A full quarter of Canadians admit they’ve had a few too many drinks before driving in the past, a new poll reveals. A full half of the population thinks the legal blood-alcohol limit for drivers should be raised.
The survey was conducted between by Ipsos on behalf of Global News between Dec. 16 and Dec. 19, and it highlights some surprising trends when it comes to attitudes toward impaired driving across Canada.
Sean Simpson, vice president of Ipsos Public Affairs, said the polling firm didn’t place a time limit on when an incident occurred, so it’s perhaps not surprising that 24 per cent of respondents said they’d been legally drunk behind the wheel.
“It could have been one time,” he pointed out. “You know, people make mistakes and you hope they learn from them and don’t do it again.”
A more worrisome result was the nearly two-in-10 Canadians who agreed that they “feel comfortable driving after a few drinks, even though they might be over the legal limit.”
“It’s 16 per cent of Canadians who say ‘to heck with the legal limit, I know my limit so I feel comfortable getting behind the wheel,'” Simpson noted.
Legal limit too low?
One of the most surprising figures in the survey, said Simpson, was that about half of respondents said they believe the legal limit for what constitutes impaired driving (0.08 per cent blood alcohol content or higher) is too low.
Basically, these people think you should be able to drink more before you’re considered legally impaired.
But a controlled test conducted recently by York Regional Police showed that the average person may not know how 0.08 per cent feels. Even when people were still below the legal limit, they judged themselves far too impaired to drive. At 0.06 per cent, some said they felt so drunk they would never consider operating a vehicle.
Staff Sgt. Sarah Riddell of York Regional Police told Global News the legal limit is really no indication of how drunk a person feels.
“It just goes to show that realistically, no amount of alcohol is a safe amount of alcohol in your system when you’re thinking about driving,” she said.
There may be some “targeted education” that needs to happen, Simpson noted.
“That (would say) ‘this is the limit, regardless of what you believe you’re capable of handling, there is the law and you’re judged against the law.'”
Among the 24 per cent of respondents who admitted to having driven while legally impaired at least once, baby boomers seemed to be the worse offenders (29 per cent).
Still, Canadians over the age of 55 took a very cautious approach to drinking and driving in general. Just 15 per cent agreed that it’s OK to have a few drinks and then drive, even if you might be over the limit. On average, they said they could consume 1.8 drinks and still be fine to get behind the wheel.
The same cannot be said of millennials. Almost 40 per cent of the youngest cohort polled said that it’s okay to have a few drinks and then drive even if you might be legally impaired, and on average they felt it would be fine to consume a full 2.5 drinks before driving home.
“I think what is more acceptable among young people is this idea seemingly of knowing your own limit, and having one or two drinks and then still driving home even if you legally might be impaired,” Simpson noted.
“Almost like self-policing, rather than this limit that’s been decided by governments … there’s clearly a generational divide.”
These attitudes were also more prevalent among men, and for some reason, among British Columbians. Simpson said he’s not sure why that province showed different data.
“They were more likely to admit to having driven while legally impaired and they’re the most likely to say they feel comfortable driving after a few drinks even though they might be over the limit,” he explained.
“They’re among the least likely to support roadside breath tests.”
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This poll was conducted between Dec. 16 and Dec. 19, 2016, with a sample of 1,000 Canadians from Ipsos’ online panel who were interviewed online. In this case, the poll is accurate to within +/ – 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadian adults been polled. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated that the legal blood alcohol content limit is 0.8 per cent. The limit is 0.08 per cent.