UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Police documentation of drug use in injured drivers : Implications for monitoring and preventing drug-impaired driving Brubacher, Jeffrey; Chan, Herbert; Erdelyi, Shannon; Asbridge, Mark; Mann, Robert E.; Purssell, Roy; Solomon, Robert


Introduction: Most countries have laws against driving while impaired by drugs. However, in many countries, including Canada and the United States, police must have individualized suspicion that the driver has recently used an impairing substance before they can gather the evidence required for laying a criminal charge. This report studies police documentation of drug involvement among drivers who had a motor-vehicle crash after using an impairing substance. Methods: We obtained blood samples and police reports on injured drivers treated in participating British Columbia trauma centres following a crash. Blood was analyzed for alcohol, cannabinoids, other recreational drugs, and impairing medications. Corresponding police reports were examined to determine whether police recorded that the driver’s ability was impaired by alcohol, drug or medication, or that one of these substances was a possible contributory factor in the crash. Results: We obtained blood samples and corresponding police reports on 1816 injured drivers. Mean driver age was 44 years, 63.2% were male, and 25.8% were admitted to hospital. Alcohol was detected in 272 drivers (15.0%), THC (tetrahydrocannabinol - the principal psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) in 136 (7.5%), other recreational drugs in 166 (9.1%), and potentially impairing medications in 363 (20.0%). Police reported that the driver’s ability was impaired by alcohol or that alcohol was a possible contributory factor in 64.1% of the crashes involving alcohol-positive drivers. Drug impairment or drugs as a possible contributory factor was reported in 5.9% of the crashes involving THC-positive drivers, and in 16.9% of the crashes involving drivers who tested positive for other recreational drugs. Medication impairment was reported in only 2.2% of the crashes involving medication-positive drivers. Conclusion: Police seldom document drug involvement in drivers who were in a crash after using cannabis, other recreational drugs or potentially impairing medications. This finding raises serious concerns about the ability of the police to effectively enforce current drug-impaired driving laws and public health officials’ continued reliance on police crash reports to monitor the prevalence of drug-impaired driving.

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