About the Program
Magnitude & Characteristics


1. How many people die in motor vehicle crashes involving a drinking driver each year in Canada?

The number of motor vehicle deaths resulting from crashes involving a drinking in Canada steadily declined from the mid-1990s to early 2000s. More recently progress has diminished and the number of fatalities has remained stable in recent years.

The number of motor vehicle deaths involving a drinking driver due to road crashes has fallen from 1,296 in 1995 to 850 in 2002. Between 2003 and 2010 the total number of deaths per year began to fluctuate with some declines as low as 714 that rose again as high as 907, with the most recent year (2010) having 744 deaths.

To date, the most significant progress in reducing drinking driver-related deaths occurred during the late 1980s and through the 1990s. Since 2000 progress has been more difficult to achieve and the 2005 - 2010 data suggest that declines have been nominal.

a) What is the percentage of motor vehicle deaths involving a drinking driver on Canadian roadways?

Another way to understand the drinking driving problem is to look at the percentage of total deaths on the nation’s roadways that occurred due to the involvement of a drinking driver The percentage of drinking driver-related deaths in Canada decreased from 38.8% in 1995 to 30.2% in 2000. Between 2001 and 2010 this percentage has been as high as 33.6% and as low as 29.6%. As of 2010, fatalities involving a drinking driver account for 33.6% of the total deaths on Canada’s roadways.
 
The following table illustrates the number of motor vehicle deaths involving a drinking driver and the percentage of all road crash fatalities that involved a drinking driver:

Table 1:

Year

Number of deaths

Number of alcohol-related deaths

% of total deaths that are alcohol-related

1995

3338

1296

38.8%

1996

3031

1097

36.2%

1997

3089

1070

34.6%

1998

2909

986

33.9%

1999

2986

906

30.3%

2000

2865

864

30.2%

2001

2645

874

33.0%

2002

2867

850

29.6%

2003

2782

902

32.4%

2004

2673

815

30.5%

2005

2845

851

29.9%

2006

2771

907

32.7%

2007

2670

864

32.4%

2008

2355

790

33.5%

2009

2575

714

32.0%

2010

2211

744

33.6%

* Note that these numbers are estimates based on the percent of deaths for which information was available to determine alcohol use and that only deaths that occurred on public roadways using principal vehicle types were included.
** (Brown, Vanlaar, and Mayhew 2013).

    b) How frequently do Canadians drink and drive?

When asked about driving after consuming any amount of alcohol in the past 30 days, an estimated 17.3% of Canadians admitted to driving after drinking in 2012. This represents a decrease from 2010 when 24.4% of Canadians admitted to drinking and driving.

When asked about driving when they thought they were over the legal limit in the last 12 months, just 3.6% of Canadians admitted to doing this in 2012. From 1998 to 2004 there was a steady decreasing trend in the percentage of drivers who admitted to this behaviour. However, from 2005 to 2007 the percentage increased from 5.6% in 2004 to 8.2% in 2007. The latest indicators are encouraging, suggesting that the trend is once again declining, and Canadians are now less likely to drive when they think they are over the legal limit.

*(TIRF 2008; TIRF 2009; TIRF 2010; TIRF 2011; TIRF 2012)

 

Top of Page


2. How does the problem of motor vehicle deaths involving a drinking driver in Canada compare to the United States?

Similar to the reduction in the number of motor vehicle fatalities involving a drinking driver in Canada, the United States has seen comparable trends in recent years. The number of persons killed in crashes involving a drinking driver (i.e., the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was equal to or greater than .01) in the U.S. has remained fairly consistent over the past eighteen years, with a slight decline seen in the past five years. The number of fatalities in crashes involving a drinking driver peaked in 2005 with 15,985 deaths. This number has decreased since then to 11,510 fatalities in 2011.

