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Research Report: Survey of Attitudes, Awareness and Behaviour of Drivers – May 1998

What We Did

In late 1994, the OEE commissioned a national survey to plot the behaviour, attitudes and preferences of Canadian drivers at that time and to create a benchmark to track changes. The survey focussed on driving habits and their impact on fuel efficiency, fuel consumption and on other vehicle related issues that affect the environment. A second study was commissioned in 1998 to compare findings and track changes over the four years.

In the first survey, the OEEspoke to a random sample of more than 1200 Canadian households between November 23 and December 30, 1994. Drivers were asked a range of questions about their behaviour and attitudes that influence their driving, including how often and how far they drove, the type of vehicles they drove for personal use and factors they considered when purchasing a vehicle. The survey also explored the sources of information drivers used when purchasing a vehicle, how much they knew or what they thought about fuel-efficient driving and vehicle maintenance, and whether they thought about fuel efficiency when considering tune-ups, driving speed, oil changes and checking tire pressure. Finally, respondents were asked their age, household make-up, occupation, education, income, language and location. This information was used to organize the data into demographic and behavioural subgroups, with the goal of producing an accurate, representative picture of Canadians on the road.

The 1998 survey included most of the same questions. Unlike the 1994 survey, however, it omitted questions on driving speed and included questions on engine idling, tire pressure checks and awareness of specific Natural Resources Canada programs and initiatives, such as Auto$mart.

Who We Talked To

The February 1998 survey comprised 1503 interviews conducted in English and French. The OEEspoke with approximately 300 drivers from each of five regions: Atlantic Canada, Québec, Ontario, the Prairies and British Columbia. Respondents were selected at random, with the sample in each region including 100 households from a rural area (with a population of less than 1000) and 200 households from an urban centre (with a population of 1000 or more). In 1998, however, 300 interviews were added in the West to allow data for British Columbia and the Prairies to be compared separately. The data were then weighted to reflect the Canadian population as accurately as possible.

All respondents held a valid provincial driver's licence and lived in a household that owned or leased a car, light truck or van (including minivans and four-wheel drive road vehicles). Those who held a valid driver's licence but who did not drive at the time of the survey were excluded, as were drivers with learner's permits, temporary licences, expired and suspended licences, or who used their vehicles only for business or drove only motorcycles and recreational vehicles.

What We Learned


How often did they drive?

  • Driving frequency increased slightly between 1994 and 1998. Approximately 57 percent of the respondents in both surveys said that they drove every day. In 1998, 21 percent reported driving five or six days a week, compared to 19 percent in 1994. Eight percent of respondents said that they drove one or two days a week in 1998, a decrease from 14 percent four years earlier.
  • Males (62 percent) continued to be more likely than females (52 percent) to drive every day, although more females reported driving daily in 1998 than in 1994.
  • Regionally, respondents from Atlantic Canada were most likely to use their vehicle every day (64 percent), followed by Ontario (59 percent), Québec (57 percent), the Prairies (55 percent) and British Columbia (51 percent).

How far did they drive?

  • Fifty percent of respondents in the 1998 survey said that they drove 20 000 kilometres or more each year, up from 43 percent in 1994.
  • Men continued to drive significantly more than women. In 1994, nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of respondents who drove 30 000 kilometres or more per year were male. Forty-three percent of female respondents said that they had driven less than 10 000 kilometres in the 12 months prior to the survey, as opposed to 22 percent of males. In 1998, 49 percent of the men surveyed reported driving more than 20 000 kilometres in the previous year, compared to 38 percent of women. Also, the number of women who reported driving long distances dropped in 1998: only 19 percent said they had driven more than 30 000 kilometres in the last 12 months, as compared to 26 percent in 1994.
  • Regionally, Atlantic Canada respondents had the highest proportion of drivers logging 20 000 kilometres or more in 1998 (59 percent), followed by Ontario (54 percent), the Prairies (52 percent), Québec (44 percent), and British Columbia (42 percent).

What was the fuel consumption rating of the vehicle they drove?

