Research Papers

Fatalities Caused by Motor Vehicle Collisions into Water: A Preventable Cause of Drowning Mortality in Canada

Version 1
Date added June 27, 2017
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Category 2017 CARSP XXVII Toronto
Tags Research and Evaluation, Session 4C
Author/Auteur Tessa Clemens
Stream/Volet Research and Evaluation

Slidedeck Presentation Only (no paper submitted)



Drowning is a leading cause of unintentional injury death in Canada. Although recreational activities account for the greatest proportion of drowning fatalities, daily living activities, including motor vehicle travel, account for one quarter of all fatal drowning incidents. Despite the relatively high incidence of daily living related drowning deaths, traditional drowning prevention interventions in Canada have focused on recreational aquatic and boating drowning deaths. There is a paucity of research related to drowning fatalities caused by motor vehicle collisions into water and associated prevention strategies. To report the incidence of drowning deaths caused by motor vehicle collisions and to describe the characteristics of these incidents with a view to suggesting prevention strategies. We conducted a retrospective review of all drowning fatalities that occurred in Canada between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2013. Data for water-related fatalities in all provinces and territories were extracted from the Drowning Prevention Research Centre Canada database. The sources of this data included death certificates, post-mortem/autopsy reports, police reports, hospital records and coroner investigation statements. The main outcome variable was a motor-vehicle related drowning fatality. During the study period, 197 drowning fatalities occurred as the result of a motor vehicle collision into water; accounting for 8% of all unintentional water-related fatalities and 2% of all motor vehicle collision deaths in Canada. The male to female ratio was 2.1:1. The majority of motor vehicle related drowning deaths occurred as the result of a car or truck unintentionally leaving the roadway and entering a river (41%) or ditch (26%) that was immediately adjacent to the road. Incident and victim characteristics differed substantially from those of non-motor vehicle drowning fatalities across variables: age, sex, alcohol involvement, month of incident, province, type of body of water, urban versus rural location, and incident time. The characteristics of motor vehicle related drowning deaths differ from those of non-motor vehicle related drowning fatalities. Traditional drowning prevention strategies that target recreational drowning fatalities may not be effective in preventing motor vehicle drowning deaths. Exploring other strategies, such as built environment interventions that prevent vehicles from leaving the road and entering bodies of water, or that obstruct bodies of water that occur near roadways, may be necessary to reduce drowning mortality. The results of the study demonstrate that motor vehicle collisions into water represent a substantial proportion of water-related fatalities in Canada. Further investigation into interventions to prevent motor vehicle collisions resulting in drowning is warranted.

Tessa Clemens