their consumption (71%) if they expect to be driving. This same segment was less likely to be concerned about the dangers of alcohol-impaired driving. They were moderately more concerned than other respondents, however, about being charged. They indicated that being caught by the police and having a permanent record was their primary concerns associated with drinking and driving.
The Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) conducts an annual public opinion survey on key road safety issues called the Road Safety Monitor (RSM) (Ward et al. 2020). The online survey is a random, representative sample of Canadian drivers. The RSM also includes data from TIRF’s National Fatality Database, which has data on the number of Canadians killed in road crashes involving a drinking driver. The most recent RSM was conducted in 2020, with traffic fatality data dating back to 2017. When asked about self-reported use of any amount of alcohol before driving in the past 30 days, 12% of drivers admitted to doing this in 2020 compared to 15% in 2019. An analysis of trend data showed a gradual decrease from higher prevalence in the early 2010s, especially since 2017. When looking at those who drove when they thought they were over the legal limit of alcohol, in 2020, 8% of respondents admitted doing so in the past 12 months, down from 9% in 2019. The percentages from 2019 and 2020 remain among the highest reported rates since 2004 (Ward et al. 2020).
In 2021, MADD Canada released the results of the first National Survey on Driving After Alcohol, Cannabis or Illicit Drug Use (MADD 2021). This was an online national public opinion research survey of 3,002 Canadians aged 18 to 70 with a valid driver’s licence. The questions related to consumption of alcohol, cannabis or a non-prescribed illicit use and subsequent driving behaviour. Results found that of the licensed drivers who reported using alcohol in the past 30 days, 10% had driven knowingly impaired by alcohol at least once within the past six months. For licensed drivers who had used cannabis in the last 30 days, 19% had driven knowingly impaired by cannabis at least once within the past six months. For non-prescribed illicit drugs (stimulant, depressant, hallucinogen, opioid, etc.), 29% of licensed drivers who had used them in the past 30 days drove knowingly impaired within the past six months. For all groups, the majority drove impaired with passengers. Consistent with patterns in other surveys, young males between the ages of 18 to 34 were the most likely group to engage in these behaviours (MADD 2021).
3.2.3 Self-reported data on prevalence of cannabis or other drug use before driving
The 2020 Canadian Cannabis Survey (CCS) found that among people who had used cannabis in the past 12 months, 22% reported that they had driven within two hours of smoking or vapourizing cannabis at any time in the past, (a decrease from 26% in 2019). Thirteen percent of survey respondents reported that they had ever driven within four hours of ingesting a cannabis product (a decrease from 16% in 2019) (Health Canada 2020a).
One in five (19%) respondents reported that they had driven a vehicle within two hours of using cannabis in combination with alcohol, unchanged from 2019. The same people were also asked if they had driven a vehicle within two hours of using cannabis in combination with other drugs. Seven percent (7%) of them reported that they had driven a vehicle within two hours of using cannabis in combination with other drugs, unchanged from 2019 (Health Canada 2020a).
Trend data from the 2020 CCS show that the proportion of people who indicated that they had operated a vehicle after using cannabis in the past 12 months decreased between 2018 and 2020. This decrease went from 27% in 2018 to 24% in 2019 and 19% in 2020 (Health Canada 2020b).
Statistics Canada has conducted the National Cannabis Survey (NCS) every three months (quarterly) since February 2018. Data from 2019 showed that in the three quarters following legalization, 13% of cannabis users with a driver’s licence reported driving within two hours of use at least once in the three months preceding the survey. This proportion was similar to that observed in the three quarters in 2018 pre-legalization (14%) (Rotermann 2020).
