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Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction

The effects of drug-impaired driving (DID) are underreported and therefore not well understood in Canada. Our country has an incomplete picture of the DID problem. Without additional and more detailed data, it is difficult to effectively address the causes of the issue. However, we do know that the blood of nearly half of the drivers who died in 2016 tested positive for impairing drugs.

CCSA created a project to help address measuring DID in Canada. We collected challenges, potential solutions and recommendations from DID experts across the country. We then formed an expert DID Indicators Advisory Committee to review the evidence, provide practical expertise and develop recommendations for measuring the effects of DID.

The Advisory Committee recommended 34 indicators for enhancing and standardizing the collection of DID data in Canada. Implementing these indicators will help:

  • Reduce DID injuries and fatalities.
  • Offer a better understanding of DID in Canada and accurately present the issue on a national level.
  • Provide data to create targeted training courses, to direct resources or to create strategic plans that effectively address the issue.
  • Support the work of policy makers, decision makers, and road and public safety practitioners.

The 34 recommended indicators were developed to be standardized across agencies, jurisdictions and nationally through recommended common collection and reporting criteria. The indicators span four categories for DID data collection, involving a variety of sectors and agencies at the municipal, provincial, territorial and federal levels. They are:

  • Medical (hospital injury data, coroner and medical examiner data)
  • Legal (law enforcement incident and resource use data, court data)
  • Transportation (motor vehicle department driver record data, roadside surveys of passenger light-duty vehicle drivers and commercial vehicle drivers)
  • Public

CCSA has created a suite of resources related to each of these categories. Each product reviews the respective recommended indicators and explains why collecting these data are needed and the implications of implementing them on a national level.

 

Indicators Report

Measuring the Effects of Drug-Impaired Driving: Recommendations for National Indicators Report

Most data on DID comes from criminal charges and deaths. if we want to better understand and reduce DID, data is needed from other sources, like hospitalized drivers, roadside surveys, courts and public surveys.

The DID Indicators Advisory Committee recommended 34 indicators to better measure, understand and address the issue.

These indicators have been designated into three categories:

  • Types of DID data that are already being collected,
  • Suggested adjustments to current DID data collection, and
  • New DID data that should be collected.

The Measuring the Impact of Drug-Impaired Driving: Recommendations for National Indicators report outlines the recommended indicators across the nine areas. The report looks at each area of focus and analyzes the:

  • Objectives for collecting the data
  • Data sources for collecting the data
  • Potential limitations of collecting the data
  • Implementation challenges and suggestions

34 Recommended Indicators Infographic

The DID Indicators Advisory Committee recommended 34 indicators spread across nine areas to better measure, understand and address DID. This infographic places a spotlight on the list of the indicators and how they are classed into each of the nine areas.

National Implications

Measuring the Effects of Drug-Impaired Driving: Recommendations for National Indicators Report

Most data on DID comes from criminal charges and deaths. if we want to better understand and reduce DID, data is needed from other sources, like hospitalized drivers, roadside surveys, courts and public surveys.

The DID Indicators Advisory Committee recommended 34 indicators to better measure, understand and address the issue.

These indicators have been designated into three categories:

  • Types of DID data that are already being collected,
  • Suggested adjustments to current DID data collection, and
  • New DID data that should be collected.

The Measuring the Impact of Drug-Impaired Driving: Recommendations for National Indicators report outlines the recommended indicators across the nine areas. The report looks at each area of focus and analyzes the:

  • Objectives for collecting the data
  • Data sources for collecting the data
  • Potential limitations of collecting the data
  • Implementation challenges and suggestions

Medical

Hospital Injuries

Hospital injuries related to drug-impaired driving (DID) is a growing concern in Canada. Of hospitalized drivers tested in 2018–2019*:

  • Almost half tested positive for impairing substances.
  • About 17% tested positive for alcohol.
  • About 40% tested positive for one or more other drugs, including cannabis, sedatives, central nervous system stimulants and opiates.

