Circumstances surrounding passenger vehicle fatalities in Canada, 2019
Motor vehicles are a primary mode of transportation used every day by Canadians, and their usage is growing. The number of motor vehicle registrations for on-road use increased by 42% from 17.9 million in 2000 to 25.4 million in 2019 and the net volume of motor gasoline sold increased by nearly 20% during this same period. Despite the increasing number of registered vehicles and the increase in amount of gasoline sold in Canada during this 20-year period, the number of deaths resulting from motor vehicle collisions (e.g., passenger vehicles, pedestrians, transport trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, construction vehicles and recreational vehicles) decreased by 31% from 2,672 in 2000 to 1,856 in 2019.
Legislation and safety programs such as those increasing seat belt use and reducing impaired driving as well as vehicle improvements such as anti-lock braking, airbags, increased vehicle stability, and improvements to seat belts and child restraints, have been introduced to help reduce the number of road motor vehicle injuries and fatalities.
While there has been a decrease, motor vehicle collisions continue to be a major cause of injury, hospitalization and death from unintentional injuries, and passenger vehicle fatalities account for a significant portion of these road vehicle fatalities. According to 2019 data from the Canadian Coroner and Medical Examiner Database (CCMED), coroners and medical examiners investigated over 730 deaths where the victim was driving or riding in a passenger vehicle, such as a car, SUV, van or pickup truck at the time of the fatal event.
Understanding the circumstances surrounding passenger vehicle fatalities in Canada is useful for the continued development and implementation of road safety measures and a safer transport infrastructure. Although the circumstances or details surrounding the death are not always known, insights can be obtained from findings reported by coroners and medical examiners who investigate these tragic events. According to the World Health Organization, risk factors for road traffic injuries include, but are not limited to: excess speed, driving under the influence of alcohol or other psychoactive substances, non-use of seat belts and child restraints, distracted driving, unsafe road infrastructures, unsafe vehicles, inadequate post-crash care, and inadequate law enforcement of traffic laws.
In recognition of the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims on November 20, Statistics Canada is releasing information on the circumstances surrounding deaths from passenger vehicle collisions from the CCMED for the 2019 reference year. This report will add to the body of evidence to assist in achieving one of the objectives of the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims: to promote evidence-based actions to prevent and reduce further road traffic deaths and injuries.
More than half of passenger vehicle fatalities involved a collision between two or more vehicles
Passenger vehicle fatalities can result from single- or multi- vehicle events. In 2019, over half (53%) of fatalities resulted from a collision between two or more vehicles, while 40% of fatalities were the result of a single-vehicle event (e.g., collision with a stationary or moving object, such as a lamppost or an animal, or a rollover). This distribution is different than what was reported for snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle fatalities where the vast majority involved a single vehicle. The type of collision was not specified in 7% of passenger vehicle fatalities.
Although any passenger vehicle collision can cause an injury, some types of collisions are more likely to cause severe harm or death. Among all passenger vehicle fatalities, the five most common collision types reported by coroners and medical examiners included head-on collisions (19%), collisions with a stationary object (17%), running off the shoulder, such as rollover in a ditch (13%), right-angle collisions (10%) and rollovers on roadway (6%). While many of these fatalities occurred on highways (40%), some also occurred on other roadways (26%), at intersections (13%), or in other locations (5%) (e.g., parking lots, bodies of water, railway crossings). The collision location was not specified in 16% of passenger vehicle fatalities.
Drivers accounted for nearly three-quarters of passenger vehicle fatalities
In 2019, 25% of victims were driving alone in the vehicle (lone occupant), while 40% of victims were drivers or passengers riding with at least one other occupant (multi-occupant) at the time of the event (in 34% of the deaths, the information on the number of occupants in the vehicle was not specified).
Coroners and medical examiners reported that drivers accounted for 74% of passenger vehicle fatalities, while over one-quarter of victims (26%) were passengers present in the vehicle.
The vast majority (93%) of all passenger vehicle fatalities were the result of blunt force trauma. Blunt force trauma occurred when the deceased person had an impactful force on their body from the vehicle collision or incident. Other causes of deaths reported by coroners and medical examiners included, but were not limited to, drowning (4%) or other specified cause (3%) (e.g., asphyxia due to smoke, cardiovascular event, stroke).