The NJS 2021 (Department of Justice 2021) found that 8% of Canadians reported having driven within two hours of using cannabis in the past two years. As with alcohol-impaired driving, those who reported this behaviour in the previous two years were also more likely to be aware of the legislative changes (42% regarding roadside screening and 34% regarding THC levels), and to report that they were not concerned about the dangers of driving following drug use (52% were unconcerned), particularly when it came to cannabis use (71% were unconcerned). They were, however, more likely to be concerned about being charged (29%) and to cite getting caught by police (37%) or having increased insurance (25%) as a primary concern when driving after consuming cannabis. The survey also found that among the segment of respondents who indicated they had driven within two hours of using cannabis, 17% said they had driven following a combination of cannabis and alcohol use. This suggests that this occurs among 1% of Canadians over the age of 18, according to survey results.
|National Justice Survey, 2021||
|TIRF Road Safety Monitor, 2020||
|MADD Canada - National Survey on Driving After Alcohol, Cannabis or Illicit Drug Use, 2021||
|Canadian Cannabis Survey, 2020||
|2019 National Cannabis Survey||
3.3 Self-reported awareness and impact of legislative changes
The ultimate objective of the Act is to reduce deaths and injuries caused by impaired drivers, including by reducing the prevalence of impaired drivers on Canadian roads. In the time period subsequent to the passage of the Act, it can be expected that there may be a period of time when awareness of the measures is low. During this time, more impaired drivers may be detected because police investigative powers increased, and any deterrent effect of the provisions may not be in effect. The NJS 2021 included questions to better understand Canadians’ awareness of the measures introduced under the Act (Department of Justice 2021).
After being provided with a brief description of MAS, 30% of Canadians said they were aware that it was introduced in December of 2018 (Chart 2). Awareness of MAS increased with age, with those 65 years old or older least likely to say they were not aware. Awareness was also higher among those self-reporting as Métis (41%), compared with non-Indigenous people (29%)(Department of Justice 2021).
Respondents were asked if knowing that the police have the authority to demand a roadside breath sample without suspicion of alcohol use would have an impact on their decision to drive after consuming alcohol. Just over one in three (35%) said that it was not applicable to them since they do not have a licence or they do not drive after consuming alcohol. Among the remaining 65%, 20% said it would have a major impact, and another 19% said it would have a moderate impact on any decision to drive after consuming alcohol. Black (41%) and South/West Asian (35%) respondents were more likely than by White respondents (18%) to report MAS having a major impact (Department of Justice 2021).
Respondents who drive and who also drink alcohol were asked if they were concerned about being charged with an alcohol-impaired driving offence. While the majority (75%) said that they were not personally concerned, 7% said they were moderately concerned and 17% said they were concerned (4%), or very concerned (14%). Black respondents (47%), South/West Asian (37%), and East/Southeast Asian (29%) were more likely to be concerned, compared with those who identified as White (14%) (Department of Justice 2021).
Public awareness of legislative changes related to drug-impaired driving was similar to awareness of legislative changes related to alcohol-impaired driving, where 30% of respondents indicated being aware of the changes. About one in four indicated awareness of new legislation on the introduction of ADSE and prohibited THC levels (27% and 24%, respectively), with 30% and 26% saying they were moderately aware of these changes. Nearly half of respondents, however, were unaware of these two changes (Chart 2). Awareness of the new roadside testing was higher among First Nations respondents (35%) compared with non-Indigenous respondents (27%). When asked about their concern about personally being charged with a drug-impaired driving offence, overall 13% of Canadians said they were concerned. East/Southeast Asian respondents (37%), Black respondents (34%) and South/West Asian respondents (31%) were significantly more likely to be concerned about being charged compared with White respondents (8%) (Department of Justice 2021).
Overall, there was low public awareness of the legislative changes related to impaired driving introduced under the Act. The data show some key differences among Indigenous peoples and racialized groups, with higher levels of awareness, and higher likelihood that the measures would impact their decision to drive impaired, and higher levels of fear around being charged with an impaired driving offence compared to White respondents.
3.4 Police enforcement and response
To help achieve another objective of the Act, which was to create efficiencies in the system, the Government of Canada committed to further training police officers to become DREs, and provided funding and training to help the provinces and territories with the cost of acquiring the ASDE. The goal of this technology and training is to better equip officers with the tools necessary to detect and deter drug-impaired drivers. In addition, MAS was introduced, allowing officers to demand that any lawfully-stopped driver provide a preliminary breath sample to test for alcohol without reasonable suspicion that the driver has alcohol in their body.
