More than 200 out of almost 3,000 B.C. drivers who were tested in a random survey had drugs in their systems, a study released Monday found.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) asked 2,840 drivers in five B.C. cities to voluntarily provide breath and oral fluid samples to test for the presence of drugs and alcohol for the 2010 British Columbia Roadside Survey. The report, released on Monday, said that 7.2 per cent of drivers tested in Vancouver, Saanich, Abbotsford, Prince George and Kelowna had detectable levels of drugs in their systems.

"These studies reveal that driving after drug use is a growing issue that is as prevalent as driving after alcohol use — and that drug-impairment may also be a contributing factor to collisions and fatal road crashes," a statement from the report's authors said.

In comparison, 9.9 per cent of the same group of drivers had detectable levels of alcohol in their blood when tested. The most common drugs detected were cannabis and cocaine, and the report's main findings are that drug use among drivers is more evenly distributed than alcohol use when it comes to age group, time of day, and day of the week.

"It should be noted that a positive test for any substance does not necessarily imply that the driver was impaired. Rather, it indicates the presence of the substance at a concentration that exceeds the detection threshold," the report noted.

'Younger people... don't hesitate to light up a joint and drive.'—Allan Lamb, BCAA

Because some drug levels may have been below detection thresholds, the CCSA considers its results an underestimate of the total percentage of drivers who have used drugs.

The survey was conducted between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m., and 86 per cent of drivers surveyed provided a breath sample, while 71 per cent provided a spit sample.

Canada-wide problem

Allan Lamb, the Traffic Safety Foundation executive director for the British Columbia Automobile Association, said that a larger problem is that the drugs are not being used in isolation.

"The alarming thing for me is not so much that people have drugs in their system. It's the combination of drugs and alcohol that is really the killer here," Lamb said.

Although the study was based in B.C., driving under the influence is a problem right across the country, Lamb said. The CCSA released a second study on Monday, A Comparison of Drug and Alcohol-involved Motor Vehicle Driver Fatalities, which reported that 33 per cent of drivers killed in accidents tested positive for drugs, compared to 37 per cent who were positive for alcohol.

"[These studies] should serve as a wake-up call to all of us that we have a lot of people behind the wheel that are, quite frankly, stoned," Lamb said.

Lamb says a public education program aimed particularly at youth is needed around this issue: "I hear this from younger people in particular. They would never drink and drive but they don't hesitate to light up a joint and drive."

Lamb says two people are killed each week in impaired driving crashes in B.C. and Transport Canada estimates the cost to the province at $1.6 billion a year.