Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dangerous demographic: Lion's share of grief on road caused by young dudes with attitude

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February 8, 2011 - 110208  -  Traffic flies through the intersection of McGillivray Boulevard and Kenaston Boulevard on Tuesday, February 8, 2011. A recent MPI report states the intersection has the most motor vehicle collisions of all city intersections.    John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press

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February 8, 2011 - 110208 - Traffic flies through the intersection of McGillivray Boulevard and Kenaston Boulevard on Tuesday, February 8, 2011. A recent MPI report states the intersection has the most motor vehicle collisions of all city intersections. John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press Photo Store

There's a word, a little bit rude, that perfectly describes a certain kind of driver.

The guy who weaves in and out of lanes, cutting off other motorists, swerving into the spaces between cars to get to the red light a few seconds faster. The guy who floors it down Portage Avenue, engine roaring, blowing through yellows. The guy who tailgates so close it borders on road-rage intimidation.

Those drivers are douchebags. And they are, indeed, mostly all young men.

Good drivers have accidents -- a moment of inattention, a slippery winter road, a misjudged speed, a slow reaction.

But most serious crashes, the ones that result in catastrophic injuries or some of the 20-odd deaths annually on Winnipeg roads, aren't caused by good drivers. They're caused, typically by speeders and drunks, who tend, overwhelmingly, to be dudes.

In researching last week's Winnipeg Free Press series on car crashes and traffic deaths, the douchebag problem popped up with alarming frequency.

Scrolling through spreadsheets of bad crashes investigated by the Winnipeg Police Service's central traffic unit over the last five years, nearly 60 per cent of all charges laid involved male drivers aged 18 to 35.

If you flip through the remarkable crash data collected by Manitoba Public Insurance, you'll see the same thing -- the highest proportion of crashes, especially the bad ones, are caused by young men.

The Winnipeg Police Service's Just Slow Down website sums that data up neatly: "Male drivers, consistently, are involved in more speed-related crashes than females. And drivers between the ages of 16 and 24 are consistently implicated in the highest number of speed-related crashes per 10,000 drivers. They are five times more likely to get involved in speed-related crashes than older drivers."

If you sit in the atrium of the downtown courthouse, shuffling through stacks of folded-up charge and disposition documents, what you see, over and over, are young men charged with dangerous or drunk driving whose birthdays are March 24, 1993 or Sept. 30, 1991 or Oct. 17, 1990.

Talk to all the trauma docs at Health Sciences Centre, and what you'll hear is how most of their patients are young men.

"The commonest group are young males, for all categories of trauma, actually," said Neil Berrington, the head of neurosurgery. "They are more prone to risk-taking."

"This is what I do for a living," adds Perry Gray, the top doc in the surgical intensive care unit. "I see the ones who don't slow down."

The douchebag problem is among the chief prevention conundrums faced by Manitoba Public Insurance, which typically tailors its TV ads to exactly those kinds of drivers. Though millions are spent every year on safe-driving campaigns all across Canada, very little has been shown to be effective in changing douchebag behaviour.

And, it's one of the most intractable problems for Winnipeg police officers doing some of the least sexy and unheralded work in the force -- traffic enforcement.

Driver's-ed classes show the graphic effects of high-risk driving, and police on ticket duty target the kinds of behaviour that causes the worst crashes: speeding and texting. But getting young men to stop driving like jerks is a challenge.

"That is probably one of the toughest things," said Winnipeg Police Staff Sgt. Rob Riffel. "We still see those same people getting tickets and tickets and tickets."

We asked readers to share their crash stories, and many involved being hit by male drivers. One of the best conversations I had was with a young woman who told me about a guy she was dating who took her cruising down Portage Avenue one summer evening. It was initially kind of a rush to go fast in a cool car, she said. But, during one pass down Portage, her date was speeding, darted out of a slow lane of cars and hit a Jetta. She dumped the guy immediately, and it changed the way she drives.

That story speaks to the larger culture of non-compliance, the notion we all harbour that it's OK to drive 10 klicks over the limit or speed up in the block after the traffic camera, or floor it through the yellow instead of stopping. That's what douchebags do.

"It drives me absolutely crazy" said Riffel. "I can control whether I get stabbed, shot, whatever, by not going to the drinking party. But when I go to the movies or the grocery store, I can get picked off by a impaired driver or a speeder or a guy driving like an idiot. I can control a lot in my life, but that is such a random act. It drives me crazy."

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 25, 2014 A8

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