The data in this section show steady progress has been made in meeting targets for police officer training on impaired driver detection. There is not currently sufficient data available through the funding initiative to assess police use of SFST, DRE, ADSE, and blood analyses. The study commissioned by the Department of Justice looking at police implementation of MAS in detecting alcohol-impaired drivers shows MAS is an efficient and effective tool (Beirness 2021).
3.4.1 Police officer training
In 2020, as part of its work on the implementation of the drug-impaired driving provisions of the Act, Public Safety Canada produced the first annual report on the trends, implementation, and impacts of the drug-related elements of the impaired driving legislative regime. The second edition of this report, Annual National Data Report to Inform Trends and Patterns in Drug-Impaired Driving, 2021 (Public Safety Canada 2021), includes statistics to show the progress on the federal government’s drug-impaired driving regime using data from 2018-2019. The 2021 edition of the report includes data covering 2019 and the 2020 calendar year. The report outlines the progress made toward meeting set training targets for police officers.
Under the funding initiative, a national target was set where 33%, or roughly 21,000 frontline law enforcement officers would be trained in Standard Field Sobriety Testing (SFST) over five years. SFST is a battery of three physical tests performed at the roadside to screen drivers for alcohol or drug impairment. At the end of 2020, almost 21% of frontline police officers across the country (approximately 11,100), had been trained in SFST, achieving roughly 60% of the 5-year goal. This excludes Quebec, where 100% of officers are trained in SFST. Among the remaining provinces/territories where data were available, the proportion of officers trained in SFST ranged from over 90% in Nova Scotia to 23% in Saskatchewan.
The Drug Recognition Expert Program is a systematic and standardized 12-step procedure used by trained DRE officers to recognize and evaluate behaviors and physiological indicators associated with the seven different drug categories: central nervous system depressants and stimulants; inhalants; dissociative anesthetics; cannabis; hallucinogens; and narcotic analgesics. Unlike the SFST, it is used more often at the police station to gather evidence of an impaired driving offence. Under the federal drug-impaired driving initiative, provinces and territories established that by the end of 2025, there will be 1,250 trained DRE officers. Annual statistics from the RCMP’s national DRE program show that as of 2020, there were 1,077 trained DRE officers, reaching 86% of the 2025 target. The RCMP also established a training curriculum on the approved drug screening equipment (ADSE) introduced as part of the 2018 drug-impaired driving regime. As of the end of 2020, eleven provinces and territories had purchased and deployed ADSE: British Columbia (48), Alberta (6), Saskatchewan (30), Manitoba (20), Ontario (178), Nova Scotia (22), and Prince Edward Island (3), Newfoundland and Labrador (21), Nunavut (1), Northwest Territories (2) and Yukon (6).
3.4.2 Police Use of SFST, DRE, ADSE
As part of the funding initiative’s objective to improve data collection around drug-impaired driving, efforts are underway to improve the collection and availability of data on police interventions such as the use of SFST, DRE, ADSE, and blood analyses. There is currently insufficient data available on the use of SFST and ADSE to make any clear assessments. Data on blood analyses were also minimal. This is an indication of the significant time required to conduct blood analyses in the laboratories, which is estimated to be about six months (Public Safety Canada 2021). Data from the RCMP indicates that the 1,389 DREs completed 5,948 DRE evaluations on suspected impaired drivers in 2020.
The purchase and use of ADSE across the country is still low, with only seven jurisdictions reporting on their use by law enforcement in 2020 (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Northwest Territories). The ADSE was used 37 times in Saskatchewan between September 20 December 2020, with 29 cases positive for THC and 3 positive for cocaine and THC. (Public Safety Canada 2021).
3.4.3 Police Use of MAS
One of the objectives of MAS is to reduce the prevalence of alcohol-impaired drivers on Canadian roads. While no national-level statistics are available on the implementation and use of MAS, Beirness (2021) collected data from the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) from 2014 to 2019 on the use of suspicion-based screening versus MAS at police alcohol checkpoints (known as “Checkstop”).
