The early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown compelled Canadians to behave differently outside.
With vehicles parked safely in garages, walkers, runners and joggers reclaimed the asphalt in their track suits. Many Canadians had to work from home, eliminating the morning drive to the office. Public transit in some municipalities also saw a significant reduction in users.
Now that most Canadians are partaking in their usual activities, Research Co. and Glacier Media conducted the latest instalment of our yearly survey into our driving habits.
The message of a kinder, gentler society that has been advocated during the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have reached some of the steering wheels of Canadians. Last year, 47% of Canadians said drivers in their city or town were “worse” than five years ago. In 2020, the proportion has dropped by eight points to 39%.
Still, while 44% of respondents to the poll report no change in the driving prowess of their neighbours, only 7% believe they are now better than five years ago.
Canadians aged 55 and over, who have witnessed the behaviour in our streets for the longest time, once again are more likely to say that things are worse now (50%, down three points since 2019) than those aged 35 to 54 (43%, down six points) and those aged 18 to 34 (20%, down 15 points).
The proportion of residents who voice dissatisfaction with drivers is fairly uniform across most of the country this year: 43% in Ontario, 42% in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, 40% in British Columbia and 39% in Atlantic Canada. In Quebec, only 32% of residents said drivers in their city or town are worse than before.
When it comes to certain things that we observe on our streets and parking lots, Canadians might be forgiven for gasping at the extremely high incidence of some evident oversights.
A majority of Canadians (54%) remember a driver not signaling before a turn over the past month. This year, British Columbia overtook Atlantic Canada as the region of Canada where this mistake is more prevalent (61%).
More than two in five Canadians (44%) witnessed a car taking up two or more spots in a parking lot. In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the proportion rises to 53%.
Another not-so-bright spot for British Columbia arrives when Canadians are asked if they saw a driver not stopping at an intersection. While the Canada-wide average for this misbehaviour is 36%, it climbs to 48% in the westernmost province.
A third of Canadians (33%) saw a driver turning right or left from an incorrect lane, including 37% of Albertans. Just over a quarter (26%) had a close call, having to slam the brakes or steer violently to avoid a collision, including 33% of Atlantic Canadians.
If this were a road test for British Columbians, the verdict would be cautiously optimistic. Even though we top the country in not signalling before a turn, the numbers are down significantly (83% in 2018, 66% in 2019 and 61% this year).
Drivers in British Columbia managed to keep a decent score on lane tracking (36%, compared to 38% in 2019 and down from a worrisome 61% in 2018). And, reassuringly, the scores remain under 50% for two issues that were off-the-charts two years ago: taking up two or more spaces at parking lots (from 68% in 2018 to 46% now) and stopping at intersections (from 67% in 2018 to 48% now).
Across the country, and in a finding that has remained remarkably consistent, more than half of Canadians (56%) are not shy about saying who are, in their assessment, “worse drivers than others.”
Most of those who issued an opinion on this open-ended question fixated on age, with 43% pointing the finger at “youth” and 25% complaining about “elderly” drivers. In contrast, only 1% said “middle aged.”
Almost one in five complainers pin the demise of proper driving etiquette in their city or town on “Asian” drivers (17%). Other mentions included “immigrants” (5%), “Black” (1%) or “White” (1%). This year, only 2% of complainers wrote “Women” while 1% answered “Men.”
While the annual survey shows progress on some areas and behaviours, many Canadians continue to report witnessing bad driving behaviour on the streets of their communities. It is also clear that the emotions that a bad driver elicits are leading us to focus on characteristics that make it easier to dismiss them, perhaps making us less aware of our own performance.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted from September 18 to September 20, 2020, 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.