TORONTO -- An increasing number of Canadians have admitted to drinking and driving when they thought they were over the legal limit, according to a recent road safety survey.

Research by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF), found the number increased in 2017, 2018 and 2019, when 8.6 per cent of those asked admitted to this behaviour.

This is the highest reported rate since 2004 and continues an increasing trend that began in 2015. TIRF said the findings “warranted concern.”

“While there is no perfect correlation between self-reported drinking and driving behaviour on the one hand and alcohol-related crashes on the other, an increase in alcohol-related crashes might occur following an increase in the proportion of drivers admitting to driving while they thought they were over the legal limit,” the organization wrote in a press release.

The results were taken from an annual TIRF road safety monitor opinion poll, completed by 1,200 Canadians in September and October 2019. 

“Continued monitoring is necessary to see which way the trend is going and to inform efforts to reduce this burden on our society,” said TIRF research associate Steve Brown.

The road safety watchdog has warned that progress to reduce drinking and driving in Canada “may have stalled.”

In 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, 480 Canadians were killed in road crashes involving a drinking driver, a 55 per cent decrease from 1,057 in 1995, according to TIRF.

While this 55 per cent decrease is indicative of progress, two consecutive increases in fatalities in 2015 and 2016 is a concern.

“While the 480 deaths recorded in 2016 is much lower than years prior to 2014, self-reported data on drinking and driving when potentially over the legal limit from 2017 forward indicate that this number might increase,” said Ward Vanlaar, chief operating officer at TIRF.

The percentage of persons killed in a crash on a public roadway in Canada involving a drinking driver was 28.8 per cent in 2016.

The poll suggests friends and family may be able to do more to prevent drinking and driving. Nearly a third of respondents who admitted to driving when they thought they were over the legal limit, did most of their drinking before driving at a friend or relative’s house and one-fifth drank at home.

Men were more likely to drive after drinking than female respondents.