*Data from Brubacher et al., 2019

No agency nor organization systematically screens hospitalized drivers for potential drug use or impairment. Most data available in this area is typically from specific studies on hospitalized drivers. Given that serious injuries related to impaired driving far out number fatalities (Brown et al., 2021), it is equally important to collect and study data on injured drivers and to connect data between all individuals involved in collisions (e.g., passengers, pedestrians, cyclists).

To capture hospital injury data more efficiently, the Drug-Impaired Driving Indicators Advisory Committee recommends:

  • four indicators featuring seven types of data collection for enhancing and standardizing DID injury data collected in hospitals across Canada;
  • when collecting blood samples from injured drivers, where possible hospitals also conduct a toxicology screen and record the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), alcohol and other drugs according to the Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) drug categories; and
  • standardizing the collection, reporting, and analysis of hospital injury data across all hospitals in Canada.

Coroners and Medical Examiners

Coroners and medical examiners provide one of the two major sources of data (law enforcement is the other) used to understand and address DID in Canada. They collect information on people who are killed in vehicle crashes.

Examining this data can help identify potentially high-risk and vulnerable groups as well as the most common drugs found in fatally injured drivers.

To capture coroner and medical examiner data more efficiently, the Advisory Committee recommends:

  • two indicators featuring four types of data collection for enhancing and standardizing DID fatality data collected by coroners and medical examiners across Canada;
  • coroners and medical examiners collaborate on the development of national standards for conducting death investigations and collecting DID fatality data; and
  • investing in a centralized reporting body or electronic reporting system to store and share data to achieve greater consistency, easier access to fatality data and quicker reporting of results.

Legal

Law Enforcement Incident and Resource Use Data

Law enforcement bears a substantial burden of the costs and resources needed to manage and respond to impaired driving issues. Costs can include:

  • purchasing equipment (e.g., breathalyzers),
  • paying for toxicology tests and
  • funding initial and ongoing officer training.

Resource use can also require:

  • staff time to respond to and conduct Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) evaluations,
  • time to attend drug-impaired driving (DID) court sessions,
  • time to fill requests for a DRE investigation of suspected impaired drivers, and
  • time to take training.

It is important to understand the relationship between investment in these various resources and its impact on reducing DID. This can help determine where investments are sufficient, where there may be gaps and where there are opportunities for improvement. To fully understand the impact of investments, it is necessary to collect data that attempts to connect the resource (e.g., funding, time, equipment) to the outcomes (e.g., number of DID incidents, rate of DID detections, use of DID-related equipment). Not enough DID (outcome) data is collected to accurately measure these potential relationships.

To capture law enforcement incident data related to DID more efficiently, the Drug-Impaired Driving Indicators Advisory Committee recommends:

  • seven indicators featuring 12 types of data collection by law enforcement officers for enhancing and standardizing DID data across Canada;
  • Regular reviews or audits of law enforcement practices related to data collection and analysis to help achieve greater alignment across law enforcement agencies; and
  • Establishing a centralized body in Canada to store law enforcement incident DID data to improve data sharing, resource use, and interagency efforts and co-operation needed to effectively manage and prevent DID across Canada.

To capture law enforcement resource use data more efficiently, the Advisory Committee recommends:

  • two indicators featuring five types of data collection for law enforcement agencies to expand, enhance and standardize DID incident data across Canada;
  • data collection, analysis and reporting be standardized across Canadian law enforcement agencies to help with collaboration across all levels of enforcement; and
  • establishing a centralized body in Canada to store law enforcement DID resource data to improve data sharing, resource use, and interagency efforts and co-operation needed to effectively manage and prevent DID across Canada.

Court Data

Data on DID cases that pass through the courts can tell Canada more about drivers, serious collisions and the impact arrests and convictions may have on reducing and preventing DID.

Expanding and standardizing DID court data collected across Canada and making this information accessible to agencies beyond the justice system can improve collaboration and help reduce and prevent DID, serious injuries and deaths.

