A Quick Look at Speeding Crashes in Canada

Fact Sheet TP 2436E
RS-2008-07
June 2008

Road Safety and Motor Vehicle
Regulation Directorate



This report looks at fatal and serious injury speed-related crashes during the years 2002-2004. Canadian road safety researchers often use the years 1996-2001 as a basis for comparison to measure the amount of progress that has been made since then. In this report, the years 2002-2004 will frequently be compared to the 1996-2001 period to see whether the situation is improving or getting worse for various aspects of speed-related crashes.

Summary

  • In 2002-2004, more than 700 people were killed and more than 3,500 were seriously injured annually in speed-related crashes.
  • Speeding is a factor in about 25% of deaths from vehicle crashes.
  • Eighty percent of speeding drivers in fatal crashes are under the age of 45 years.
  • Forty percent of speeding drivers in fatal crashes are aged 16-24 years.
  • Speeding is increasing faster among drivers over 45 years of age than among drivers younger than 45 years.
  • Most drivers killed in speed-related crashes were themselves speeding.
  • Eighty percent of young adult passengers who were killed in a speeding crash were in the vehicle with a speeding driver of similar age.
  • An increasing number of middle-aged motorcyclists are getting into speed-related crashes, especially in urban areas.
  • Single-vehicle crashes accounted for more than 50% of speeding deaths and serious injuries.
  • One in three speeding drivers involved in a fatal crash had been drinking.
  • Urban roads at night are the primary location for fatal crashes involving young adult drivers, speed, and alcohol.

Introduction: Speeding is a Serious Matter

Between 2002 and 2004, more than 700 people were killed and more than 3,500 were seriously injured each year in speed-related crashes. In other words, speeding was a factor in about 25% of deaths and 20% of serious injuries from vehicle crashes.

Speeding crashes happen because drivers routinely take risks, including driving faster than the posted speed limit or at speeds that are unsafe for the prevailing road, weather, or light conditions. Even drivers who don't consider themselves aggressive drivers are prone to speeding. Most crashes could be prevented by changes in driver attitude and behaviour. But those changes are proving difficult to achieve, in part because too many drivers focus on the thrill of speeding rather than the risks—risks to themselves, their passengers and other road users.

A driver who is speeding is less able to negotiate twists and turns of the road and to steer around hazards. The faster a vehicle is going, the longer it will take to slow or stop it. In an emergency situation, those few extra seconds can mean the difference between life and death. While technologies like seatbelts, airbags and vehicle crumple zones help save lives, there are limits to their effectiveness in preventing casualties at high speeds.

The number of victims killed and injured in speeding crashes is comparable to the number of victims from alcohol-related crashes. Drinking and driving is widely viewed as socially unacceptable, thanks to enforcement and public education. Considering the magnitude of the speeding problem, endangering road users by driving too fast deserves the same stigma as drunk driving.

Who are the Speeding Drivers?

Any driver may be guilty of speeding, but the typical speeding driver is a youthful male. The vast majority of speeding drivers who got into a fatal crash during 2002-2004 were men. Furthermore, 80% of speeders involved in a fatal crash were under the age of 45, and half of those speeders were aged 16-24 years.

Even though most speeders were under the age of 45, speeding behaviour leading to deaths and serious injuries increased faster among middle-aged and older drivers (over 45 years) than among youthful drivers, between 1996-2001 and 2002-2004. The reasons for the trend are not clear.

Growth or Decline in Speeding Drivers Involved in Crashes, by Age, between 1996-2001 and 2002-2004

Who are the Victims of Speed Crashes?

The victims of speeding crashes, like the drivers, tend to be youthful. Seventy-five percent of persons killed in speed-related crashes during 2002-2004 were less than 45 years of age. In fact, young adults (aged 16-24 years) accounted for one in three speed-related deaths.

About 50% of persons killed in speed-related crashes were drivers. Most of these drivers were speeding themselves.

One-third of the victims killed in speeding crashes were vehicle passengers. It's worth noting that most young adult passengers who died in a speed-related crash were traveling in a vehicle with a speeding driver about the same age.

