New poll about the effects of the pandemic on road safety shows continued risk-taking by a small but growing group of Canadian drivers

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Ottawa, ON December 21, 2021 – (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) – The Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) has released a new fact sheet, COVID-19 Road Safety Monitor 2021 | The Impact of the Pandemic on Road Safety & Mobility, sponsored by Desjardins. This special edition Road Safety Monitor (RSM) examines the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the attitudes and practices of Canadians with respect to travel behaviour and road safety in 2021 compared to the two previous years. Risky behaviours examined in this poll are speeding, distracted driving, alcohol-impaired driving, drug-impaired driving, polysubstance use and driving, fatigued driving, and seatbelt use.

The continuing COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most disruptive events in recent history – a public health emergency causing significant disturbances in travel behaviour and road safety during the past two years. It has also had widespread effects on the perceptions of road users with respect to their personal safety on the road as well as unsafe behaviours by other drivers.

“Overall, poll results showing many drivers were less likely to engage in risky driving behaviours during the past two years and make safer choices than they did prior to the pandemic is encouraging,” shares TIRF COO, Ward Vanlaar. “However, a small but notable segment of drivers indicated they were actually more likely to engage in risky driving behaviours in 2020 than pre-pandemic, and more drivers reported doing this in 2021.”

Of concern, compared to pre-pandemic in 2019, a growing proportion of drivers reported engaging in risky behaviours. To illustrate:

  • 7.4% of Canadians admitted they were more likely to excessively exceed the posted speed limit by at least 20km/h during 2021 as compared to 5.5% in 2020.
  • 7.4% of Canadians admitted they were more likely to drive distracted during 2021 as compared to 4.2% in 2020.
  • 4.2% of Canadians admitted they were more likely to drive within two hours of using alcohol during 2021 as compared to 2.4% in 2020.
  • 3.7% of Canadians admitted they were more likely to drive within two hours of using drugs during 2021 as compared to 2.2% in 2020.
  • 1 in 10 drivers reported having trouble focusing while driving during the pandemic in 2021, whereas fewer indicated this in 2020.

As lockdown restrictions continued to ease in 2021 and traffic volumes somewhat normalized, media reports echoed similar increases in risk-taking on our roads in 2021 as compared to the past two years. In Ottawa, impaired driving charges were up 27.7% in 2021 as compared to 2020, and in Peel Region they were up 10.2%. An examination of the number of speeding tickets issued annually from January to October in Saskatoon showed a 46% decrease in 2020 compared to 2019, followed by a 25.8% increase in 2021 compared to 2020 (Saskatoon Police 2021). In British Columbia, there was a 13% increase in speeding tickets issued from April 2020-March 2021 compared to the same period from 2019 to 2020.

“Although TIRF’s poll reported a smaller proportion of drivers engaged in these high-risk behaviours as compared to a larger proportion who made safer choices, the potential for significant harm is alarming,” says Robyn Robertson, TIRF President & CEO. “It is imperative every driver understands their choice to avoid risks behind the wheel can ensure they and other road users get home safely, every day.”

The poll also revealed a significant change in preferred transportation modes during the pandemic, with a large shift away from public transportation and an increase in personal vehicle use. This was largely due to concerns about infection-related factors rather than traditional factors such as travel time saving, comfort, and cost. Walking also increased as a preferred method of travel by 261% from before the pandemic, however, public transit use decreased by 82%. Interestingly, 4 in 10 Canadians indicated they would not go back to using public transit or ridesharing until after the pandemic was over, and a smaller number would not return to using these forms of transportation even after the pandemic.

“Overall, changes to preferred modes of travel and travel patterns have been significant as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” notes Vanlaar. “Going forward, strategies to help re-establish public transportation use post-pandemic as well as strengthen opportunities to choose active transportation are essential to curb the surge in personal vehicle use.”

Results from the 2021 TIRF poll offer a unique and informative perspective about the change in drivers’ self-reported behaviour during the pandemic and also suggest the effects should continue to be carefully monitored to help guide targeted road safety campaigns.

Download fact sheet in English & French:

About the poll
These results are based on the RSM, an annual public opinion poll developed and conducted by TIRF. A total of 2,700 Canadians completed the poll in May of 2021. Results can be considered accurate within plus or minus 1.9%, 19 times out of 20. The majority of the questions were answered using a scale from one to six where six indicated high agreement, concern, or support and one indicated low agreement, concern or support.

About TIRF
The vision of the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) is to ensure people using roads make it home safely every day by eliminating road deaths, serious injuries and their social costs. TIRF’s mission is to be the knowledge source for safer road users and a world leader in research, program and policy development, evaluation, and knowledge transfer. TIRF is a registered charity and depends on grants, awards, and donations to provide services for the public. Visit www.tirf.ca.

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For more information, please contact:

Karen Bowman
Director, Marketing and Communications
Traffic Injury Research Foundation
613-238-5235 (office)
1-877-238-5235 (toll-free)
250-797-0833 (direct)
613-238-5292 (fax)
tirf@tirf.ca / karenb@tirf.ca