With regard to the total number of motor vehicle deaths, the percentage of deaths involving a drinking driver have remained stable with slight increases and decreases. The percentages have consistently fallen between 35-38% over the past 18 years. It is important to note that while the U.S. has far more motor vehicle deaths involving drinking drivers than Canada (due to differences in population size), the percentages are still comparable. In each country, deaths involving at least one  drinking driver account for approximately one-third of the total deaths on roadways.
 
The following table illustrates the magnitude of the drinking and driving problem in the U.S.:

Table 2:

Year

Number of deaths

Number of alcohol-related deaths

% of total deaths that are alcohol-related

1994

40,716

15,626

38

1995

41,817

15,893

38

1996

42,065

15,866

38

1997

42,013

14,973

36

1998

41,501

14,899

36

1999

41,717

14,790

35

2000

41,945

15,746

38

2001

42,196

15,731

37

2002

43,005

15,793

37

2003

42,884

15,423

36

2004

42,836

15,311

36

2005

43,510

15,985

37

2006

42,708

15,970

37

2007

41,259

15,534

38

2008

37,423

13,826

37

2009

33,883

12,731

38

2010

32,999

11,906

36

2011

32,367

11,510

36

*The table depicts the estimated number of deaths, estimated number of drinking and driving-related deaths, and the percent of drinking and driving-related deaths from 1994 to 2011 based on FARS data.
**Note: Total number of deaths from motor vehicle crashes includes fatalities in crashes in which there was no driver or motor cycle rider present.
*** (NHTSA 2012).

 

Top of Page


3. How many people are killed and how many drivers are involved in serious injury alcohol-related crashes annually in each Canadian province/territory?

The following tables provide an overview of the number of people killed and the number of drivers involved in serious injury alcohol-related crashes in each of Canada’s provinces and territories over a seven year period from 2003-2010. Of interest, the number for serious injury crashes excludes operators of bicycles, snowmobiles, farm tractors, and other non-highway vehicles.

