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Survey: Opinions of driver quality in Canada heading back downhill

Canadians have enjoyed a few months without any lockdowns or mandates related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pollster Mario Canseco finds Liberal lead over Conservatives has narrowed quickly since election call. | BIV

Canadians have enjoyed a few months without any lockdowns or mandates related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This fact has enabled many adults who worked from home to commute to an office again, providing an opportunity to observe how drivers in their community are behaving.

For the fifth year in a row, Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians about the state of affairs in the country’s roads. In 2018 and 2019, about half of the country’s residents told us that drivers in their city or town were worse than before.

The numbers began to change in 2020, when only 39 per cent of Canadians told us that they perceived inferior driving prowess. Last year, just 30 per cent felt that the situation had deteriorated.

We were very curious about what 2022 would have in store. The drop in the sense of dismay from Canadians toward drivers in their own community coincided with a moment in which most of us were out and about less.

This year’s poll would provide a chance to see if the country’s drivers were becoming more respectful. We can safely and regrettably report that this is not the case. Practically half of Canadians (48 per cent) told us that drivers in their city of town are worse now than five years ago, up 18 points since 2021. The findings represent a return to the pre-pandemic levels that we usually observed on this question.

This year, women are slightly more critical of drivers than men (50 per cent to 47 per cent). The main difference continues to be generational. Only 34 per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 34 believe that drivers are worse now than five years ago. This is in stark contrast with the majorities of their counterparts aged 35 to 54 (52 per cent) and aged 55 and over (58 per cent) who feel things have gone downhill.

There are three regions of the country where a majority of residents appear to lament what they see in their community’s roads: Atlantic Canada (61 per cent), British Columbia (57 per cent) and Ontario (56 per cent). The numbers are better in Alberta (43 per cent), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (42 per cent) and Quebec (34 per cent).

When we compare this year’s findings with what Canadians told us last year, the amount of improper behaviour on the country’s roads has grown significantly. Practically seven in 10 Canadians (69 per cent) say they witnessed a driver not signalling before a turn over the past month, up 14 points since 2021. Atlantic Canada (77 per cent) and Saskatchewan and Manitoba (74 per cent) score particularly high numbers on this questionable indicator.

A majority of Canadians (54 per cent) saw a car taking up two or more spots in a parking lot, up 13 points since 2021. Quebec is at the lowest end of the spectrum on this particular nuisance (41 per cent).

Practically half of Canadians (49 per cent, up 11 points) witnessed a driver not stopping at an intersection. This time, Atlantic Canada (58 per cent) and British Columbia (55 per cent) are significantly ahead of the national average.

Two in five Canadians (40 per cent, up eight points) saw a driver turning right or left from an incorrect lane – a proportion that rises to 49 per cent in British Columbia and to 47 per cent in Ontario.

More than a third of Canadians (37 per cent, up nine points) acknowledge a close call, such as slamming the brakes or having to steer violently to avoid a collision. Canadians aged 18 to 34 are more likely to recall these incidents (42 per cent) than those aged 55 and over (30 per cent).

Another issue that is unique this year is the willingness of Canadians to assign blame for the current state of driving in their communities. Almost three in five Canadians (58 per cent) say specific groups of people are worse drivers than others, up eight points since 2021. This feeling is markedly pronounced in British Columbia (67 per cent).

Canadians who claim specific groups or people are worse drivers than others point the finger primarily at “young” (40 per cent, up eight points). The proportions are lower for “Asian” (19 per cent, up three points), “elderly” (18 per cent, down three points) and “immigrant” (eight per cent, down two points). As has been the case for the past five years, those who are upset with other drivers are fixated on age and ethnicity.

The results of our annual survey are disappointing.

In 2020 and 2021, Canadians were more likely to report that drivers were improving in their municipality, and the proportion of bad behaviour witnessed on the road was lower. This year, as we gradually go back to our regular routines, some of the habits that we abandoned during the pandemic have returned. Or perhaps we were just less likely to notice them.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from August 19t August 21, 2022, among a representative sample of 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.