Males were almost twice as likely to die in a passenger vehicle collision than females
Passenger vehicle fatalities affect people of both sexes and all ages. However, males and certain age groups were overrepresented. In 2019, males (2.5 deaths per 100,000 population) were almost twice as likely to succumb to injuries from a passenger vehicle collision than females (1.3 deaths per 100,000). This pattern is consistent with the traffic collision fatality figures from Transport Canada's National Collision Database and has also been noted internationally.
The age-specific rate of passenger vehicle death was higher than the total rate for all age groups (1.9 deaths per 100,000 people) among those aged 16 to 24 years (3.6 deaths per 100,000 population), 25 to 39 years (2.3 deaths per 100,000 population), 60 to 79 years (2.2 deaths per 100,000 population) and 80 years and older (4.0 deaths per 100,000 population).
When looking at driver fatalities, the proportion of deaths was greater than the proportion of the Canadian population among those aged 16 to 24 years and those aged 80 years and older. Previous research has reported a number of factors for increased collision risk among drivers of these age groups. For example, studies have reported that the crash risk is highest during the first months after getting a driver's license and a Statistics Canada survey on Impaired driving in Canada, 2019 found that young drivers aged 20 to 34 accounted for a significant portion of drivers accused of alcohol or alcohol and drug impairment (44%). For older adults, changes in vision, physical functioning, and the ability to reason and remember, as well as some diseases and medications, might affect driving ability.
At least one risk factor was present in 6 in 10 passenger vehicle fatalities investigated
Coroners and medical examiners may include additional circumstance information in the reports submitted to the CCMED, but the level of detail provided in the report varies by death investigator and by jurisdiction.
In addition to providing information on demographics and cause of death, the circumstances more commonly reported by coroners and medical examiners investigating passenger vehicle fatalities include the consumption of alcohol or drugs, whether a seat belt was worn, a description of the speed, environment and road conditions, and other factors such as fatigue, distracted driving, and mechanical issues. In 2019, at least one of these more commonly reported risk factors was present in 6 in 10 passenger vehicle fatalities investigated. At least two risk factors were reported in nearly one-quarter (24%) of passenger vehicle fatalities.
The presence of a risk factor is considered "not specified" when the information for a given risk factor is missing from the coroner or medical examiner report, while the absence of a risk factor can only be considered when the coroner or medical examiner has indicated that a given factor was not present.
Alcohol, cannabis, or illicit drug consumption was reported in just under one-third of passenger vehicle fatalities
Impaired driving is a major public health issue and the leading criminal cause of death and injury in Canada. However, changes to legislation and enforcement as well as increased awareness have contributed to a decrease in impaired driving rates. According to a Statistics Canada report on Impaired driving in Canada, 2019, the rate of impaired driving causing bodily harm in 2019 (1.28 incidents per 100,000 population) was half the rate from 10 years earlier. Despite this drop, driving under the influence of alcohol or impairing drugs continues to be a problem.
According to the Department of Justice, the consumption of the prohibited amount of alcohol, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or other impairing drugs within two hours of driving is an offense, however someone's ability to drive may be impacted before reaching those concentrations. In 2019, coroners and medical examiners reported that just under one-third of drivers involved in fatal passenger vehicle collisions had consumed alcohol, cannabis or illicit drugs prior to the fatal event. Often, the deceased individual was reported to have consumed more than one type of substance. While alcohol (72%) accounted for the majority of these substances, the presence of cannabis (37%) and illicit drugs (37%) was also reported by coroners and medical examiners.
Among fatalities where alcohol or drugs were consumed, 85% of drivers were male and 15% were female. These fatalities were also more common among victims aged 25 to 39 years (41%) and 40 to 59 years (26%). In addition, more than half (58%) of fatalities involving alcohol or drugs were the result of single-vehicle collisions, while 37% involved two or more vehicles (5% of cases were not specified).
The victim was not wearing a seat belt in more than one in six passenger vehicle fatalities
Seat belt use is the law, and their usage saves lives. Seat belt and child restraint laws covering all seating positions have been in effect since 1991 in all Canadian jurisdictions. Despite long-standing legislative requirements, not all occupants use seat belts. According to a Transport Canada report, 95% of Canadian vehicle occupants in all seating position wore belts.
According to a Transport Canada report, when worn correctly, seat belts can reduce the risk of death in a collision by 47%. In 2019, coroners and medical examiners reported that more than one in six (18%) passenger vehicle collision victims were not wearing a seat belt. Among these victims, 77% were male and 23% were female.