Table 3: British Columbia

Year

Number of alcohol-related deaths

Number of drivers involved in serious injury alcohol-related crashes

2005

161

730

2006

143

716

2007

150

723

2008

125

633

2009

121

597

2010

121

494

Table 4: Alberta

Year

Number of alcohol-related deaths

Number of drivers involved in serious injury alcohol-related crashes

2005

158

788

2006

167

954

2007

170

795

2008

152

737

2009

145

660

2010

139

641

Table 5: Saskatchewan

Year

Number of alcohol-related deaths

Number of drivers involved in serious injury alcohol-related crashes

2005

46

122

2006

49

136

2007

54

151

2008

74

180

2009

63

146

2010

68

142

Table 6: Manitoba

Year

Number of alcohol-related deaths

Number of drivers involved in serious injury alcohol-related crashes

2005

30

92

2006

45

91

2007

46

103

2008

44

68

2009

34

85

2010

37

63

Table 7: Ontario

Year

Number of alcohol-related deaths

Number of drivers involved in serious injury alcohol-related crashes

2005

210

783

2006

232

759

2007

232

763

2008

183

526

2009

169

556

2010

181

477

Table 8: Quebec


Year

Number of alcohol-related deaths

Number of drivers involved in serious injury alcohol-related crashes

2005

158

745

2006

175

741

2007

111

584

2008

130

508

2009

109

515

2010

120

531


Table 9: New Brunswick

Year

Number of alcohol-related deaths

Number of drivers involved in serious injury alcohol-related crashes

2005

36

102

2006

30

89

2007

35

85

2008

26

78

2009

26

80

2010

40

85

Table 10: Nova Scotia

Year

Number of alcohol-related deaths

Number of drivers involved in serious injury alcohol-related crashes

2005

23

86

2006

30

83

2007

35

88

2008

17

58

2009

25

73

2010

18

77

Table 11: Prince Edward Island

Year

Number of alcohol-related deaths

Number of drivers involved in serious injury alcohol-related crashes

2005

3

19

2006

14

18

2007

4

15

2008

9

8

2009

6

18

2010

1

13

Table 12: Newfoundland and Labrador

Year

Number of alcohol-related deaths

Number of drivers involved in serious injury alcohol-related crashes

2005

16

25

2006

11

29

2007

18

29

2008

21

28

2009

6

N/A

2010

9

N/A

Table 13: Yukon

Year

Number of alcohol-related deaths

Number of drivers involved in serious injury alcohol-related crashes

2005

4

21

2006

5

6

2007

2

10

2008

3

5

2009

2

11

2010

3

11

Table 14: Northwest Territories

Year

Number of alcohol-related deaths

Number of drivers involved in serious injury alcohol-related crashes

2005

N/A

5

2006

N/A

7

2007

N/A

4

2008

N/A

5

2009

N/A

2

2010

N/A

3

Table 15: Nunavut

Year

Number of alcohol-related deaths

Number of drivers involved in serious injury alcohol-related crashes

2005

N/A

0

2006

N/A

3

2007

N/A

1

2008

N/A

0

2008

N/A

0

2008

N/A

0

*Tables 3 – 15 depict the number of motor vehicle deaths and serious injuries involving a drinking driver between the years 2003 - 2010, by province.
** (Brown, Vanlaar, and Mayhew 2013)

These numbers suggest that drinking and driving continues to be a significant problem in most Canadian jurisdictions. Almost every province and territory experienced an increase in the number of alcohol-related deaths from 2006 to 2007. Furthermore, five provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Nova Scotia) have experienced increases from 2005 to 2007.  

Cautionary note: It is important to understand that because the number of alcohol-related deaths and the number of drivers involved in serious injury alcohol-related crashes are small in many of the less populated provinces and territories that fluctuations in the numbers (increases and decreases) do not necessarily reflect true trends. For example, a decrease from 8 to 4 deaths does not necessarily constitute a lasting decline of 50%; the following year could return to 8 or even more deaths.

Top of Page


4. What types of vehicles are involved in drinking driver crashes in Canada?

In Canada in 2010, of all the fatally injured drinking drivers (i.e., drivers with a positive BAC), over one-half (55.4%) were in an automobile; 24.2% were light truck drivers (e.g., pick-up trucks); 11.5% were motorcycle drivers; and 8.3% were van drivers.

It is interesting to note that in 2010, the highest incidence of drinking was found among light truck drivers. In fact, almost half (47.7%) of light truck drivers in fatal crashes had been drinking, and 90.5% of them had an illegal BAC, compared to tractor-trailer drivers among whom only 3.2% had been drinking.

Pedestrians are also at an increased risk of being hit by a vehicle if they have consumed alcohol. To illustrate this, during 2010 there were 358 pedestrians fatally injured and 214 of them were tested for the presence of alcohol. Among those tested, 45.8% had been drinking.

Top of Page


5. What are the implications for passengers of drinking drivers?

When an alcohol-related crash occurs, often it is not only the drinking driver who is injured or killed – the passengers in the vehicle also suffer the same fate. Many studies have determined that human performance skills, including driving, begin to decline at BACs above zero (Borkenstein et al. 1964; Blomberg et al. 2009; Peck et al. 2008). The consumption of alcohol decreases an individual’s ability to properly operate a motor vehicle and the greater the level of impairment from alcohol the greater the risk of crash. This is called relative risk – essentially, as a driver’s BAC increases the risk of crashing also increases.

A study conducted in Long Beach, California and Fort Lauderdale, Florida revealed that a notable relationship between risk and BAC begins at .04-.05 and increases exponentially once BACs reach .10 or greater (Blomberg et al. 2009). This means that even driving with an amount of alcohol below the legal limit in one’s system greatly increases the risk of crash. By getting into a vehicle with a driver who has been drinking, a passenger is putting themselves at risk for serious injury or death.

It is also possible that passengers are impaired which can affect their ability to make good decisions and exercise sound judgment. They may not have the wherewithal to see or ask if their driver is sober. This speaks to the importance of planning ahead and making arrangements if one knows that they will be drinking.