  • More than half (53 percent) of respondents in 1998 drove vehicles rated at less than 8.0 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres (L/100 km) – almost identical to the 1994 results (52 percent). Another 27 percent drove vehicles with a rating of 8.0 to 9.4 L/100 km, a slight drop from the 30 percent in 1994. In 1998, 20 percent drove vehicles with a 9.5 L/100 km rating or higher, a slight rise from the 18 percent of 1994.
  • Males continued to be more likely to drive vehicles that consumed more fuel. In 1998, 25 percent of male respondents (up from 20 percent in 1994) were behind the wheel of vehicles rated at 9.5 L/100 km or higher, compared to 15 percent of female respondents.
  • As in 1994, Québec residents were most likely (60 percent) to drive vehicles that had lower fuel consumption ratings and westerners were the least likely to drive such vehicles (29 percent of respondents in British Columbia and 27 percent in the Prairies).

How many cars did they drive?

  • In 1998, 40 percent of respondents reported owning or leasing one vehicle for personal use; 44 percent had two vehicles and 15 percent had three or more vehicles. These results were virtually unchanged from 1994 (39, 44 and 16 percent, respectively).

How old were these cars?

  • In 1998, 70 percent of Canadians regularly drove a car that was five years old or more, a very significant increase from the 57 percent reported in 1994.

The focus groups

Were Canadians aware of fuel consumption and its effects?

  • Between 1994 and 1998, concern over the environmental impact of fuel-related emissions rose marginally. More than one-quarter of respondents in both 1998 and 1994 (27 and 26 percent, respectively) agreed with the statement that: "The effect of emissions from cars and trucks on our environment is not something I have really thought about." However, fully 70 percent either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement in 1998, up four percent from 1994.
  • The 1998 survey showed a decrease in gender-based differences in attitudes to fuel efficiency, with few differences between male and female responses on the subject. The 1994 survey found women more likely to have thought about the effect of emissions on the environment.
  • Regionally, the 1998 survey found that drivers in British Columbia were most concerned and those in Québec were least concerned about the effect of vehicle emissions on the environment.
  • Overall, there were marginal increases in awareness and sensitivity to the effects of fuel efficiency in 1998. The number of respondents who agreed or strongly agreed that it was easy to be a fuel-efficient driver increased from 65 to 69 percent between 1994 and 1998. The proportion of respondents who reported thinking about reducing fuel consumption while driving a vehicle increased from 66 to 68 percent in the same period.
  • More than two-thirds of 1998 respondents agreed that their driving habits could affect their gas mileage. Fully 68 percent disagreed with the statement "It doesn't really matter what I do, I won't really change my gas mileage by changing my driving habits." This was an increase of nine percent from 1994.
  • Finally, 90 percent of respondents in both 1994 and 1998 agreed that driving and maintaining their car with a view to conserving fuel would save them money. However, the percentage of respondents who agreed strongly with this statement decreased by 10 percent in 1998.

What factors did Canadians consider when buying or leasing their personal vehicles?

  • In 1998, 54 percent of respondents reported driving a "previously owned" vehicle and 46 percent drove a new one. This almost exactly reversed the results of 1994, when 56 percent of Canadians drove new vehicles and 44 percent drove used ones.

What did Canadians consider when buying a personal vehicle?

  • In 1998, as in 1994, the seven most significant factors respondents considered when buying a vehicle were (in descending order):
    • price
    • design
    • reputation and reliability
    • mileage
    • look or appearance
    • handling and performance
    • comfort
  • "Gets good mileage" held fourth place in both surveys, although the percentage of respondents citing this factor dropped by two percent between 1994 and 1998. Regionally, there was a significant difference in attitudes to good mileage between the east and west coasts: 51 percent of Atlantic Canada drivers rated good mileage as extremely important, compared to just 34 percent of respondents from British Columbia.

To what extent did they think about fuel efficiency?

  • In both 1998 and 1994, just 28 percent of respondents agreed with the statement: "Money saved by driving a fuel-efficient vehicle is not a significant saving."

