More people dying on Manitoba's rural roads this year, in spite of empty streets early in pandemic

The pandemic emptied Manitoba's roads and caused the number of insurance claims to plummet, but more people are dying on provincial roadways so far this year than last year.

3 motorcyclists have died in crashes in 13 days

RCMP have counted 41 fatal crashes so far in 2020 on the rural Manitoba roads it patrols. That's a 32 per cent increase from the same time last year. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

The pandemic emptied Manitoba's roads and caused the number of insurance claims to plummet, but more people are dying on provincial roadways so far this year than last year.

RCMP said 41 people have died from vehicle collisions on rural roads this year, as of Monday. That's a jump from 31 deaths by the same time last year. The average number of fatalities over the same time span in the past five years is 35.

Year over year, it's a 32 per cent spike in the number of fatalities. 

The police wouldn't attribute the recent surge to any single factor, noting speed, alcohol and the absence of seatbelt usage played a role in some of the crashes, as usual.

"The only thing that appears perhaps out of the norm is the lack of attention when driving but we can't say it's from distracted driving (cellphones, etc.) as we have no evidence to back that up," RCMP Sgt. Paul Manaigre said in an email. 

Traffic counts began dropping in mid-March as Manitobans were urged to stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In fact, Manitoba Public Insurance offered drivers rebate cheques averaging between $140 to $160 earlier this year, in part because it didn't pay out as many claims during the early weeks of the pandemic.

Road fatalities lower in Winnipeg

The number of drivers have steadily increased since active cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba started dropping in April.

Meanwhile, the Winnipeg Police Service reported three road fatalities on city streets in 2020, up until Thursday — which is the lowest number in the previous five years.

There were nine deaths within the same time span in 2019, seven deaths in 2018, five in 2017 and eight in 2016.

Of the fatal crashes, motorcyclists appear to make up a growing percentage of the total number of road fatalities provincewide.

One person died Thursday morning in Winnipeg after his motorcycle collided with a car at Salter and Jefferson. (John Einarson/CBC)

It is believed that five motorcyclists have died on Manitoba roads so far this year. MPI said there were four deaths as of July 2, but on Thursday, another motorcycle driver was killed after colliding with a car before 4 a.m. at the Winnipeg intersection of Jefferson Avenue and Salter Street.

On average between 2013 and 2017, it took an entire year for the province to reach that many motorcycle fatalities, MPI said. Four deaths were recorded in all of 2018 and eight were counted last year, the public insurer said.

Doug Houghton helps organize a motorcycle safety rally in Winnipeg every year.

"This goes when you're driving cars, too — some people just feel entitled to the road … change speeds, change lanes without looking, and that's a dangerous situation for a motorcyclist," said Houghton, president of the Coalition of Manitoba Motorcycle Groups.

3 motorcyclists dead in 2 weeks

Three motorcyclists have died in Manitoba in a 13-day span.

In addition to Thursday's fatal crash in Winnipeg, a 63-year-old St. Andrews man on a motorcycle was killed on July 2 when a semi crashed into a row of vehicles waiting to pass a construction zone near Fannystelle, Man. A Winnipeg man, 62, died on June 27 when his motorcycle crashed into a ditch in the Interlake.

A 66-year-old man from Moore Park, Man., has been in hospital in serious condition since Sunday after colliding with a deer north of Forrest, Man., on Highway 10 and Provincial Road 353, RCMP said on Thursday.

Houghton called on greater enforcement for rule-breaking drivers, and better education for anyone behind the wheel.

It could prevent life-threatening scares like the one a biker he knows experienced earlier this week. He was forced to veer onto the shoulder when a vehicle cut him off.

"That's a very common situation," Houghton said.


Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. You can reach him at

With files from Susan Magas