Top of Page


6. How often are Canadians passengers in the vehicles of drinking drivers?

TIRF conducted a survey in Canada in 2011 that asked participants if they had been a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone who had been drinking in the last 30 days. The results are shown in the table below.

Table 16:

Region

% of individuals who had been a passenger on one occasion

% of individuals who had been a passenger on at least two occasions

Atlantic Canada

2.5%

2.6%

Quebec

7.7%

7.9%

Ontario

8.5%

4.1%

Prairies

5.3%

4.1%

British Columbia

5.9%

9.4%

National

6.8%

6.7%

* (TIRF 2011)

These results reveal that a not insignificant number of people are knowingly getting into a vehicle with a driver who has been drinking and are unnecessarily putting themselves at risk of injury or death.

It is also important to note that of those surveyed, more people were likely to have gotten into a vehicle with a driver who had been drinking on at least two occasions within a 30 day period thus increasing their risk of being involved in an alcohol-related crash.  

Top of Page


7. Who drinks and drives and how often?

Drinking drivers are not a homogenous group – they come from all walks of life and differ in gender, socioeconomic status, education level, marital status, and employment. There are however, some characteristics that have been identified as being associated with drinking and driving.

According to data collected through self-report surveys, males are more likely to drink and drive than females. Drivers who believe the problem of drinking and driving is not very big were more likely to report driving after drinking. Also, those drivers who believe it is unlikely that they will be involved in a collision after drinking are at higher risk of drinking and driving. An increased number of traffic tickets (excluding parking tickets) within the past year were also associated with drinking and driving as was a decreased level of concern about road safety in general.

    a) Is age a factor in drinking and driving?

Impaired drivers also fall into a range of age categories although the majority of impaired drivers are between 20 and 45 years old. In 2010, the distribution of age among all fatally injured legally impaired drivers revealed for example that 12.3% of all deaths involved 16-19 year olds. The percentages for all age categories are:

  • < 16 years= 1.8%
  • 16-19 years  = 12.3%
  • 20-25 years = 21.1%
  • 26-35 years = 19.8%
  • 36-45 years = 17.3%
  • 46-55 years = 15.5%
  • 55+ years    = 12.2 %

A similar age distribution of drivers occurs when examining the percentage of all drivers involved in alcohol-related (i.e., there was at least one drinking driver or drinking pedestrian in the fatal crash) serious injury crashes:

  • < 16 years = 0.4%
  • 16-19 years = 11.3%
  • 20-25 years = 20.9%
  • 26-35 years = 22.5%
  • 36-45 years = 15.4%
  • 46-55 years = 13.2%
  • 55+ years     = 10.1%
  • Unknown   = 6.0%
  • b) Is gender a factor in impaired driving?

Males accounted for 79.1% of all fatally injured drivers who were over the legal limit in 2010. However, males dominate the picture largely because they account for 70.6% of all drivers killed (1,795 of the 2,541 fatalities in 2010). This is because males drive more than females and because males are more prone to taking risks when driving.

Of all the drivers involved in alcohol-related serious injury crashes, 75.2% were males. Males are also more likely to be involved in alcohol-related serious injury crashes than females (20.7% vs.13.8%). However, in recent years there has been a slight increase in the U.S. of the number of females arrested for impaired driving (McKay 2010).
 
*(Brown, Vanlaar and Mayhew 2013)

Top of Page


8. What types of drivers are at heightened risk of crashing when driving after drinking?

Everyone who drives after drinking increases their risk of crashing. This is because alcohol impairs motor coordination and inhibits the ability of the driver to divide their attention across the multiple tasks involved in driving a motor vehicle. Laboratory studies have revealed that impairment begins as low as a 0.02% blood alcohol concentration (BACs).  Epidemiological studies, however, show that the risk of crashing is relatively low at low BACs but increases dramatically once BACs reach .10% or greater.

Some segments of the population are at greater risk of crashing when driving after drinking even small amounts of alcohol (because they are more vulnerable) and these groups are discussed in more detail below.