EPS officers were directed to use MAS during every officer-driver interaction beginning on December 21, 2018. Table 5 summarizes the results of the analysis. The table compares the data from Checkstops in the three years prior to the introduction of MAS (2014-2018) and the one year (2019) after MAS was introduced (this includes five Checkstops that were undertaken in 2018 after MAS introduced). The data shows that officers using suspicion-based screening administered ASD tests to 12% of drivers during the pre-MAS period. This increased to 99% when MAS was adopted. These data show that MAS power was successful in allowing testing on virtually every driver stopped, and the number of vehicles checked per Checkstop operation did not differ pre-post introduction of MAS (an average of 299 versus 301 vehicles stopped). This indicates that the time required to screen almost all drivers did not adversely affect the number of vehicles checked. Further, the time required for a MAS stop was found to be minimal when a driver was not detained, ranging from 30 to 95 seconds, including the ASD test (Beirness 2021).
|ASD/vehicle checked||Total enforcement actions takenFootnote 1 of Table||Enforcement actions/vehicle checked||Enforcement actions/Checkstop Operation||Suspended arrests/Total vehicles checked|
In order to examine the impact of MAS on enforcement actions in the pre-post MAS periods, Table 5 shows the number of enforcement actions both as a percentage of the number of vehicles checked, and as a proportion of Checkstop operations. Looking at the enforcement actions as a percentage of vehicles checked, in the pre-MAS period enforcement actions were taken with 3% of the vehicles checked, compared to 4% of vehicles checked after MAS was introduced. Looking at the enforcement actions as a proportion of the Checkstop operation, in the pre-MAS period there were 10 enforcement actions per Checkstop operation, compared to 13 enforcement actions per Checkstop operation after MAS was adopted. Both indicators show a 33% increase in enforcement actions between the pre-MAS (2014-2018) and post-MAS (2019) period. This suggests that MAS is “considerably more efficient in detecting drinking drivers than suspicion-based screening (Beirness 2021: 8).” Further, Beirness used the data in Table 5 to estimate the number of enforcement actions that could have been taken, or would have been missed in the pre-post MAS periods. Beirness found that if MAS had not been used in Checkstops in 2019, that 143 impaired drivers would likely have gone undetected. Similarly, if MAS had been used between 2014 and 2018, an estimated 532 additional impaired drivers would have been subject to enforcement actions.
The EPS data show that MAS increased both the efficiency and effectiveness of police in detecting drivers who had been drinking. While the EPS data are not necessarily indicative of the impact of MAS at a national level, it provides an encouraging picture of the potential benefits of MAS. Further research will be necessary to compare these findings with police services across Canada.
3.5 Police-reported statistics
The Act included reforms aimed to help police officers better detect alcohol- and drug-impaired drivers. Statistics Canada’s Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR) provides national level data on criminal incidents, which reflect reported crime that has been substantiated by police. Data is available from 2019 and 2020, the first two years after the coming into force of the Act. Data referenced in this section are primarily from the Statistics Canada Juristat article, commissioned by Justice Canada, entitled Impaired Driving in Canada, 2019 released in July 2021 (Perreault 2021).Footnote 4 Data from 2020 are also provided where available (Moreau 2021). Data from 2020 should be interpreted in the context of COVID-19 and the ensuing public health restrictions which resulted in fundamental changes to the way society functioned (e.g., both alcohol/drug use and driving behaviours). The pandemic also impacted the way that police responded to impaired driving incidents (e.g., due to masking and physical distancing requirements).
The data show an increase in police-reported rates of both alcohol- and drug-impaired driving in 2019. This suggests that the investigative powers afforded to police under the Act may have resulted in more impaired drivers being detected in the first year after the coming into force of the Act. Data from 2020 show a decrease in impaired driving incidents, with 8,200 fewer incidents reported compared to 2019 (Moreau 2021). Further years of data would be required to assess the post-enactment trends, and whether there are other contributing factors.
