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ICES study vindication for immigrant drivers


Immigrants are often characterized as unsafe drivers and responsible for excess crashes. Such beliefs are based on a person's presumed lack of familiarity with roadway layout, winter driving conditions, prevailing laws and common customs. But new research conducted at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) shows immigrant drivers are, in fact, safer than long-term residents in the same region.

“These findings suggest that, contrary to popular opinion, recent immigrants are less prone to be involved in a serious road crash. About one-third of the 5,000 hospital admissions for road trauma in Ontario each year might be prevented if long-term residents behaved more like recent immigrants,” says lead investigator and ICES Senior Scientist Dr. Donald Redelmeier.

The study examined almost one million recent immigrants to Ontario, one of the most ethnically diverse regions of North America. Researchers tracked individuals for an average of 8 years and matched each recent immigrant to a long-term resident who had the same age, gender, living location and economic status. The study found that:

  • About 10,000 crashes occurred during the study, with an annual risk about 40 to 50 per cent lower among recent immigrants compared to long-term residents.
  • If long-term residents had the same risks as recent immigrants, the differences would have saved about 1,000 critical care unit admissions, 2,000 surgical operations and 30,000 days in hospital.
  • The greatest decreases in road safety risks occurred during initial years following immigration, but difference persisted beyond the fifth and sixth year following arrival in Ontario.
  • The findings extended to crashes with the highest levels of severity and to adults with the highest levels of income. In contrast, no differences were observed for involvement in crashes as pedestrians.

One explanation, says Redelmeier, “is that recent immigrants drive shorter distances at slower speeds with more caution. A second possibility is that bad driving risks are screened-out by immigration policies. As well, a person’s decreased local experience might be accompanied by an increased sense of personal trepidation and caution.”

Redelmeier suggests that long-term residents sometimes become inattentive drivers, over-confident in their habits and neglectful of basic safety practices. Decreasing everyday driving risks requires being diligent and wearing a seatbelt, obeying the speed limit, restricting alcohol consumption, minimizing distractions and never driving recklessly.

Authors: Donald A. Redelmeier, David Katz, Hong Lu, Gustavo Saposnik.

The study “Roadway crash risks in recent immigrants,” is available here.

ICES is an independent, non-profit organization that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of healthcare issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting healthcare needs of Ontarians, and a stimulus for discussion of practical solutions to optimize scarce resources. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad, and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about care delivery and to develop policy.



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