Does Canada lead in drunk driving?

Is Canada really the world leader in drunk driving deaths? No.

Canada leads the developed world in drunk driving-related deaths!

At least, that's what you would think if you listen to Toronto talk radio this morning, after a story in the National Post citing a U.S. Centres for Disease Control newsletter that quotes data from a 2015 international study.  A shocking headline, for sure.  Of course, it's not at all true.

A quick reality check of the CDC newsletter or the source data from an OECD study, finds this:

  1. About 5.6 Canadians per 100,000 population died in car crashes in 2013.  This is about 1/2 of the number of Americans (10.3/100,000) who died in car crashes.
  2. Of those Canadians who died in car crashes, 34 per cent of them died in drunk-driving related crashes.  In the US, the comparable number is 31 per cent.

To compare US and Canadian data, then, you'd have to multiply the two figures so they're measuring the same thing:

  1. Canada: 34 % x 5.6 /100,000 = 1.904 / 100,000
  2. US: 31% x 10.3 /100,000 = 3.193 / 100,000

In other words, the frequency of drunk-driving related deaths in the US is 68 per cent higher than in Canada.

Canada is far from the world leader in drunk driving deaths. The data is skewed, because Canada has done a great job of reducing car crash fatalities overall. It may well be there is some frequency of drunk driving that cannot be eliminated, I don't know. And perhaps there is more work to be done to deter drunk driving in Canada – as MADD Canada repeatedly argues.  But this study certainly does not provide damning evidence this is true.

Already MADD Canada has cited this "new study" as evidence impaired driving laws in Canada should be further enhanced. However, it should be noted that the data in this study is from 2012-13 and Canada's drunk-driving laws have already undergone significant changes in the three to four years since then. This study provides no evidence that further changes are required.

Why are car crash fatalities almost twice as frequent in the US?  Well, for one thing, seatbelt use in the US is well below the average amongst the countries examined in this report.  Ninety-four per cent of drivers in the studied countries wear seat belts, compared to just 87 per cent in the US.  Another factor cited in the OECD study is use of motorcycle helmets, with near 100% compliance in most countries including Canada, while three states in the US have no laws on helmet use.

Editor's note: this post was updated at 9:49 AM to include the second last paragraph re: MADD Canada and the fact study data comes from 2012-13.