Pedestrians made up only about 4% of victims killed or seriously injured in speeding crashes. Many of the victims were young adults (aged 16-24 years). Cell phones, personal music players, alcohol use, or other distractions may cause young adults to pay less attention to their surroundings and make them more vulnerable to speeding vehicles.

Motorcyclists and Speeding

During 2002-2004, motorcyclists accounted for a surprisingly small percentage of persons killed in speed-related crashes (less than 9% of victims). But their involvement in this type of crash grew at a faster rate between 1996-2001 and 2002-2004 than the involvement of other road users.

Surprisingly, the growth wasn't the result of more fatal crashes involving young adult riders. Instead, older riders were dying more often. For example, the number of motorcyclists aged 45-54 years who were killed in speeding crashes more than doubled between 1996-2001 and 2002-2004. The number of motorcyclists aged 35-44 years who died in speed crashes also increased notably.

The trend toward older victims is because increasing numbers of middle-aged men are riding motorcycles. According to recent information from the Canada Safety Council, the average motorcycle buyer is about 46 years old.

Ninety percent of the time, a motorcyclist killed or seriously injured in a speed-related crash was the person doing the speeding. Motorcyclists are at greatest risk in urban areas, where traffic tends to be heavy and maneuvering can be complicated. In addition, other drivers are less likely to notice motorcycles on busy city streets.

The Nature of Speed Crashes

Speeding crashes frequently involve just one vehicle and one risk-taking driver. Single-vehicle crashes accounted for more than 50% of speed-related deaths and serious injuries during 2002-2004.

A typical speeding crash involves a vehicle running off the road. More than 30% of deaths and 17% of serious injuries related to speed were the result of such a crash. Hitting an object or person is another regular occurrence, causing about 25% of deaths and more than 35% of serious injuries from speeding crashes.

Head-on crashes are also common when excess speed is in the picture. About 20% of victims killed and 13% of victims seriously injured were in a head-on crash.

Speed crashes where another vehicle is rear-ended or sideswiped are less frequent than other types. However, oddly enough, fatalities and serious injuries from such crashes grew between 1996-2001 and 2002-2004. More tailgating by drivers could be a factor in this trend. Increasing distraction from cell phones and other devices is another likely contributor to the problem.

Percentage of Victims Killed in Speed Crashes, by Crash Type, 2002-2004

The peak time for speed-related deaths and injuries is between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m., although speeding crashes can happen around the clock.

Most serious speeding crashes occur during good weather and normal road conditions. Speed crashes are a little more likely than non-speed crashes to happen in darkness or dim lighting. In most cases, though, speed-related deaths and injuries are caused solely by a driver's dangerous behaviour.

Speeding and Other Risky Behaviours

Law enforcement officers and road safety professionals know that drivers who speed are more likely than the average driver to engage in other dangerous behaviours such as impaired driving or failing to wear a seatbelt.

The relationship between excess speed and alcohol is easy to see. During 2002-2004, at least one in three speeding drivers who were involved in a fatal crash had been drinking. In comparison, only 16% of all drivers involved in all types of fatal crashes had used alcohol prior to the incident. Furthermore, one in five speeders who got into a serious injury crash had been drinking.

Single-vehicle crashes are a likely consequence when alcohol and speed are mixed. In fact, almost 80% of speeding and drinking drivers involved in fatal crashes were in a single-vehicle crash.

The worst offenders when it comes to speed and alcohol use are young adults. A whopping 40% of speeding drivers aged 16-24 years who got into a fatal crash had been drinking.

A speeding driver is also less likely than the average driver to wear a seatbelt. Forty percent of speeders involved in a fatal crash (excluding motorcyclists) were not wearing seatbelts.

Different Roads, Different Speed Crashes

During 2002-2004, rural roads (defined here as undivided roads with a speed limit of 80 km/h or higher) accounted for just over 40% of speed-related fatalities and serious injuries. Urban roads (those with a speed limit of less than 80 km/h) accounted for slightly fewer than 40%. The remaining deaths and serious injuries occurred on motorways, where the posted speed limit is 100 km/h or higher.

