Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to have the opportunity today to speak in support of Bill C-603, a bill to make side guards on heavy trucks mandatory, a bill that has the potential to save the lives of Canadians and to make our roadways safer.
I want to thank the member for Brossard—La Prairie for bringing this important issue before this House. There have been far too many avoidable fatalities in recent memory associated with pedestrians and cyclists being overtaken by transport truck trailers. We need to take action now to prevent further loss of life.
We have all heard the tragic accounts of young men and women, pedestrians and cyclists, whose lives have been cut short by an accident that would clearly be avoidable and easily addressed through government action legislating side guards on heavy trucks.
The dangers represented by large trucks to pedestrians and cyclists are not a recent phenomenon. Ten years ago, a young daughter of a close friend of our family was killed while biking after she was caught under the wheels of a transport truck. Side guards would have prevented this tragedy. At 21 years old, she should have been able to use the roadway in safety. It is in her memory and the memory of so many others that I support this bill today.
From the evidence available to us, we know that mandatory side guards on heavy trucks would greatly reduce the risk and the number of fatalities and serious injuries on our roads each year. A recent study from the United Kingdom found that these side guards reduced the fatality rate by 61% in instances when a cyclist hit the side of a truck. This type of collision is by no means a rare occurrence. Evidence from the United States between 2005 and 2009 shows that more than half of all cyclist and 29% of pedestrian accidents involved the victim succumbing to the hazards of falling under the side of the truck.
To say this is exclusively a provincial matter is clearly an attempt by the government to shift responsibility from the current federal government to the provinces. The federal government knows it has a responsibility, through the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, to take action. The legislation's mandate is as follows:
...to regulate the manufacture and importation of motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment to reduce the risk of death, injury and damage to property and the environment.
Enacting Bill C-603 is well within the federal government's mandate in this respect. Across Canada, municipalities are moving to install side guards on their trucks and heavy equipment. They recognize the clear and obvious need for these measures in the promotion of personal and vehicular safety.
The federal government has an obligation to participate in this discussion and the solution. This includes working with the provinces through Bill C-603 to enact positive change.
These side guards are mandatory in Japan. They are mandatory in the United Kingdom, and they are mandatory across the whole of Europe. Why does Canada always resist sound evidence and the positive experience of other countries?
I think Ontario's former chief coroner spoke for all of us when he said:
I don't know what more evidence is needed before one just moves forward to do something which is known to save lives.
Surveys show that two-thirds of Canadians have indicated a desire to cycle more, but they cite safety concerns as a significant obstacle to doing so. We want Canadians to get out and about and get healthier, and the federal government's refusal to act is not only preventing people from getting more active but is endangering those who do.
There would be significant economic, environmental, and health impacts from this policy. The economic benefit of these side guards is clear. Numerous studies have shown that they can decrease fuel consumption by as much as 20%, a result of the streamlining effect of these safety guards. Our own National Research Council estimates that the 230,000 truck trailers across our country would save over 400 million litres of gas annually. Those are very significant savings for Canadian businesses.
Enabling more cyclists to be on the road and ensuring their safety would also be part of a larger strategy to reduce the burden on Canadian commuters. Every year, cities experience increased traffic congestion. Any of us trying to get out of Ottawa to the airport or the many of us who travel in or across Toronto know how frustrating and wasteful sitting in traffic can be.
Municipalities and provincial governments struggle to provide adequate transportation infrastructure in the face of ever-rising costs. Keeping up with the demand for roadways is an impossible task. We must look to providing alternative means of transportation and encourage an increase in pedestrian and cyclist activity as part of a progressive strategy that would curtail our transportation and infrastructure costs from spiralling further out of control.
Canadian motorists make an average of 2,000 trips each year of less than three kilometres. Guaranteeing safety for pedestrians and cyclists would encourage many more to get out and bike instead of hopping in the car. However, it is tougher to ensure our safety and the safety of our loved ones when we hear tragic stories like those of Jenna Morrison and Mathilde Blais and the too many countless others who have needlessly lost their lives.
Encouraging cycling also contributes to reducing carbon emissions where it can reduce traffic congestion. If transportation accounts for nearly 50% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, and truck side guards are proven to reduce carbon emissions by 1.1 million metric tonnes annually, then ensuring the safety of cyclists has the added benefit of reducing Canada's environmental footprint.
It is no secret that the current government has no desire to address the environmental issues facing Canadians, but even members on the government benches do not want to see carbon emissions increase further year after year.
Finally, let us consider the personal health benefits derived from biking and walking. Obesity continues to be a growing problem across our country. Encouraging physical activity impacts the quality of life Canadians experience, now and in the future. Better health outcomes would obviously reduce the strain on our health care system and would increase our quality of life.
The economic, environmental, and personal health benefits are all substantial and clear to many, if not most, Canadians, but when it comes down to it, I still think twice when my children and I go out on our bikes together or we bike alone. We cannot expect to get more Canadians to adopt alternative means of transportation if they do not feel safe. The House has before it a great opportunity to help create a safer environment for cyclists and pedestrians.
The government fails to advance any reasonable or convincing argument for why we should not be acting on this right now. Simply, it is allowing ideology to restrict the advancement of vehicular and pedestrian safety that would also contribute to our health and to environmental sustainability and that would save taxpayer dollars.
Creating a safe environment on the roads needs to be part of the federal government's commitment to its citizens. Yet by not supporting this bill, it is abandoning its key responsibility to ensure their safety. Canadians want action on this issue, and the bill before us presents some very good steps in that direction.
The government has a responsibility to act now, not in a few years, when it thinks a new technology may be available, especially when solutions are available now. The House has seen what can happen when parliamentarians work together to make meaningful change for Canadians, build on something, and create legislation and regulation that work in the best interests of our constituents.
Why does the government have an aversion to this bill going to committee, where all the evidence can be reviewed? What does it fear? I support sending this bill to committee, and I would suggest that members opposite do the same.