Dan Gardner sent an interesting article along about the state of traffic safety in Canada. According to statistics, road fatalities in Canada dropped by roughly half from 1979 to to 2004: 5,933 to 2,875.
Had the U.S. been able to achieve a similar reduction in a similar time period, we would have seen the 51,091 fatalities in 1980 drop to roughly 25,500 in 2004. Instead, there were 42,836 people killed in 2004.
It’s very difficult to compare countries directly, and, no, I’ve not analyzed the comparative changes in population, vehicles, vehicle miles traveled (VMT), registered drivers, composition of vehicle fleet, etc. etc. According to a number of indices, though, (per million vehicles, per million population, even fatalities per VMT), Canada comes across as the safer place to drive.
Gardner joked that we Americans should pay more attention to that “control group to the north,” and it made me wonder: How different are the U.S. and Canada? Was the U.S. swamped with newcomers during the time, and did Canada see an exodus? (that wouldn’t really explain the VMT disparity in any case) In my (brief) times on Canadian roads, they haven’t seem that different from U.S. roads, and I would imagine Canadians might be exposed to as much, if not more, high-speed rural driving (the most dangerous sort there is).
I’m not sure what the ‘x’ factor is here, if there is one — and there could be many. Or could it simply be that Canadians are safer and more polite on the roads? Any ideas?
[update: Commenter Ken raises a good point: Seat-belt-use rates. In Canada they clocked in, in 2004-5, at 90.5% (it presumably may have risen a bit since); in the U.S. the average in 2007 was 82%. Lloyd's points are well-taken as well; given the severity of Canadian winters, and given that in the U.S. the lowest fatality rates are seen in February, it's not hard to imagine more Canadians hunkered down for longer, and just driving more cautiously when they do emerge.]