  • > Young drinking drivers

A majority of youth do not drive after drinking. More than 90% of alcohol-related deaths involve individuals over the age of 20. Of all age groups, youth account for only a small percentage of the impaired driving problem. However, youth are considered a high risk group because when they do drink and drive, they are much more likely to crash.

Young drivers are at very high risk of crashing after they have consumed even small amounts of alcohol. Their high-risk status can be attributed to two key factors:

  • inexperience driving; and
  • inexperience drinking

Even when sober, 16-19 year olds have a fatal crash rate more than four times as high as that of drivers aged 25-34, and nine times as high as drivers aged 45-54 (Mayhew et al. 2005). Second, as inexperienced drinkers they are more impaired at even low levels of alcohol. Of equal concern, they may also engage in binge drinking (frequently defined as occasions of heavy drinking measured by the consumption of at least 4-5 drinks in one sitting) or excessive consumption of alcohol.

Unfortunately, blood alcohol concentrations over the 0.08% (the legal limit for adults) are not uncommon among young drivers both in Canada and the U.S. For example, in 2010, 33.4% of all fatally injured legally impaired drivers were between the ages of 16-25 (Brown, Vanlaar and Mayhew 2013). Comparable numbers exist in the U.S. as almost 25% of all fatally injured legally impaired drivers were between the ages of 16-24 (NHTSA 2010).

  • a) Why is it more dangerous for youth to drink and drive?

As mentioned above, it is more dangerous for youth to drink and drive for several reasons. First, young drivers have less driving experience and therefore, a lower skill level. Young drivers, particularly those that are 16 and 17 year olds have been a significant road safety concern in both Canada and the U.S. for decades. Research has consistently shown that these drivers have crash rates that are far higher than those of older and more experienced drivers (Mayhew and Simpson 1999; Mayhew et al. 2004).

In fact, drivers under the age of 20 with a zero BAC have a crash risk equivalent to older drivers with a blood alcohol concentration between 0.05% and 0.08% (Mayhew et al. 1986; Blomberg et al. 2005). These elevated crash rates do not only pertain to property damage collisions but also serious injury and fatal collisions. It is also worth noting that this problem not only affects teen drivers but teen passengers and other road users as well because many of them are victims in crashes caused by teen drivers (AAAFTS 2006).

Second, youth also have less experience consuming alcohol and are frequently unfamiliar with the impact it can have on motor coordination and divided attention tasks such as those relevant to driving. It is not uncommon for youth to engage in unsafe drinking practices such as binge drinking (typically defined as occasions of heavy drinking measured by the consumption of at least 4-5 drinks in one sitting; Lange and Voas 2001). While youth consume alcohol less frequently than adults, they tend to drink more in a single sitting – the rates of heavy monthly drinking among youth is almost double that of adults. Of the 82.1% of grade 12 provincial students who consumed alcohol during the one year period from 2007-2008 in Canada, 48% reported consuming five or more drinks on one occasion in the past month (Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse 2011).

 
Those with a tendency to binge drink and/or drink heavily also tend to be risk takers. This behaviour is often considered an age-related factor in crashes as youthful exuberance, risk-taking, and thrill-seeking are all attributes that make this population more susceptible to the impairing effects of alcohol (Mayhew et al. 2006; Peck et al. 2008).   

According to the 2004 Canadian Addiction Survey, the majority of Canadian youth aged 15 and older have consumed alcohol, both in the past year (82.9%) and in their lifetime (90.8%). The average age that these youth are initiated into drinking is 15.6 years. Similar numbers exist in the U.S. as the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that about 10.1 million Americans between ages 12-20 report current alcohol consumption; this represents nearly 26% of this age group for whom alcohol consumption is illegal (SAMHSA 2008). The good news is that the other 74% are not consuming alcohol.