Speeding crashes and the resulting deaths and injuries can happen anywhere, and no location is immune from the problem. Here are a few points about speed-related crashes on different types of roads that are worth noting.

About 60% of persons killed in a speeding crash on urban roads were in a single-vehicle crash. This is a higher percentage than on rural roads or motorways. On a related topic, about 35% of victims killed in urban areas were involved in a crash where the vehicle ran off the road, which is also a higher percentage than on rural roads or motorways.

Speeding drivers who get into fatal crashes on urban roads are more likely to have been drinking than those who crash on rural roads or motorways. This explains why urban roads have higher percentages of single-vehicle crashes and of vehicles running off the road than rural areas or motorways do. Single-vehicle crashes of any type are often associated with alcohol use, and the link between run off the road crashes and impaired driving is especially strong.

Percent of Speeding Drivers Who Had Been Drinking, by Road Type, 2002-2004

Rural locations had a higher percentage of speed-related deaths coming from head-on crashes than either urban or motorway locations. This is probably because on a high-speed undivided road, there is no barrier to stop an out-of-control vehicle from veering to the opposite side of the road and plowing into oncoming traffic.

Speed-related fatalities on motorways are usually caused by a vehicle running off the road or hitting an object. But rear-end crashes, which are rare on urban or rural roads, caused about 10% of motorway speeding fatalities. Growing traffic congestion and drivers following other vehicles too closely may contribute to the problem, particularly on motorways that run near or through cities.

Speeding on Urban Roads

People quite logically associate speeding crashes with roads that have high-posted speed limits, such as rural roads and motorways. But urban roads are more dangerous than people may realize. Factors such as young adult drivers, late-night activity, and alcohol combine with speeding behaviour to make urban roads a hot spot for speed-related deaths and serious injuries.

Young adult drivers figure prominently in speeding crash statistics, but they pose the greatest risk on urban roads. During 2002-2004, almost 50% of speeding drivers involved in fatal urban crashes were aged 16-24 years.

On urban roads, speed-related deaths and serious injuries are most likely to occur during the late night and early morning hours (9 p.m. to 3 a.m.), unlike rural roads or motorways where afternoon and evening hours are the most dangerous. Urban areas generally have more activity at night than other locations, which results in more late-night traffic and increased risk from speeding drivers.

More than 40% of speeding drivers (of all ages) involved in fatal urban crashes had been drinking, compared to 34% percent on rural roads and 18% on motorways. Urban areas are a prime location for the lethal mixture of speed and drunk driving, because there is a high concentration of bars, restaurants and other places where alcohol is served.

Speeding drivers in urban areas are the worst offenders when it comes to the highly dangerous combination of speeding, drinking and driving, and not wearing a seatbelt. Almost 20% of speeding drivers involved in a fatal urban crash were also unbelted and had been drinking.

Making Canada's Roads the Safest in the World

Speeding is a serious road safety problem that causes an unacceptable amount of harm and suffering. It is possible to reduce the number of persons killed and seriously hurt in speed crashes each year in Canada. But saving lives and making roads safer will take action on everyone's part. Here are some suggestions:

  • Raise awareness of the speeding problem through public education.
  • Strengthen laws and increase penalties for speeding.
  • Encourage passengers, especially young adults, to exert pressure on speeding drivers to slow down.
  • Use public education and variable road signage to inform drivers of the need to reduce speed at night or during poor driving conditions.
  • Make the most of limited police resources by targeting speed enforcement to high-risk locations and times.
  • Educate drivers about safe following distances when traveling at higher speeds.
  • Make engineering improvements to rural roads such as adding rumble strips and medians.
  • Remove unnecessary roadside hazards from rural roads.
  • Educate motorcyclists, especially middle-aged riders, about safe motorcycling practices.
  • Educate pedestrians and bicyclists about the importance of paying attention to traffic.
  • Educate drivers to watch for motorcyclists, pedestrians, and bicyclists and to respect the rights of other road users.