The Control Group to the North

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.]

This entry was posted on Friday, July 18th, 2008 at 3:06 pm and is filed under Cars, Drivers, Risk, Traffic Culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “The Control Group to the North”

  1. Chris Says:

    Once again, the answer lies in a worthwhile Canadian initiative.

    Seriously though, I’d like to know.

  2. Lloyd Alter Says:

    1) speed limits- 100Km/hr on the big highways, (65 mph) and 80K on the secondary highways.

    2) gas prices: they have always been higher, perhaps tempting us to slow down.

    3) car prices: about 20% higher historically with a population that earns less, so not so many expensive high powered cars.

    4) winter: you learn to drive to survive, and that means slowly for about a third of the year.

    Just a few thoughts that come to mind.

  3. Ken Says:

    Canadians have taken our universal seatbelt laws seriously for the last 30 years.

  4. Paul Stamler Says:

    It is nothing short of amazing that while the unprecedented prices of fuel have generated extraordinary reactions from both the media and citizens, the critical issue of highway safety is being all but ignored. Sure the distress about gasoline and diesel fuel prices is justified. But while the nation is fixated on these costs, people are continuing to die every day on America’s highways. And while there have been some advancements in traffic safety, more than 40,000 people a year continue to be killed in highway crashes every years … many of them children and teenagers. Despite the continuation of this national tragedy, there are some effective ways to reduce these deaths and injuries, many publicized at
    Posted by Paul Stamler, Publisher

  5. Shane McGowan Says:

    Most of the speed limits in Western Canada are 110km/h (70 MPH) on highways and 100km/h (65 MPH) on secondary highways so I really don’t know where “Lloyd Alter” gets his information from…

    As for fuel, yes gasoline is more expensive (diesel being about the same between Canada and US) but that hasn’t stopped people from purchasing large vehicles (which are safer for the occupant)… Also, don’t forget that there is no car registration fee penalty for larger/heavier/pricier vehicles in Canada (except Quebec I think) until many states in the US (eg. Colorado) so total (gas + registration) costs should be a wash between the US and Canada.

    New car prices are higher in Canada currently but 3-4 years ago before the US dollar took a dive cars were generally cheaper in Canada. In fact, used cars are getting cheaper in Canada because so many people are importing cars from the US.

    Winter driving, I agree on, but then that is one of the excuses auto insurers use here for our higher rates (more fender benders).

    As an aside, just like you can’t compare LA and rural Montana, you really should compare Western and Eastern Canada. Canada is even more polarized between provinces/states and urban/rural than the US is.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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