Statistics such as these are concerning because the earlier the age of onset of alcohol consumption, the greater the likelihood that alcohol usage may develop into an addiction. The earlier youth start drinking, the more likely they are to drink heavily on a frequent basis and they are also more likely to report alcohol-related harm (National Alcohol Strategy Working Group 2007). The use of substances, such as alcohol, at a young age is also identified as a precursor to involvement in illegal activity such as impaired driving (Alexander 2000).

Although youth may refrain from drinking and driving, it remains a source of continued concern and an important social issue. For the reasons outlined, youth should be targeted as they have the greatest potential for change, and of greater concern, the greatest potential to become the repeat or hardcore offenders of tomorrow.

  • b) How many youth face criminal sanctions for impaired driving in Canada and the United States?

The magnitude of the problem is also clearly illustrated by the number of impaired driving charges and court cases among youth on both sides of the border. In Canada in 2008, there were 1,138 youth under the age of 18 charged with impaired driving (Taylor-Butts 2008). Data from 2011 also shows that the rate of persons charged with impaired driving was highest among those aged 20-24 (over 600 charged per 100,000 population) Those in the youngest age group, aged 16 to 19 years old, had rates of impaired driving accusations 40% lower than those drivers aged 20-24 (Perreault 2013).

In the United States, Uniform Crime Reports for 2012 from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reveal that a total of 7,236 charges were laid against youth under age 18 for impaired driving and a total of 255,549 youth under 25 were charged with impaired driving in 2012 (FBI 2013). As is the case in Canada, youth aged 21 were most frequently charged.

  • c) What types of penalties are imposed on youth who drive while impaired?

Common penalties that are imposed with this population include fines, probation supervision, and, in some cases, treatment. To date, not much is known about effective strategies to manage young drunk drivers. The bottom line is that young impaired drivers demand attention for two reasons – not only are they at risk of becoming the high risk repeat drunk drivers of tomorrow, but they are also more amenable to behaviour change.

> Female drunk drivers

Female impaired drivers are one type of offender that is a growing concern. Historically, the impaired driving problem has always been attributed to men but in recent years the number of females convicted of impaired driving has increased. In 2006, 24.6% of fatally injured female drivers tested positive for alcohol use. This number increased to 28.4% in 2007. During the same period, the percentage of fatally injured male drivers who tested positive for alcohol use decreased slightly from 41.0% to 40.5%. With regard to sex distribution among the total number of fatally injured drivers in Canada in 2006, 72 out of 440 (16.4%) were female. This percentage dropped to 15.0% in 2007 (65 out of 432).

American studies have found that although men still account for nearly 80% of the arrests for impaired driving, there was a 28.8% increase in the number of impaired driving arrests among women in the decade between 1997 and 2007 (McKay 2010). The 2008 report on Crime in the United States revealed an even greater difference in 1999: a 35% increase in impaired driving arrests of women. By contrast, in the same period, total impaired driving arrests involving men actually decreased by 6.6%.

These trends are worrisome, especially given the fact that if both genders consume the same amount of alcohol, women’s blood alcohol concentration will be higher due to physiological differences between genders.

Also of some concern, most drunk driving countermeasures have been developed to target male offenders. Some research suggests that women have better outcomes with gender sensitive interventions, particular with regard to treatment (White and Hennessey 2007). For this reason, there is a need to review the extent to which these programs are appropriate for females and to develop measures specifically for women.

> Legal drinking drivers

The majority of people who drive after drinking do so rarely and when they do, they usually have low blood alcohol concentrations. As one indication of this, roadside surveys in Canada show that about 80% of drinking drivers have a blood alcohol concentration under the legal limit. For drivers with low BACs, the risk of being involved in a serious crash is relatively low, compared to the average non-drinking driver. Such risk also varies as a function of age and gender (Zador et al. 2000) but a blood alcohol concentration 0.03% are associated with about a two- to three-fold increase in risk and BACs of .05 have between a 6 and 17 times increase in risk. So while those drivers with blood alcohol concentration below the legal limit have a lower crash risk relative to those drivers with a blood alcohol concentration over the legal limit of 0.08%; they still have a higher crash risk relative to those drivers who do not consume alcohol.

