Roadside Surveys of Alcohol and Drug Use in Canada’s North

Author(s): Beirness, Boase|Beirness, Boase

Slidedeck Presentation Only:



Background/Context: Roadside surveys of drug and alcohol use among nighttime drivers provide valuable information about the prevalence of the behaviour as well as the circumstances and characteristics of those who engage in it. Such surveys have been conducted periodically in various jurisdictions in Canada. The technique is well-suited to large urban areas but has never been attempted in communities in the Territories.

Aims/Objectives: The objective was to adapt the roadside survey methodology to small communities to assess the prevalence of alcohol and drug use among nighttime drivers in the Yukon and Northwest Territories.

Methods/Targets: The standard roadside survey technique was adapted to better suit the smaller communities in the North. Drivers were interviewed at three pre-selected locations in Whitehorse and Yellowknife between the hours of 21:00 and 03:00 on each of Wednesday through Saturday nights. Drivers answered a few brief questions and were asked to provide a breath test to assess alcohol use and an oral fluid sample which was subsequently sent to a toxicology laboratory to assess the use of common drugs (e.g., cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine).

Results/Activities: Approximately 300 drivers in each community provided voluntary breath and oral fluid samples. The extent of alcohol use was somewhat higher than that found in other surveys and the proportion of drivers who tested positive for drugs was noticeably higher. Cannabis was the most commonly detected substance.

Discussion/Deliverables: With relatively minor modifications to the usual roadside survey method, it is possible to obtain information on the extent alcohol and drug use among drivers in smaller communities. The availability of suitable survey sites and the relatively low traffic volumes were challenges. Nevertheless, the results provide valuable information about the differences in alcohol and drug use by drivers in the North. The data also provide directions for future countermeasure activities.

Conclusions: These surveys provide evidence of higher alcohol and drug use rates among drivers in Canada's northern Territories. The results also reveal where educational and enforcement activities can be targeted to help reduce the prevalence of alcohol and drug use among drivers.