3.5.1 Police-reported incidents of alcohol- and drug-impaired driving
In the first year after implementation of the Act, there was an increase in police-reported rates of both alcohol- and drug-impaired driving (Chart 3). In 2019, there were 85,673 police-reported incidents of impaired driving. This was the highest number of incidents since 2011. This represents a rate of 228 incidents per 100,000 population, an increase of 19% from 2018, and 21% higher than the low reported in 2017. The increase in incidents seen in 2019 may be at least in part attributable to better detection of impaired driving by police as a result of the Act’s amendments. There were just over 77,600 incidents of impaired driving in 2020, down 8,200 from the previous year. The majority of these incidents (79%) involved alcohol, while 10% involved drugs, and 9% involved a combination of alcohol and drugs. There has been a shift in recent years with a growing proportion of impaired driving incidents involving drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs (Moreau 2021).
Police-reported data on drug-impaired driving showed 6,453 incidents in 2019, a rate of 17 incidents per 100,000 population. Drug-impaired driving incidents represented just 8% of all impaired incidents, but the number of these incidents increased 43% from the previous year, and was four times higher than in 2009 (4.3 incidents per 100,000 population). The rate of drug-impaired driving violations continued to increase in 2020, up 15% from the previous year (a total of 7,510 incidents in 2020) (Moreau 2021). There were 40 incidents of drug-impaired driving causing death or bodily harm in 2019, a number which remained stable in 2020 and over the previous three years, but was double that of a decade ago (Perreault 2021; Statistics Canada).
In 2019, the rate of impaired driving incidents involving a combination of alcohol and drugs was 12 incidents per 100,000 population. The new offences introduced under the Act which introduced per se limits for certain drugs (paragraphs 320.14(1)(b) (c) and (d)) were rarely used by police in 2019 to lay or recommend charges. In 2020, the number of incidents involving a combination of alcohol and drugs continued to increase, up 59% from the previous year from 4,479 to 7,105 incidents (Moreau 2021).
3.5.2 Police-reported incidents of impaired driving causing bodily harm or death
Incidents of impaired driving causing bodily harm or death are more likely to come to the attention of police due to the serious nature of these offences. There were 66 incidents of impaired driving causing death in 2019, which remained consistent in 2020, down from 105 the previous year, and the lowest reported since data were first collected in 1986. The rate of impaired driving causing bodily harm has also been decreasing over time, with a rate of 1.28 per 100,000 population in 2019, which was half the rate of 10 years earlier and almost five times lower than in 1986 (6.06 incidents per 100,000 population) (Chart 4). The rate decreased in 2020 to 1.13 per 100,000, which may be a result of the COVID-19 pandemic (Statistics Canada).
3.5.3 Number and proportion of impaired driving incidents cleared by charge
In 2018 Statistics Canada updated the definition of “founded” and “unfounded” criminal incidents in police-reported statistics. The definitions reflect a more-victim centred approach, and include more incidents where there is no credible evidence that an incident did not take place, as well as those based on reports by third parties (e.g., a road user reporting a potentially impaired driver). This change, while being gradually implemented by police, has likely resulted in an increase in the number of police-reported impaired driving incidents.
In 2019, 56% of impaired driving incidents reported to police were cleared by charge, roughly 10% were cleared without charge, and 33% were not cleared (i.e., open/still under investigation, insufficient evidence to proceed, or victim/complainant declines to proceed). During the same time period, 49% of drug-impaired driving incidents were cleared by charge, 46% of incidents were not cleared, and 5% were cleared without charge. The proportion of incidents cleared by charge decreased between 2009 and 2019, a trend consistent for both alcohol- and drug-impaired driving incidents. This decrease translates mostly to an increase in the proportion of incidents not cleared, which rose from 22% to 33% of incidents of police-reported impaired driving between 2018 and 2019. The vast majority of these incidents were not cleared due to insufficient evidence. The changes to the definitions of founded and unfounded incidents may have led to this increase in uncleared incidents.
3.5.4 Time to clear impaired driving incidents
Drug-impaired driving incidents are both, less likely to be cleared by charge and are more likely to take longer to clear than alcohol-related incidents. In 2019, 59% of drug-impaired driving cases were cleared in one day or less, compared to 76% of alcohol-impaired incidents, and 84% of incidents involving both alcohol and drugs. The average time to clear a drug-impaired driving incident has nearly tripled since 2009 (incidents that required at least 180 days to clear went from 10% to 29%), while remaining almost unchanged for alcohol-impaired cases (Chart 5). As indicated, significant time is required to conduct blood analyses in the laboratories, which is estimated to be about six months. As a result, laboratory delays would have a greater impact on drug-impaired driving charges than they would on alcohol-impaired charges because laboratory analyses are not used as frequently in alcohol-impaired driving cases.