This group, although less at risk of causing a serious crash than drivers with high-BACs, comprises a large group of drinking drivers, so collectively they need to be deterred. Fortunately, there is evidence that such individuals are more amenable to traditional interventions such as conducting high visibility enforcement, which creates general deterrence and increases the perceived risk of arrest.

> First offenders

First offenders account for a large portion of the impaired driving problem. Once a drunk driver is arrested, research shows that about two-thirds of them will be deterred by their experience with the criminal justice system and will not be apprehended again (Voas and Fisher 2001). However, approximately one-third will re-offend. Some of these first offenders are likely to have an alcohol dependency issue which increases the likelihood that they will recidivate (Rauch 2005). As a result, there is a need to consider screening and/or assessment even for first offenders, especially those with a high-BAC in order to identify those who are at an elevated level of risk.

> Repeat offenders or hardcore drunk drivers

An estimated 30% of impaired driving offenders are repeat offenders. These offenders are more likely to:

  • drink and drive frequently;
  • often at high-BACs;
  • have a history of prior convictions; and,
  • may have alcohol dependency issues.

They are also relatively resistant to changing their behaviour as evidenced by their continued offending even after they have faced penalties and other negative consequences. Even though these offenders represent a relatively small portion of the driving population (an estimated 1% of night time drivers on the road), they account for nearly two-thirds (65%) of all alcohol-related driver fatalities and are responsible for making 84% of all drinking and driving trips. In other words, they drink and drive more frequently than any other type of impaired driver.

a) Why do repeat offenders present a greater risk on the road?

These offenders also tend to drink excessively which puts them at very high risk of causing a serious crash. To illustrate, research shows that drivers with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15% are about 150 times more likely to have a fatal crash than the average non-drinking driver. At a BAC of 0.20% or higher this risk increases to some 460 times (Simpson et al. 1996). Although such drivers account for only a small proportion of all night-time drivers on the road (less than 1%) their high risk makes them a significant threat (Simpson and Mayhew 1991).

b) Do repeat offenders share common characteristics?

While impaired drivers as a whole are often very different and come from all walks of life, repeat or hardcore offenders tend to share several common characteristics:

  • male;
  • aged 25-45;
  • have a high school education or less;
  • lower socioeconomic status;
  • tend to be single, divorced, or separated;
  • aggressive and hostile;
  • sensation seeking;
  • have driving problems; and,
  • have alcohol dependency and abuse issues.

A particularly challenging group of offenders, these highest risk offenders need a strategy that is anchored in a combination of punishment, surveillance, and treatment. Strategies to reinforce positive behaviour should also be implemented to encourage behaviour change. 

c) How much do hardcore drunk drivers contribute to the problem?

Although hardcore drinking drivers are a relatively small group in the total driving population, they continue to account for a very large portion of the impaired driving problem, including fatal and serious injury crashes. They account for almost one-third (27%) of all fatally injured drivers and about two-thirds (65%) of all fatally injured drivers who are drinking (Simpson et al. 1996). To illustrate the impact that this subgroup of offenders has, consider the following:

  • hardcore drinking drivers account for only 1% of all drivers on the road at night during the weekend, but they represent nearly half of all fatal crashes that occur during that time;
  • among fatally injured drivers who were legally impaired, 79% had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15% or above;
  • over 60% of seriously injured drivers have a blood alcohol concentration in excess of 0.15%;
  • the hardcore impaired driver is estimated nationally to account for 15-20% of all drivers injured in all road crashes;
  • drivers with high BACs are over 200 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than the average non-drinking driver and those with a blood alcohol concentration in excess of 0.20% are 460 times more likely to be involved in a crash; and,
  • about 84% of all drinking and driving trips are accounted for by only 10% of all drivers who by their frequent driving after drinking behaviour are considered to be hardcore.

d) What strategies are available to deal with hardcore offenders?

