Ferocious Manitoba: what we lack in driving skill we make up with aggression

My right-turn signal had been on for about 30 seconds when the black sports car finally made its move.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/08/2022 (275 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

My right-turn signal had been on for about 30 seconds when the black sports car finally made its move.

It was about a week ago. The driver of that car had been hovering in my blind spot, unwilling to make room for me to change lanes on Pembina Highway. Suddenly, he accelerated at an alarming rate, nearly clipping the rear of my SUV. He passed me on the left and then veered sharply right towards the front end of my car, forcing me to hammer the brakes and the horn at the same time.

That horn turned out to be a mistake. Now in front of me, he slammed on his brakes, forcing me to do the same. Then he veered back into the left lane and came alongside me, launching a torrent of profanities and challenging me to get out of my vehicle. “Hey, tough guy… you wanna go?”

Twice he lurched his car towards mine in a threatening manner. Eventually, I made the right-hand turn I had been anticipating and it was over. But I was shaken.

I had mostly forgotten about the incident until Friday, when I read about the sentencing of a Winnipeg man who, gripped by road rage, repeatedly rammed another vehicle he believed had cut him off in traffic. Dale Harper was sentenced to 10 months in jail for the ruthless 2020 attack.

It would be easy to use either Harper’s attack, or my own experience, to argue that Manitoba is one of the worst places in Canada to drive. I’ve lived and travelled extensively in other provinces and have, at various times and during various trips, driven the entire length of the country. Manitoba has always seemed to have one of the most aggressive driving cultures in the country.

We speed up to cut people off when they try to change lanes. We make illegal left-hand turns during rush hour. We stop our cars any time, any place, without regard to the impact on traffic. Tailgating seems to be considered a best practice in the Keystone province. And far too many of us drive well above the speed limit for no apparent reason.

However, as I’ve pointed out in previous columns, the plural of anecdote is not data. What evidence is there that Manitoba drivers are worse?

A recent Free Press story offered some insight.

A spokesperson from Manitoba Public Insurance told us recently that we struggle to pass our licensing road tests. Is failing your road test an indicator of what kind of driver you will be later in life? Does it have a bearing on driving culture? First, let’s look at how much we struggle with road tests.

The most recent data from MPI shows that, over the past four years, only 38 per cent of all people taking road tests pass. Or, if you prefer, 62 per cent fail. And the more you struggle, the more dangerous you are on the road.

Those drivers who fail their tests are more dangerous and, on average, it takes three tries for Manitobans to pass. MPI says drivers who take between four and six attempts to get their licences are 20 per cent more likely to have an at-fault accident; those who require 10 or more attempts are up to 140 per cent more likely to have at-fault accidents.

In case you were wondering, our pass rate does not compare well to other provinces.

The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia reported that between 2019 and June 2022, 52 per cent of all drivers passed their road tests on their first attempt. Other provinces, including Ontario and Saskatchewan, regularly report that 50 per cent or more of those taking a road test get passing grades.

Not surprisingly, our struggles to pass road tests are, at the very least, connected to our abysmal numbers for collisions and injuries.

If you go back to national statistics on collisions, injuries and fatalities in 2019 — the last year before COVID-19 dramatically reduced commuter traffic — Manitoba reported the highest number of injuries (844.7) per 100,000 residents in Canada. And we’ve been leading that metric for many years.

How did we become such a dangerous place to drive? Other than our struggles with driving tests, the study of the root causes of dangerous driving suggests a combination of psychological and environmental factors make drivers more aggressive.

How did we become such a dangerous place to drive?

Drivers who are generally stressed about life, impatient about the pace and volume of traffic and excessively judgmental about the performance of other drivers are most likely to drive aggressively and lash out at others.

Are Manitobans more stressed, or less patient, than people in other provinces? The truth of the matter remains a mystery.

Can we change our driving culture? Short of unleashing a suffocating campaign of traffic law enforcement — unlikely given the current demands being made on police — there isn’t much that can be done on a large scale. But we could, at the very least, own our bad behaviour.

As a first step, let’s agree to ditch the “Friendly Manitoba” slogan on our licence plates and replace it with something that more accurately reflects our approach to driving.

Something like: “Manitoba: you wanna go?”


Dan Lett

Dan Lett

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.


Updated on Monday, August 29, 2022 9:25 AM CDT: Corrects reference to Insurance Corporation of British Columbia

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