3.6 Court statistics
The impaired driving provisions are among the most litigated in the Criminal Code. As such, the measures enacted were intended to create efficiencies in the criminal justice system and facilitate prosecutions, resulting in faster trials. Statistics Canada’s Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS) provides national level data on appearances, charges and cases in adult and youth criminal courts. Currently, data from the ICCS are available for the 2018-19 fiscal year, meaning there would be few cases subject to the Act that would have made it to the courts. While the data currently available do not allow for an assessment of any impacts of the Act on court efficiencies, they provide a baseline for comparison in future years. All data in this section are from the Juristat article, Impaired Driving in Canada, 2019 (Perreault 2021). In this section, impaired driving offences include: impaired operation, failure to comply, impaired driving causing bodily harm, and impaired driving causing death.
3.6.1 Case processing times
In 2018-19, impaired driving offences made up the second highest proportion of all offence types before adult criminal courts in Canada. They were also most likely to exceed the presumptive ceilings for case processing time in criminal courts. Chart 6 shows the median number of days to complete impaired driving cases over the past decade by substance type. The median number of days to complete alcohol-impaired driving cases has remained relatively stable over the past three years, with a median of 115 days in 2018-19. Drug-impaired driving cases take almost twice the median time to complete as alcohol-impaired driving cases (211 days versus 115 days). Despite this, in 2018-19, the median time for completing drug-impaired driving cases decreased for the first time in four years by 14% (from 247 to 211).
In 2018-19, drug-impaired driving cases took an average of 7.8 appearances to complete, which is higher than cases involving alcohol, which took 5.5 appearances. These averages have remained consistent over the past decade. When looking at cases involving a combination of alcohol and drugs, these cases took a median of 64 days to completion, down 25% from the previous year.
While impaired driving cases involving drugs took longer in the courts, 62% of these cases involved only one charge, in comparison to alcohol cases which most often involved two charges. Specifically, alcohol-impaired driving cases most often lead to charges under the Criminal Code section dealing with impaired driving in general and the section which establishes the per se limit for alcohol. Drug-impaired cases typically only lead to charges under the first section, though until 2018 there was no alternative charge for drug-impaired driving.
3.6.2 Court outcomes and sentencing
Drug-impaired driving cases are less likely to result in a guilty finding in court, which is likely a reflection of the greater complexity of these cases in comparison to alcohol-impaired driving cases. During the period from 2010-11 to 2018-19, around 82% of alcohol-impaired cases resulted in a guilty finding compared to 64% of drug-impaired cases. When looking only at cases where a not guilty plea was entered, this trend remained, with 41% of alcohol-impaired cases and only 30% of drug-impaired cases resulting in a guilty finding. Notably, the proportion of drug-impaired cases resulting in a guilty finding has increased over time, from 64% in 2010-11 to 70% in 2018-19.
The most common sentences in cases of both alcohol- and drug-impaired driving were fines, seizure orders or prohibition orders (about nine in ten cases). This is in line with the minimum penalties for these offences of a $1,000 fine and a one year driving ban. Less than 10% of cases involving alcohol- or drug-impaired driving resulted in a custody sentence. This was slightly higher (11%) for cases involving a combination of alcohol and drugs.
3.7 Characteristics of people who drive after using alcohol or drugs and experiences with traffic stops
One of the objectives of the legislative review is to assess “whether the [Act’s] implementation and operation have resulted in differential treatment of any particular group based on a prohibited ground of discrimination.” As previously noted, work is underway to expand police-reported statistics to disaggregate by Indigenous and ethno-cultural groups to better assess the impact of policy and legislative changes on different groups. Since these data are not yet available, current police-reported statistics as well as some national surveys (i.e., the National Cannabis Survey and Canadian Cannabis Survey) only provide data on sex and age of drivers who use alcohol or drugs before driving. The NJS 2021 included an oversampling of Indigenous peoples and racialized respondents in order to assess whether or not different groups were being disproportionately impacted by police enforcement. The project also included a small number of interviews to better understand the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples and ethno-cultural groups in the context of police traffic stops.