Given that the hardcore offender poses such a significant risk on the roadways, attention should be focused on how to prevent them from getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol. Some strategies for dealing with the hardcore offender are as follows:

  • develop a progressive sentencing system that would apply more severe penalties to repeat offenders as well as to first offenders with high BACs;
  • require mandatory clinical assessment for all repeat offenders and first offenders with high BACs to determine whether or not there are alcohol dependency issues present;
  • require treatment for offenders found to have moderate to serious alcohol dependency issues and pose a high-risk of recidivating;
  • impose a substantial licence suspension period in conjunction with the use of an alcohol ignition interlock to obtain a limited driver’s licence;
  • ensure the seizure and impoundment of vehicles at roadside for all offenders found to be driving while suspended; and,
  • impose a mandatory interlock sanction for all repeat offenders.

The hardcore offender represents a constant and serious threat to the safety of everyone on the road. As a result, it is important to identify these individuals and not only separate their drinking from driving but to also target the underlying causes of their criminal behaviour by prioritizing them for referrals to treatment services that are tailored to their individual needs (Williams et al. 2000).

Top of Page


9. What is the difference between first and repeat offenders?

There has been considerable debate about whether or not there truly is a first-time impaired driving offender. Research demonstrates that many drunk driving offenders can drink and drive more than 200 times before being detected and apprehended (Beck et al. 1999). Therefore, the term first offender often refers to the first time the driver has been caught, as opposed to the first time they have driven while impaired. The reality is that many first offenders are in fact repeat offenders who have managed to avoid detection and arrest.

First offenders have also been found to make up a large portion of the impaired driving problem as they account for a majority of drunk driving offences in many jurisdictions. Research has shown that about two-thirds of these offenders will be deterred by their experience with the criminal justice system and will not be apprehended again (Voas and Fisher 2001). In other words, these individuals recognize that they made a mistake and will not repeat it in the future. For these people, the administrative and criminal penalties that they faced combined with the embarrassment of being arrested for impaired driving serves as a learning experience.

Repeat offenders are more difficult to deter using traditional administrative or criminal penalties as demonstrated by their continual offending even when faced with the threat of additional punishment. These individuals do not learn from their negative experiences and continue to drink and drive, often with a suspended or revoked licence. As a result, this group of offenders is more challenging to deal with because consequences seemingly have no effect on their behaviour.

One potential explanation for the continued drunk driving of repeat offenders is alcohol dependency. These offenders typically suffer from some degree of alcohol abuse or addiction which explains their reduced capacity to control their behaviour and reluctance to change. While research has found that many first offenders also suffer from alcohol addiction (Rauch 2005), the occurrence of dependency is much higher among repeat offenders. In an effort to address this problem, it is suggested that all offenders arrested for impaired driving undergo screening for alcohol abuse to determine if assessment and possibly treatment are needed. To reduce the likelihood of ANY impaired driving offender recidivating, proper steps such as these should be taken to address any underlying issues that may be causing the illegal behaviour.    

The distinction between first and repeat offenders is further complicated when taking BAC level into account. High-BACs (.15 or above) are one of the identifying characteristics of the hardcore/repeat impaired driving offender. However, many first offenders also frequently drive with high-BACs that are more than twice the legal limit and, therefore, have a significant risk of crashing (Rauch 2005). This risk does not however, match that of repeat offenders who are responsible for a larger proportion of alcohol-related deaths and injuries (Borkenstein et al. 1964; Simpson et al. 2004; Blomberg et al. 2009). 

As one can see, impaired driving offenders do not necessarily fall into clearly defined categories. The debate will continue with regard to which offender population should remain the primary area of focus – first offenders who account for a greater portion of the impaired driving problem or repeat offenders who are at heightened risk of crashing.

Top of Page

Last updated February 2014

 

Follow us on Twitter   Facebook   Youtube 
Sponsored by
Sponsored by Beer Canada Traffic Injury Research Foundation Arrive Alive ACART
Disclaimer | Privacy Policy | | RSS