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Int J Circumpolar Health. 2005 Sep;64(4):336-45.

Towards a better understanding of First Nations communities and drinking and driving.

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Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research, Public Health Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.



First Nations young people are over-represented in fatal alcohol-related crashes, necessitating culturally sensitive data that sheds light on this major health issue. The objective of this study was to understand why young First Nations drivers, aged 18 to 29 years old, become involved in drinking and driving as normal behavior displayed through socio-cultural patterns.


Sixty-five First Nations respondents were individually interviewed in nine Alberta locations. Semi-structured interviews, focusing on socio-cultural patterns, norms and community ethos affecting alcohol consumption, drinking and driving, and drinking and driving interventions, were used.


Community norms play a significant role in the drinking and driving behaviors of First Nations people. First Nations communities experience reckless driving, neighbors with alcohol and drug abuse problems, violence, economic disparity, boredom and racism, all of which contribute to responses of alcohol abuse and drinking and driving. Both are considered to be normal, community-endorsed behaviors, reflecting situational needs and ready-at-hand usage. Furthermore, the grid of rural roadways is an important contributor to drinking and driving and a community sense of practical living. Also of importance was the finding that young people embraced their parents' alcohol-related problem behaviors on the basis that "what is okay for the parents is okay for me." Finally, First Nations young people believe in personally stopping a drunken person from driving, but the risk of community censure, social discomfort and risk of physical and verbal abuse mitigate against them taking action.


Living in First Nations communities is socially complex, highly emotionally charged, and peer-pressured. Drinking and driving and alcohol abuse amongst First Nations people reflect the community social structure, daily pressures and norms of behavior. Hence, to reduce drinking and driving casualties amongst First Nations young people, intervention strategies must address systemic issues, namely local people's social realities, norms, as well as local and peer relationships.

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