Speed may have played a role in nearly one in five passenger vehicle fatalities
Speeding is a risk factor for passenger vehicle fatalities. The coroner or medical examiner reported that speed was a factor in the collision or that at least one of the vehicles involved in the collision was travelling at a high speed in 19% of passenger vehicle fatalities.
Driver inexperience, distracted driving, fatigue, or an unsafe vehicle were reported in nearly one in eight passenger vehicle fatalities
Other modifiable factors may also play a role in fatal collisions by affecting the driver's ability to safely manoeuvre the vehicle. The coroner or medical examiner reported driver inexperience, distracted driving, fatigue or malaise (including falling asleep while driving or suffering from a symptom of a medical event), or an unsafe vehicle (e.g., issues with brakes or tires) in 12% of passenger vehicle fatalities.
Poor road conditions, decreased visibility or inclement weather were reported in more than one in six passenger vehicle fatalities
Poor environmental or road conditions may influence a driver's ability to safely manoeuvre a passenger vehicle. Coroners and medical examiners reported decreased visibility, inclement weather or poor road conditions (e.g., icy roads, foggy weather, freezing rain, snow) in more than one in six passenger vehicle fatalities (18%).
Note to readers
The Canadian Coroner and Medical Examiner Database (CCMED) was developed at Statistics Canada in collaboration with the 13 provincial and territorial Chief Coroners and Chief Medical Examiners and the Public Health Agency of Canada. Currently, it combines data from all provincial and territorial databases, except for Manitoba. This report does not include data from Newfoundland and Labrador or Nunavut as data for 2019 are not yet available. All data are considered preliminary and include only closed cases. Closed cases refer to those whose investigation or inquest is complete and the cause and manner of death are final. Data for this report were extracted in March 2021.
Passenger vehicle fatalities in this report include deaths resulting from transport-related events (i.e., moving vehicles) and exclude deaths from idle-related events (i.e., where the victim was sitting in a parked vehicle). In addition, these fatalities exclude collisions where the deceased person was in a transport truck, other heavy machinery, or off-road vehicle. Fatalities where the deceased person was a pedestrian, or riding a motorcycle or bicycle, were also excluded. When this report was written, 1,610 transport-related fatalities were documented in the CCMED in 2019. Of these, 730 were classified as unintentional or undetermined passenger vehicle fatalities for which the investigation was complete (closed case). This value was used for reporting on the circumstances surrounding unintentional passenger vehicle fatalities. The type of vehicle was not specified in 130 transport-related fatalities. CCMED data coverage varies from one variable to another.
The number of deaths reported is lower than expected as only closed cases are published. Moreover, as the source of completeness of the available information varies between jurisdictions, users should exercise caution when comparing data between years and across provinces and territories.
The number of motor vehicle registrations comes from the following Statistics Canada table: Vehicle registrations, by type of vehicle. The net volume of motor gasoline sold comes from the following Statistics Canada table: Sales of fuel used for road motor vehicles. The number of deaths resulting from motor vehicle collisions from 2000 to 2019 comes from the following Statistics Canada table: Deaths and age-specific mortality rates, by selected grouped causes.
Information on legislation, seat belt usage, laws and safety programs aimed at reducing motor vehicle fatalities comes from Transport Canada's Road Safety in Canada publication; and "Automobile restraints for children: a review for clinicians," Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2002.
Information on snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) fatalities comes from Circumstances surrounding snowmobile fatalities in Canada, 2013 to 2019 and Circumstances surrounding all-terrain vehicle (ATV) fatalities in Canada, 2013 to 2019 .
Information on the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims comes from the United Nations initiative website.
Information on risk factors for road traffic injuries comes from the World Health Organization fact sheet.
Information on teenage crash risks comes from the following articles: "Changes in collision rates among novice drivers during the first months of driving," in Accident Analysis and Prevention, 2003; "Driving experience, crashes and traffic citations of teenage beginning drivers," in Accident Analysis and Prevention, 2003; "Crash risk and risky driving behaviours among adolescents during learner and independent driving periods," in the Journal of Adolescent Health, 2018.
Information on factors affecting the driving ability of older adults comes from the "Clinician's Guide to Assessing and Counselling Older Drivers" in American Geriatrics Society, 2019.
Information on young drivers accused of alcohol and drug impairment was taken from the following Statistics Canada article: Impaired driving in Canada, 2019.
Counts referenced in this report were rounded to a neighbouring multiple of five.
For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; firstname.lastname@example.org) or Media Relations (email@example.com).