Overview - Youth and Impaired Driving

The statistics for motor vehicle crashes and impairment-related crashes among young drivers are alarming.

Studies conclude that young drivers are over-represented in road crashes for two primary reasons: inexperience and immaturity. Although young people are the least likely to drive impaired, the ones who do are at very high risk of collision.

Driving while impaired by drugs is also a serious concern. Canadians between 14-25 years old have one of the highest rates cannabis use in the world. It’s the drug they use most after alcohol.  Most young people see cannabis as a benign drug, far less dangerous than alcohol. They think driving under the influence of cannabis is risk free, despite the evidence that shows cannabis can shorten attention span, alter perception of time and distance and slow reaction times – all of which impair the driver’s ability to respond to sudden events in traffic.

Characteristics of the Drinking and Driving Problem Among Youth

YouthOlder Teens: Of all the young drinking drivers who are killed or seriously injured, the smallest proportion is 16 years of age. The largest proportion is 19 years of age.

Males: Account for 87% of the young fatally injured drinking drivers and 89% of the seriously injured drinking drivers.

Summertime: Young drinking drivers are most likely to be killed or injured in the summer (32.4% and 40.8% respectively) and least likely to be killed or injured in the winter (8% and 11.4% respectively). Weekend: A large percentage of young drinking drivers die or are seriously injured on the weekend.

Night time: The vast majority of young drinking drivers die or are seriously injured in crashes at night.

Automobiles: Most young drinking drivers are killed or seriously injured when driving an automobile. Single-vehicle: Young drinking drivers are most likely to be involved in single-vehicle crashes.

At fault: In nearly two-thirds of the alcohol-related multiple vehicle crashes, it was the fatally injured teen driver who had been drinking and not the other drivers.

Crashes: By the time a driver reaches a blood alcohol content of .10%, he or she is 51 times more likely than a non-drinking driver to be involved in a fatal crash.

Drug-Impaired Driving

Population surveys show the number of Canadians driving after using drugs is on the rise. In fact, driving after smoking cannabis is now more prevalent among some younger drivers than driving after drinking. Survey data from a 2013 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health report showed that, among young Ontario drivers in grades 10 – 12, 4% per cent drove after drinking while 9.7% drove after smoking cannabis.

Equally concerning as the numbers is the misperception that many young people, and some parents, have that driving under the influence of cannabis is safer than driving under the influence of alcohol. A national study by the Partnership for a Drug-Free Canada revealed:

Many young people think driving under the influence of cannabis is risk-free. Yet studies have shown that smoking cannabis can produce unwelcome effects behind the wheel, including a shorter attention span, an altered perception of time and distances, and slower reaction times that impair the driver's ability to respond to sudden events in traffic. A 2012 study by researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax found that smoking cannabis three hours before driving nearly doubled a driver's risk of having a motor vehicle crash.

Combining cannabis with even small amounts of alcohol greatly increases the negative impact on driving skills.

Many young people also think that they will never be caught or charged for driving high. While detecting cannabis is more challenging than detecting alcohol because we do not yet have a simple roadside drug test similar to the alcohol breathalyzer, police do have tools to determine whether a driver is impaired by drugs. The standard field sobriety test and the drug recognition evaluation allow police to determine if a driver is under the influence of drugs based on their behaviour and task-related tests. Furthermore, driving while high results in the same type of Criminal Code charges and penalties as driving while drunk.

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Did You Know?

Every day in Canada, an average of 4 people are killed and 175 are injured in impairment-related crashes.

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