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As pandemic restrictions eased, impaired driving increased, report says

When the pandemic first started, dangerous driving behaviours across Canada declined due to less traffic, but by 2021 those behaviours increased again.
1112 Special-Impaired file
“Particularly, marijuana was more prevalent among fatally-injured drivers compared with alcohol (32.7 per cent versus 28.3 per cent), and opioid use among drivers doubled,” the report said. FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

As pandemic lockdowns across Canada have eased, impaired driving charges have increased in many municipalities.

According to a recent report issued by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, nearly 10 per cent of drivers on the road said they have driven while they thought they were over the legal limit.

Data from five American trauma centres showed there was an increase in alcohol and drug-impaired driving compared to pre-pandemic numbers. Between March and July 2020 there was a 26-per-cent increase in serious or fatally injured drivers who were over the legal limit with alcohol, while there was an increase of 27 per cent for those with drugs in their system.

“Particularly, marijuana was more prevalent among fatally-injured drivers compared with alcohol (32.7 per cent versus 28.3 per cent), and opioid use among drivers doubled,” the report said.

When the pandemic first started, dangerous driving behaviours across Canada declined due to less traffic, but by 2021 those behaviours increased again.

In Saskatoon, there was a 46-per-cent decrease in speeding tickets between 2019 and 2020, however in the past year tickets have increased by 25 per cent.

But seven per cent of Canadians admitted they were more likely to excessively speed, going 20 km/h more than the posted speed limit during the pandemic as compared to before. In 2020, only five per cent of drivers said they would use excessive speed.

“In 2021, drivers who indicated they were more likely to speed during the pandemic were asked to indicate the main reason for speeding. More than half of drivers (60.2 per cent) cited fewer vehicles on the road as the main reason for exceeding the speed limit, and 17.5 per cent stated it was because they felt there were fewer police patrols,” the report read.

While drivers were more likely to use excessive speed during the restriction phase of the pandemic, drivers were less likely to be distracted behind the wheel.

A total of 7.4 per cent of Canadians admitted they were more likely to drive distracted during the pandemic, as compared to before COVID-19. In 2020, 4.2 per cent of drivers reported this, corresponding to a significant increase between 2020 and 2021.

While some drivers did note an increase in distracted driving, the report said 23 per cent of drivers were less likely to be distracted while behind the wheel.

“When asked about whether they had trouble focusing on the driving task during the pandemic compared to their level of focus while driving before COVID-19, a sizable proportion of respondents (12.4 per cent) admitted to experiencing this issue in 2021,” the report read.

Previously, a total of 9.1 per cent of drivers indicated they had trouble focusing while driving during the pandemic in 2020, resulting in a significant increase.

Drivers who had trouble focusing on the road were distracted by thoughts unrelated to driving, and were worried about the pandemic while on the road.

“This may be a result of the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and the greater level of uncertainly at the beginning of the pandemic, which could have caused drivers to be more preoccupied while driving with concerns such as personal health, the health of loved ones, and the possible negative impacts on income, and financial stability,” the report read.

“Such issues might still be a prevalent concern in 2021, but it is possible there would be fewer feelings of ambiguity and less focus on these concerns later during the pandemic as people become more accustomed to the new normal.”


Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

About the Author: Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Great West Media based in St. Albert, Alta.
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