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More Suicides than Road Fatalities?

The recent suicides of two hockey players, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, and a fifth young person in less than two months on a First Nations reserve in northwestern Ontario have prompted a closer look at what the Canada Safety Council calls “Canada’s Silent Tragedy.” The September 3rd edition of the National Post newspaper includes a breakdown ‘by method’ of the most current complete annual suicide statistics for the year 2007.One of the identified methods is ‘crashing a motor vehicle’.

In Canada, in 1991, there were 3,690 road fatalities and 3,593 reported suicides. Since 1992, however, annual reported suicides have exceeded annual road fatalities. By 2003 there were 26 per cent more reported suicides than road fatalities. The 2007 Canadian Motor Vehicle Traffic Collision Statistics released by Transport Canada on March 24, 2010 (the most current complete annual statistics) show a decrease in road fatalities of 4.4 per cent from 2,889 in 2006 to 2,767 in 2007.

The outlook is positive for this downward trend in road fatalities —a 32.5 per cent decline since 1987— continuing in 2008.The 2,767 road fatalities in 2007, however, compare to (as noted above) 3,611 suicides in Canada in the same year, which amounts to 30 per cent more reported suicides than road fatalities.Out of the total of 3,611 reported suicides,the National Post reported 24 as having been caused by “crashing a motor vehicle.”

About the number of annual suicides, The Canada Safety Council notes that,alarming as it is,it may, however, be low because “it is impossible to know exactly how many deaths in single-vehicle crashes, railway trespassing incidents and other 'accidents' are intentional.”According to “Traffic Safety” by Dr. Leonard Evans —an internationally renowned expert on traffic safety often quoted by Road Rules — of the 25,840 drivers killed in the US in 2001, 48.94 percent were killed in single vehicle crashes.

On the subject of recording fatal crashes in which deliberate intent can be definitively identified, Dr. Evans points out what he calls a deficiency, “for no good” reason in the US Fatality Reporting System (FARS) in its excluding such cases from the total count. He criticizes this exclusion, small as it may be, for making “the file less useful for investigating traffic suicides.” In calling for correction he notes that “indirect methods applied to Finnish data indicate that as many as 5.9% of traffic deaths may be suicides.”

Comparing annual suicides and annual road fatalities and noting the ‘fuzzy’ overlap between them raiseanother important consideration. For each completed suicide there are 100 attempts, for each road fatality an estimated 120 injuries. We really don’t know the extent of intentionally caused road fatality and injury, which means there is an unquantified risk against which few, if any, road safety measures have been directed.

September 10th every year is World Suicide Prevention Day. One thing you can do to acknowledge this day, this “silent tragedy” is take a few minutes to review the ‘About Suicide’ pages on www.suicideprevention.ca.

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