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Friday, November 7, 2003

Impaired driving and other traffic offences


The national rate of impaired driving incidents declined 4% in 2002 following a small increase in 2001. The rate is now 65% lower than the peak observed in 1981 and with the decline in 2002, the rate has resumed its two-decade downward trend.

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Police reported about 81,000 incidents of impaired driving, or a rate of 321 incidents for every 100,000 people aged 16 and over. Of these incidents, police charged about 67,000 drivers with impaired driving in 2002. This number was equivalent to a rate of 265 drivers for every 100,000 people aged 16 and over, a 5% decline from the year before. Between 1992 and 2002, the rate of people charged with impaired driving has dropped 45%.

While most indicators point to a real decline in impaired driving incidents, some of the decrease in charges may be due to the increased use of discretionary procedures used by police, such as road-side suspensions. Police-reported impaired driving statistics may have been influenced downward by a variety of other factors, including changing attitudes and behaviours with respect to impaired driving, the aging population and the level of police enforcement activity.

Note to readers

Data used in this release primarily include police-reported statistics from the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey and data from the Adult Criminal Court Survey. The number of police incidents and charges will not match the number of cases processed in court, because of differences in survey coverage, time period between police response and court appearance, changes in the type of charge, and/or dropping of charges.

The incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR2) survey captures detailed information on individual criminal incidents reported to police, including characteristics of victims, accused persons and incidents. A subset of the UCR2 database, the UCR2 Research database, was used for the current Juristat. Data from this non-representative sample accounted for 56% of the national volume of crime. The UCR2 Research database includes 94 police agencies in 9 provinces.

Highest rates of impaired driving reported among young drivers

Young drivers aged 19 to 24 continue to have the highest rates for impaired driving, according to data available from 94 police departments in nine provinces, representing 56% of all reported criminal incidents. These data indicate that the rates of impaired driving peak at age 21. Rates level off and remain relatively constant for 25 to 44 year olds, followed by a drop in rates with persons aged 45 and over. Seniors aged 65 years and older had the lowest rates.

Saskatchewan had highest rate of impaired driving charges

Nearly all provinces reported declines in 2002 in both the number and rate of people charged with impaired driving. The single exception was Quebec, where the rate remained relatively stable.

Among the provinces, Saskatchewan had the highest rate of impaired driving charges, 618 for every 100,000 people aged 16 and over, although this was an 11% decline from 2001. Newfoundland and Labrador had the lowest rate (183), a 19% decline and the biggest among the provinces.

Among the 25 census metropolitan areas, Regina reported the highest rate of people charged with impaired driving - 383 for every 100,000 population aged 16 and older, followed by Trois-Rivières (355), Saskatoon (345) and Thunder Bay (293).

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Seven of the 25 census metropolitan areas reported increases in the rate. The largest increases were reported by police in Sherbrooke (+11%) and Saguenay (+9%).

Among the nine largest census metropolitan areas (those with populations more than 500,000) the two reporting the highest rates were Calgary (272) and Edmonton (244).

For the second consecutive year, Vancouver (135) and Hamilton (130) reported the lowest rates.

Traffic violations causing death and bodily harm generally decreasing

According to police-reported data, the overall rate of Criminal Code traffic incidents that involve fatalities or bodily harm has been generally decreasing. The rate of incidents involving fatalities has been reduced by more than one-half since 1986, declining from 2.4 incidents for every 100,000 persons aged 16 and over in 1986, to a rate of one incident per 100,000 persons aged 16 years and over in 2001 and 2002. Impaired driving was a factor in almost half (47%) of all incidents causing death in 2002.

In the case of traffic violations resulting in injuries, most of the 41% decline since 1986 is associated with a reduction in injuries related to impaired driving incidents (a 49% decline).

Higher conviction rates for impaired driving

Of the more than 452,000 cases heard in the courts in 2001/02, nearly 53,000, or about 12%, involved impaired driving offences. This was the largest offence category and compares to 11% for common assault and 9% for theft.

Just under three-quarters (73%) of cases involving impaired driving resulted in a conviction, somewhat higher than 60% for all Criminal Code offences, 50% for violent crimes and 62% for property crimes.

Number and rate1of persons charged with impaired driving, province/territory


  2001 2002 2001 to 20022
      % change
Number 68,986  66,682   
Rate 278  265  -4.7
Newfoundland and Labrador      
Number 988 799  
Rate 227 183 -19.2
Prince Edward Island      
Number 424 392  
Rate 385 351 -8.8
Nova Scotia      
Number 2,049 1,925  
Rate 269 251 -6.7
New Brunswick      
Number 2,166 1,915  
Rate 353 311 -12.0
Number 16,717 16,762  
Rate 278 276 -0.6
Number 19,993 19,445  
Rate 211 202 -4.5
Number 2,948 2,732  
Rate 330 304 -7.7
Number 5,444 4,855  
Rate 693 618 -10.8
Number 10,523 10,186  
Rate 441 417 -5.4
British Columbia      
Number 7,278 7,125  
Rate 219 211 -3.5
Number 150 180  
Rate 638 764 19.9
Northwest Territories      
Number 252 311  
Rate 850 1,038 22.1
Number 54 55  
Rate 315 314 -0.6
1 Rates are calculated on the basis of 100,000 population 16 years and older.
2 Percent change based on unrounded rates.

Fines were the most common form of sanction handed down in cases of impaired driving. In 2001/02, about 77% of cases of impaired driving resulted in the imposition of fines as the most serious sentence, followed by prison (14%) and probation (7%).

About three-quarters of fines for impaired driving offences were for amounts between $500 and $1,000. Fines averaged $785, compared with $648 for other Criminal Code traffic offences in 2001/02. The minimum penalty prescribed by the Criminal Code for a first offence of impaired operation of a motor vehicle is a fine of not less than $600.

In 2001/02, the mean length of probation orders was just over one year (383 days). Where a prison sentence was ordered, the majority (57%) of offenders were sentenced to one month or less. Nearly four in 10 cases resulted in prison sentences of between one and six months, and 4% resulted in sentences of more than six months.

About 1% were sentenced to federal institutions or sentences of two years or more. The average length of a prison sentence for cases of impaired driving was under three months, or 73 days.

The proportion of impaired driving cases that received a prison sentence varied considerably across the country. For instance, in Prince Edward Island, 91% of guilty cases of impaired driving resulted in a prison sentence, compared with 28% in Newfoundland and Labrador, 10% in Alberta and 4% in Nova Scotia.

However, provinces in which prison was used more frequently tended to use shorter sentences. For example, in Prince Edward Island, the average sentence length was 17 days, while in Nova Scotia, it was 182 days.

In addition to the above penalties, provinces and territories have enacted legislation with provisions relating to impaired driving, such as ignition interlock programs, vehicle forfeiture, and minimum license suspension upon conviction.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey numbers, including related surveys, 3302 and 3312.

Juristat: Impaired Driving and Other Traffic Offences, 2002, Vol. 23, no. 9 (85-002-XIE20030098422, $9/$75; 85-002-XPE20030098422, $11/$100) is now available.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Information and Client Services (1-800-387-2231; 613-951-9023), Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.

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Date Modified: 2005-07-19 Important Notices