Findings show that Indigenous peoples and racialized groups are more likely to have concerns about being charged with an alcohol- or drug-impaired driving offence, despite having similar or lower rates of self-reported impaired driving behaviour. The study also found Indigenous peoples were more likely to experience a police traffic stop compared to White people (Department of Justice 2021). While these data do not provide definitive conclusions about the impact of the Act, they provide an initial assessment that will require further research to confirm and understand.
3.7.1 Police-reported statistics on characteristics of drivers accused in impaired driving incidents
Police-reported UCR data (Perreault 2021) show that impaired drivers in Canada are predominately men and young adults. In 2019, 77% of impaired driving charges were against men, which includes alcohol-impaired driving or driving with a combination of alcohol and drugs. This proportion has decreased over time, from 92% in 1986 and 84% in 2009. This trend is also true for drug-impaired drivers; in 2019, 77% of people charged with drug-impaired driving were men, down from 81% in 2009.
The age group most often accused of impaired driving are those aged 20 to 34, who represented 44% of drivers accused of alcohol- or a combination of alcohol- and drug-impaired driving and 25% of licensed drivers in 2019. This age group also represented the highest proportion of drug-impaired driving charges, with 44% of these charges falling in the 20 to 34 age group.
The youngest drivers have seen the biggest decreases in alcohol- and a combination of alcohol- and drug-impaired driving incidents since 2009 (Chart 7). Licensed drivers under 20 years of age saw a reduction of 71% since 2009, those aged 20 to 24 years saw a reduction of 53% (compared to a 39% reduction overall).
In contrast, from 2009 to 2019 the drug-impaired driving rate doubled (from 11 to 22 incidents per 100,000 population) among drivers aged 20 to 24, and tripled amount those aged 25 to 34 (from 8 to 24 incidents per 100,000 population) (Chart 8). The rate of police-reported drug-impaired driving incidents increased the most among those aged 35 to 44 (an increase of 281%) and those aged 55 to 64 (an increase of 292%) and increased the least in those under age 20 (an increase of 90%). For the under 20 group, the smaller decrease may be related to provincial policies that have expanded their zero tolerance polices for alcohol use before driving to include drug use. At the time of legalization of cannabis in 2018, there were also significant education and awareness campaigns introduced in high schools.Footnote 5
3.7.2 Characteristics of people who have operated a vehicle after consuming alcohol
The NJS 2021 findings were consistent with police-reported statistics showing that alcohol-impaired driving is most prevalent among young men. The NJS 2021 found that the incidence of driving within two hours of consuming alcohol was higher among men (33%) than women (20%), and was highest for those aged 35 to 44 (33%). The findings also show that driving within two hours of consuming alcohol was lower among First Nations respondents (16%) compared with non-Indigenous respondents (27%). Also, East/Southeast Asian (9%) respondents, Black (10%) respondents, and South/West Asian (16%) were considerably less likely than White (30%) respondents to report driving within two hours of consuming alcohol.
3.7.3 Characteristics of people who have operated a vehicle after consuming cannabis in combination with alcohol or other drugs
Men were more likely than women to report driving within two hours of combined use of alcohol and cannabis (21% vs. 11% of women). The incidence peaked among the college-educated (24%), and was lower among those with a university-level (17%) or high school education (11%). Those previously arrested or charged with a crime were more likely to have driven within two hours of cannabis consumption (23%) than others involved in the criminal justice system in other ways (e.g. as a victim or a witness) (5% to 12%), or those not involved in the system (6%). There were no statistically significant differences found among Indigenous and racialized groups with regards to using cannabis before driving (Department of Justice Canada 2021).
