• Sun
  • Aug 31, 2014
  • Updated: 12:20pm
The Hongcouver
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 April, 2014, 10:15am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 April, 2014, 5:42pm

Here’s the real question, Vancouver: Why are non-Asians such lousy drivers?


Ian Young is the SCMP's former International Editor. A journalist for more than 20 years, he worked for Australian newspapers and the London Evening Standard before arriving in Hong Kong in 1997. There he won or shared awards for excellence in investigative reporting and human rights reporting, and the HK News Awards Scoop of the Year. He moved to Canada with his wife in 2010 and is now the SCMP's Vancouver correspondent.

Are Asian drivers really so bad? Judging from some of the recent reaction to a series of dash-cam videos shot in and around Vancouver, you’d think it was a scientific fact.

The videos, posted to YouTube and highlighted last month by local media, depict a cringe-worthy array of terrible road skills. Vancouver drivers reverse into moving traffic, sail through red lights and inexplicably collide with stationary objects.

Plenty of people claim their city to have the World’s Worst Drivers, but some Vancouverites who did so after watching the videos pointed the finger of blame at the city’s 900,000-strong immigrant population – in particular, Asian and Chinese drivers. This was in spite of the fact that the ethnicity of the drivers at fault in the videos was almost never visible.

“How many of these drivers were new international migrants, DWA or foreign taxi drivers? answer: MOST … DWA = driving whilst Asian... for those that didn't know!,” came the confident assertion from YouTube commenter “Ryan Smith”.

“Welcome to Hongcouver,” observed an anonymous poster.

“Vancouver and Metro area drivers are probably worst in Canada because of the high amount of immigrants and foreigners in the city... would be interesting to know how many of the drivers were Asian - sorry but it's just a horrible sad fact,” said another.

Supposed Asian driving habits are often discussed on Reddit Vancouver, where moderators keep a watchful eye on conversations that sometimes tread the fine line between racism and fair comment.

“As a 20s mostly white male living in Vancouver's perspective yes MOST Asians are bad drivers Okay, but the fact is they are inheritantly bad drivers. Its no secret that most Asian countries driving habits are atrocious at best,” said Canadian731 on Reddit, adding “Its not racist to tell the truth” before being swiftly banned.

But are Asian immigrants “inheritantly” lousy drivers? Or does saying so indeed make Canadian731 a racist (with ironically poor English skills to boot)?

The topic hasn’t been thoroughly studied in Vancouver, but trauma department doctors in Toronto have tracked the driving habits of more than one million recent immigrants, the highest proportion of whom were from China or India.

The results? Immigrant drivers were found to be far less likely to be involved in accidents than long-term residents, even after adjusting for mitigating factors such as shorter commutes or a greater tendency to use public transport.

“These results call into question common risk perceptions and a widespread negative stereotype,” concluded the researchers, led by trauma physician Dr Donald Redelmeier.

Over the eight years of the study, recent immigrant drivers were involved in hospital-worthy accidents at a rate of 158 per 100,000 people, compared to 289 per 100,000 long-term residents. Immigrant drivers were thus 45 per cent less likely to be involved in crashes resulting in hospital care, over an equivalent amount of driving. The study was published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention in 2011.

Immigrant drivers actually became more likely to be involved in a serious accident the longer they had spent in Canada – but at every stage of the study, immigrants were safer drivers than non-immigrants.

The conclusions of the study do not appear to be some kind of Torontonian aberration. Researchers at the University of Sydney discovered in 2010 that young Asian-born drivers were far safer on Australian roads than their Australian-born counterparts. Asian-born drivers were found to be 45 per cent less likely to be involved in a police-reported crash (the same risk gap found in Toronto), after adjusting for demographic factors.

The comparative crash risk among Asian-born drivers was even lower for very young drivers aged 17; these drivers were 61 per cent less likely to be involved in a crash than Australian-born counterparts. “Risk estimates for people born in other regions did not differ to those for Australian-born respondents,” the researchers found, suggesting that safer driving is specifically an Asian, not immigrant, attribute. The Australian research was published in the journal Traffic Injury and Prevention.

So how do we explain the persistent stereotype that Asians can’t drive? It might be racism. But perhaps it’s just observational bias – “if a driver does something stupid but looks like me, it’s because he’s a bad driver; but if that bad driver looks different, it’s because different-looking people can’t drive”.

With more than 400,000 ethnic Chinese in greater Vancouver, there is certainly no shortage of bad Chinese drivers. But there are plenty of good ones as well.

The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email ian.young@scmp.com or on Twitter, @ianjamesyoung70.


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This article is now closed to comments

I agree that safer doesn't mean better. This might be controversial but women are statistically safer drivers, does this mean they are better? Well if you judge it by not being involved in recordable accident then yes. But if you actually mean driving skill then I'd argue not. From my experience they drive slower so when they do silly dangerous things I can avoid them more easily. Accident rates for women in the UK are going up, is this because they are less skillful drivers? No it's because they are driving faster and are harder to avoid. I can see the same factor at work with Asian drivers in vancouver.
We have lots of Indian and Pakistani women drivers over here who are terrible but incredibly slow. They are easy to avoid when they just pull out in front of you without indicating but the young male Indian and Pakistani drivers drive really fast and have very high accident rates as a result.
A problem with your statistics. If only 10% of recent immigrants drive regularly or at all, then the 'accident' rate of recent immigrants would in fact be much higher than longer term Vancouverites. You have no data on the percentage of each population that drives, how often and how many kilometers, so the statistics you quote are not much help to anyone.
According to Dr Redelmeier, the lead researcher on the Toronto study, differences in rates of car usage were not nearly enough to account for the different accident rates. Redelmeier: "Perhaps one-third of the total 5,000 hospital admissions for road trauma in Ontario each year might be prevented if long-term residents changed their behaviour to match recent immigrants."
The Australian study was a comparative study of licensed drivers only; its conclusions are already adjusted for demographic factors (such as relative driving distances).
Both studies and their conclusions were peer-reviewed prior to publication.
Safe does not mean good. Many people drive "safe" but cause problems around them by drivers who are more comfortable driving with years of experience in the new country. Not just Asians but immigrants or tourists when visiting other countries do this. It takes longer to navigate and figure things out so it all tends to slow you down as they figure out where they are going. I try to always pull off someplace to figure it out when travelling but that's not always possible. Here in LA CA. there are people from all over and many are distracted so one group does not standout over the others.
I am Asian. But I have to agree that the traffic in Vancouver is getting worse with more mainland Chinese driving. They just drive with a different set of "rules". They drive like walking, turn whenever the want, "no-look" pass, stopping in the middle of the road, backing on the road to avoid going around when missed the turn/exit, just to name a few. I know as I've driven in China.
Asians can drive well. The problem stems from those who are inconsiderate: ie, talking on their phones and driving at a slow pace. Many of my coworkers are slow drivers - that is annoying. Well, the traffic accident stats show that Asians are safe drivers - not sure if that equates with good. At least it should be enough to teach the racists that their hate colors their thoughts and in turn makes them draw incorrect conclusions. Not sure if the racists can understand that incorrect conclusions = stupid. Who would choose to be stupid? that's just stupid.


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