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Bad Drivers?

U of T study shatters myth that recent immigrants cause more car accidents than other Canadians

Everyone “knows” that new immigrants cause more car accidents than Canadians of long standing: they don’t understand our signs and customs; they are unfamiliar with the way our roads are laid out and often don’t have a clue where their destinations are. But is what everyone “knows” actually true?

Donald Redelmeier in the Department of Medicine at the University of Toronto decided to find out. He and his colleagues identified all people aged 16 to 65 who were living in Ontario between April 1, 1995, and March 31, 2006. Anyone who got their very first OHIP card during that time was considered a recent immigrant. The researchers then “matched” each immigrant with long-term residents of Ontario, by year of birth, gender and location and came up with a group consisting of 3,272,393 long-term residents and 965,829 recent immigrants.

Next, they examined hospital admissions due to motor vehicle trauma. During the study period, 10,975 car drivers in the study group had entered hospital because of a car crash, 1,527 of them recent immigrants and 9,448 long-term residents. When the researchers calculated the crash frequency per 100,000 individuals, they found that, contrary to popular belief, recent immigrants were significantly less likely to be involved in a car accident than other Canadians — 158 compared to 289. In other words, recent immigrants posed about half the risk.

To be sure that it wasn’t just that immigrants were reluctant to go to hospital when injured, the researchers looked at pedestrians who had been admitted to hospital due to injuries from cars. They found that recent immigrants who had been injured while walking were just as likely to go to the hospital as other Canadians.

They also note that the pattern of fewer car accidents held across all economic strata, even among the richest immigrants, and it was just as evident in rural areas without a public transit option.

“Regardless of explanation, these data call into question the belief that adult immigrants are major contributors to serious motor vehicle crashes,” the authors write in their recent paper in Accident Analysis and Prevention.

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