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Alcohol is a major factor in the death toll on our highways. More than 1,100 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes in Canada in 2007, the latest year for which figures are available. A recently-released study prepared by the Traffic Research Foundation of Canada (TIRF) for Transport Canada and the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators also found that single vehicle crashes, with young male adults at the wheel accounted for the highest incidence of alcohol involvement.

TIRF says 3,045 people died in motor vehicle crashes across Canada in 2007 and that in more than 90 per cent of these cases, researchers were able to determine whether or not alcohol was a factor. Of these known cases, 37 per cent involved alcohol. Extrapolating these numbers indicates 1,127 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes in Canada in 2007.

Broken down by age, those in the 20-35 year-old age group accounted for the highest incidence of alcohol involvement, followed by teens and 36-45 year-olds. Canadians over the age of 55 had the lowest incidence of alcohol involvement. Of those drivers who had been drinking and died in crashes during the period more than 80 per cent had blood alcohol levels in excess of 0.08. The vast majority had a blood alcohol content of more than 160 mg or 0.160 with the next highest number in the 0.081 - 0.16 range.

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Some more facts about these deaths:

  • 80.4 per cent were male
  • 67.2 per cent were owner-operators
  • 20.7 per cent were passengers
  • 11.7 per cent were pedestrians
  • 43.7 per cent of the deaths occurred in automobiles
  • 27.3 per cent in a truck or van
  • 11.1 per cent in an off-road vehicle
  • 5.6 per cent on a motorcycle

Drinking drivers were shown to be more likely to crash on their own. The study shows that more than half the drivers killed in single vehicle crashes had alcohol in their bloodstream compared to less than 20 per cent in multiple vehicle crashes.

TIRF started gathering data on alcohol and motor vehicle fatalities in 1974, adding information on serious injury to its database starting in 1995. Because of its extensive database and history of studying this issue, TIRF was able to compare these 2007 results to those from earlier periods. The number of people killed on our highways each year had been steadily declining in the earlier period from 3,031 in 1996 to 2,645 in 2001, the average being 2,921. The per cent of those where alcohol was involved averaged 33.1 per cent. For the entire period from 1995 to 2007 that number has varied within the range of 29.7 per cent to 38.8 per cent.

In this latest study TIRF was able to add the category of "serious injury" to its database and comparisons. During the period 1995-2007, the number of Canadian drivers seriously injured in crashes involving alcohol declined only slightly from 21.3 per cent to 19 per cent.

Finally, let's look at the number of fatalities by province during the period of this study - 2007. Obviously the numbers closely reflect the population and includes victims of crashes that occurred off-road (ATV, snowmobile) and on private property (farms, industrial sites). Ontario has the dubious distinction of leading the pack at 914 deaths followed by Quebec at 604 with B.C. and Alberta almost tied at 475 and 471 respectively.

The Ottawa-based TIRF was established in 1964. It is Canada's road safety research institute, a world-renowned source for international research related to the human causes and effects of road safety crashes.

The report was prepared by TIRF for Transport Canada and the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators, a non-profit organization comprising representatives of the provincial, territorial and federal governments who deal with licensing, registration and highway safety.

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