The Number on Car Collisions in Canada

Daylight Savings starts and traffic collisions increase by up to 17%, as we saw dramatically on the news today. Parliament is considering giving police powers to randomly stop drivers whenever and wherever just in case they're drunk. Canadians despise drunk drivers, and the media do regular stories on them. But just who are the real menaces on the road? The drunks or the sober drivers?

From personal experience, they're the sober drivers who know perfectly well what they're doing, choose to drive stupid, too close, or fast because...well, who knows why people think driving on another car's tail is a good idea or why speeding on a highway with traffic lights is their prerogative or why weaving in and out on a busy road makes sense or why passing cars on a solid line, two-lane highway is their right (that was an awful crash on highway 7 I saw many years ago, made worse by the fact we could see it coming when they passed us and the several cars ahead of us minutes before smashing into oncoming traffic, but I digress). But what do the stats say?

Generally speaking, the media report only on fatality numbers as if those are the sole marker of bad drivers. Statistics Canada (Stats Can) reports both fatalities and injuries, but I wonder how reliable the injury statistic is since not everyone injured recognizes it at the time or the drivers may not call emergency services so that there's no reporting to the insurance company or as is the case in Toronto where police don't show up, may not bother going to the collision reporting centre. (It also doesn't help that Stats Can reports that "The decline in police reporting in British Columbia in the years 1996
through 2004 has affected the British Columbia totals and, to a lesser
extent, national totals reported in this publication.")

Stats Can reports on several aspects of vehicle safety. Casualty rates are broken down by population, billions of kilometres driven, and licensed drivers. Between 1987 and 2006, fatal and injurious collisions decreased, as did the number of victims who died and were injured. Given that the population increased in those 19 years, that means road safety is increasing -- a good thing but not enough, in my opinion. 199,337 injuries, 15,281 seriously, and 2,889 dead in 2006 across Canada are still too many ruined lives.

Of those who died in 2006, half were drivers, about one-fifth were car passengers, almost 13% were pedestrians, 2.5% were bicyclists, and surprisingly only 7.6% were motorcyclists (including those on mopeds). These percentages have not changed hugely between 2002 and 2006, and even the numbers have not changed dramatically, which means that most of that improved vehicle safety between 1987 and 2006 must've happened before the 21st century. These numbers show that though pedestrian safety is on the mind of Toronto police and politicians lately, the ones most at risk of dying in car crashes are those in the cars. And despite the statistics of the teen male driver being the worst, the age groups that die the most are the 25 to 34 year olds and the over-65s and the ones injured the most are 25-34 and 35-44 year olds. Hello, no surprise here.

Most Canadians wear seat belts because they just plain save lives, never mind your face -- when face meets windshield, face usually loses. Still, some still don't wear them, and just over one-third of those, either drivers or passengers, die.

And now to the big money stat: how many drivers were drunk when they died?

2005 is the latest year for which numbers are given. Stats Can shows (for me) an incomprehensible chart. It shows the ratios graphically and that the percentage of drunk dead drivers has generally decreased (love the euphemism they use: fatally injured), but it doesn't give hard numbers. The Traffic Injury Research Foundation does give a number. And so I can see that of 2,905 dead victims of collisions in 2005, 1,100 died in alcohol-related crashes. That means 1,805 died in sober crashes. That means even though 87% of Canadians are quite concerned about the carnage drunk drivers create and even though the media cover drunk driving religiously, both ignore the fact that the more dangerous driver is the sober one, the one who is in full control of the car and themselves, who know perfectly well what they're doing, but do it anyway. And people die.


Anthony said…
Interesting, but I think you need to look at the estimates for number of impaired drivers on the road. If you take the number of fatal crashes (I refuse to call them accidents) attributed to alcohol-related factors, then normalize it to the estimates of people driving impaired, I'm absolutely certain you'll find that if you drive impaired you are (10? 20? 100?) times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than a sober person.

In this regard, Canadians have good reason to be concerned about the carnage caused by impaired drivers.
Anthony, absolutely people need to be concerned about the carnage caused by impaired drivers but equally they need to be concerned about sober drivers causing carnage on the road.

If you know where those estimates are of numbers of impaired vs numbers of sober on the road and compare their fatality rates, I'd be happy to update this post with them. But I think it's dangerous to assume stuff, unscientific too, as it leads people to focus on the impaired and allows them to not focus on those who cause an awful lot of harm and death.

There's no doubt people would rather not focus on the sober drivers because that's them. It's easier to demonize the other, the impaired driver, the one that they would never be (uh-huh) and pretend the population that they're part of is a-ok. (BTW I haven't included those who sleep and crash, who are also a menace on the road and who are not counted by Stats Can.)