When did Canadians purchase their cars?

  • The proportion of vehicles purchased between April and October 1998 was 57 percent, a drop of some 13 percent from the same period in 1994. The overall purchasing cycle also changed slightly, with peaks in April, June and September. Sales of new 1998 models crested in February, April and June, while used-vehicle purchases peaked in April and remained high from August through October. In 1994, vehicle purchases peaked in the spring months of April, May and June.

Did they do their research?

  • In both surveys, most people said that they relied on personal contacts for information when purchasing a vehicle. The top three sources of information in both surveys were personal contacts (67 percent in 1998 vs. 65 percent in 1994), dealerships (24 percent in 1998 vs. 25 percent in 1994) and magazines (16 percent in both 1998 and 1994). Aside from the emergence of the World Wide Web, there was little change in information sources between 1994 and 1998.

How involved are drivers in the purchase of their vehicle?

  • In the 1998 survey, both men and women reported being more involved in "all or most aspects of the purchase" of their vehicle than in 1994. In 1998, 77 percent of women drivers bought their own vehicle (up 12 percent from 1994) and 86 percent of men did so (up four percent from 1994).

What did we learn about how Canadians drive and maintain their vehicles?

  • In 1998, 92 percent of respondents agreed that there were steps they could take to improve gas mileage, up two percent from 1994.

What can be done to improve mileage?

  • In both 1998 and 1994, the top four recommendations for improving mileage were:
    • not speeding
    • getting regular tune-ups
    • avoiding fast stops or starts
    • maintaining a steady speed
  • When asked to list steps they had taken to improve their gas mileage, the top five responses in 1998 were:
    • getting regular tune-ups (37 percent)
    • not speeding (34 percent)
    • nothing (21 percent)
    • not starting or stopping quickly (10 percent)
    • steady speed (10 percent)
  • Unfortunately, there were fewer responses under each category in 1998 than in 1994, and the percentage of respondents who were "doing nothing" to improve their gas mileage had increased by eight percent.

How involved were Canadians in the maintenance of their vehicles?

  • In 1998, 60 percent of the survey participants claimed to be "very" involved in routine maintenance of their vehicle, up from 56 percent in 1994.
  • Men continued to be more involved in vehicle maintenance than women, although the percentage of women involved in such maintenance rose to 74 percent, up nine percent from 1994. In both studies, 88 percent of men stated that they were "very" or "somewhat" involved.

What maintenance was done and how often?

  • In both years, 93 percent of respondents stated that the oil in their vehicle had been changed in the past six months.
  • In 1998, 64 percent of respondents reported having checked the pressure of their tires in the month prior to the survey, down six percent from 1994. The most frequent reasons they offered for checking tire pressure were:
    • a problem noticed by the driver
    • part of a regular maintenance routine
    • preparation for a long trip
    • routine maintenance in conjunction with a tune-up and a change of season
  • In 1998, most respondents (53 percent) reported a full engine tune-up once a year, down five percent from 1994. Twice-yearly, full engine tune-ups were also down five percent from 1994, to 29 percent. The top five reasons given for tune-ups were to:
    • improve general performance or efficiency
    • prevent mechanical problems on the road
    • increase vehicle longevity
    • maintain gas mileage
    • ensure vehicle safety
  • In the 1994 survey, respondents ranked the statement "Because it's better for the environment" in tenth place as a reason for a tune-up; in 1998, the statement dropped to twelfth place.

When do drivers idle their engines?

  • In 1998, the most common reasons for idling the engine were, in descending order:
    • warming up a vehicle before driving
    • sitting in a drive-through lane at a fast-food restaurant
    • waiting for or picking up someone
    • stopping to speak with an acquaintance
    • running an errand
  • Time spent idling the engine was highest among those warming up a vehicle, waiting for or picking up someone and running an errand.
  • The 1998 survey suggested that drivers who idle their engines with the greatest environmental sensitivity were slightly more likely to be women, members of the professional or business occupational group, and between the ages of 45 and 54. They also had higher levels of education and annual household incomes of more than $65,000.

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