To capture court data more efficiently, the Advisory Committee recommends:

  • three indicators featuring six types of data collection for justice departments to enhance and standardize DID court data in Canada;
  • making improvements to ensure data are accurately entered into shared systems in a timely manner by law enforcement and judicial agencies; and
  • people working in the justice system pursuing all relevant DID cases, rather than focusing solely on the alcohol conviction to build on their DID expertise.

Transportation

Commercial Vehicle Operator Data

Little is known about the extent of drug-impaired driving (DID) among commercial vehicle drivers and the impact it has on other road users. Given the heightened risk for collision, serious injury and death that large commercial vehicles pose to other road users, it is important to explore DID among this population of drivers.

To capture commercial vehicle operator data more efficiently, the Drug-Impaired Driving Indicators Advisory Committee recommends:

  • four indicators featuring seven types of data collection to expand, enhance and standardize roadside survey data collected from commercial vehicle operators in Canada;
  • establishing a formal funding mechanism to support the regular collection and reporting of roadside survey data from across Canada; and
  • establishing procedures to ensure the safe transportation of drivers who are found to be impaired and their vehicles, while protecting their anonymity and confidentiality.

Passenger and Light-Duty Vehicle Operator Data

Roadside surveys give a glimpse into the everyday driving habits of people living in Canada. Drivers are asked questions about recent substance use, which can be verified by oral fluid samples taken during the survey.

Having more accurate information about who is driving impaired, under which substances and when (e.g., day, time, etc.) can help identify groups at higher risk of driving impaired and help tailor public education and prevention efforts to meet their needs.

To capture roadside survey data more efficiently from drivers of passenger and light-duty vehicles, the Advisory Committee recommends:

  • four indicators featuring six types of data collection to expand, enhance and standardize roadside survey data of passenger and light-duty vehicle operators in Canada; and
  • establishing a formal funding mechanism to support the regular collection and reporting of roadside survey data from across Canada.

Motor Vehicle Division Data

Motor vehicle divisions (MVDs) store the collective driving history (within a specified period) of all licensed drivers in their region. However, MVDs do not receive consistent, accurate DID data in a timely manner from responding agencies like law enforcement and hospitals to include in their records. Ensuring MVDs receive this data can more effectively tailor public education and prevention efforts to the needs of at-risk groups.

Having more information about DID re-offence rates may help explain which punitive measures (i.e., criminal convictions, fines, suspensions) or combination of measures could be effective at deterring DID.

To capture motor vehicle division data more efficiently, the Advisory Committee recommends:

  • five indicators featuring 10 types of data collection to enhance and standardize DID driver record data reported to MVD by responding agencies, like law enforcement, hospitals and courts; and
  • MVDs reporting DID data at a high level and focus on overall data, such as number of sanctions issued in broad categories (e.g., suspensions, fines, vehicle impoundment), rather than attempting to focus on specific analyses.

Public

Most of the indicators recommended across other agencies measure drug-impaired driving based on incidents yet tell us little about driver knowledge, perceptions and self-reported behaviours related to drug-impaired driving (DID).

To develop tools to educate and help prevent DID, it is necessary to understand why certain drivers engage in these dangerous driving habits and why others do not. Conducting research with drivers is the primary method of obtaining this information.

Although there are various methods to collecting these data (e.g., interviews, focus groups), surveys are the most common approach given their relative ease at collecting large amounts of data. Surveys are valuable for conducting relatively quick examinations of DID issues, while interviews and focus groups are important to examining reasons and decision making among drivers. While a few Canadian drug use surveys include select questions on DID, there are no national surveys dedicated to the collection of DID public opinion data on a regular basis.

To capture public opinion data related to DID more efficiently, the Drug-Impaired Driving Indicators Advisory Committee recommends:

  • one new data indicator to expand, enhance and standardize public opinion data on DID across Canada; and
  • developing a stand-alone survey for DID while continuing to incorporate DID questions on other national drug use surveys, like the Canadian Alcohol and Drugs Survey (formerly Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drug Survey) and the Canadian Cannabis Survey.

 

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