The 2020 CCS also found that driving within two hours of smoking or vaping cannabis or within four hours of ingesting a cannabis product was more prevalent among males (28% for smoking versus 15% for females) and those 20 to 24 years (22%) and 25 years and older (23%) (Health Canada 2020a). Data from the NCS also found that in 2019, males were more likely to report driving within two hours of using cannabis than females (16% compared to 9%, respectively). The proportion who reported driving within two hours was also more than five times higher among drivers who reported daily or almost daily cannabis use than it was among drivers who used less than daily or almost daily (e.g., 29% compared to 5%, respectively in 2019). The survey also found no changes in the age range of those who reported driving within two hours of using cannabis before or after legalization (Rotermann 2020).
A 2020 Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction study examined the characteristics of drugged drivers and the circumstances of the crashes they become involved in. The study used data from self-report surveys and data on drivers arrested for drug-impaired driving. The author notes that research to identify those at risk of drug-impaired driving lags behind alcohol-impaired driving. While there may be overlap in the characteristics and motivations among those who engage in drug or alcohol-impaired driving, further research is needed to draw conclusions and identify effective ways to deal with the behaviours. While young males were identified most commonly, there was a variety of other factors involved that varied according to the substance used. The study found that those who drive after drug use are generally younger than those who drive after alcohol use. Drug-impaired drivers tend to engage in risky behaviours such as tobacco smoking, use of other drugs, as well as being a passenger with a driver who has used alcohol or drugs (Beirness 2020).
3.8 Indigenous peoples’ and racialized groups’ experiences with police traffic stops
The NJS was in the field between February 1 and March 5, 2021, and qualitative interviews were held in March. The survey included a sample of 3,211 Canadians 18 years and older, with an oversampling of Indigenous and racialized groups. The survey is largely generalizable to the Canadian population.Footnote 6 A total of 27 interviews were conducted, each lasting 20 to 30 minutes. Specifically, interviews were conducted with seven participants self-identifying as Black, seven as Indigenous (four Métis and three First Nation), five as White, four as East/Southeast Asian and four as South/West Asian. Six interviews were conducted in French, and the balance were conducted in English. Participants were asked to describe their experiences with police traffic stops and general impressions of trends in this area.
Findings showed that Indigenous peoples were more likely to experience a police traffic stop than non-Indigenous people in the past two years. Twenty-two per cent of Canadians had been stopped by the police at least once in the past two years; First Nations respondents (30%) were more likely than non-Indigenous respondents (21%) to have been stopped in the last two years. Overall, 59% were stopped for a minor driving infraction while the other 41% were stopped at a roadside checkpoint in the past five years. Forty per cent of those stopped were given a ticket (Department of Justice 2021).
Most of the qualitative interview participants were stopped by police for traffic violations, and some were aware of why they were being stopped even before speaking to police. Most interview participants indicated that the traffic stop was fairly “routine” and did not perceive that they were being targeted in any way by being stopped by the police. For those few who were pulled over at a roadside check stop, they perceived that all vehicles were being pulled over in an equal manner and did not feel targeted for any reason. Overall, there were few instances of perceived racial profiling during traffic stops since December 2018, either through experience or discussions with friends or family. However, a few Indigenous participants said that they were pulled over for no apparent infraction, a few South/West Asian participants perceived differential treatment, and many Black participants said they were conscious of a personal risk during traffic stops. All interview participants had observed news coverage of police interactions, in terms of aggressive behaviour of police officers towards racialized groups. This was particularly notable in news coverage of events taking place in the United States, although participants perceived that this also occurs in Canada with Indigenous peoples and Black Canadians (Department of Justice 2021).
A study released in 2020 by Wortley and Jung for the Ontario Human Rights Commission found similar results related to Black people’s experiences with police traffic stops. In looking at Toronto Police Service arrest and charge data from 2013 to 2017, the analysis found Black people were over-represented in “out-of-sight” driving offences (e.g., driving without a valid licence, driving without valid insurance, driving while suspended). They represented only 9% of Toronto’s population, but made up 35% of those involved in the “out-of-sight” driving charges, meaning they were four times more likely to be charged with an “out-of-sight” driving offence than their representation in the general population would predict. Both White people and people from other racialized groups were under-represented (Wortley and Jung 2020).
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