moved that Bill C-373, An Act respecting a federal framework on distracted driving, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand before my colleagues to debate my Bill C-373, an act respecting a federal framework on distracted driving.
Before I go into the detail about my bill, I want to take a moment to share a personal story. Amutha was the 17-year-old sister of a friend. In 2010, Amutha went to a Halloween party. That night, after the festivities wound down, she got into a Pontiac Sunfire with four other friends to go home. They were all responsible that night. They did not drink, and they made sure they had a designated driver to take them home safely.
Across the city, a young woman got behind the wheel of a Chevy Cavalier. At 2:55 in the morning, the driver of that Cavalier drove through a red light at the intersection of St. Mary's Road and Bishop Grandin Boulevard, and collided with the Pontiac Sunfire that Amutha and her friends were travelling in.
The driver of the Cavalier was speeding, had been drinking, and at the moment of impact was texting. Amutha, and Senhit, a friend of hers, died almost immediately, and two other passengers sustained life-altering injuries.
This event forever changed the lives of the families and friends of those five people who were in that car on that fateful night. I share this story because today we are going to be debating and discussing ideas, concepts, and statistics. I do not want Amutha, Senhit and their friends to be just more statistics. They had hopes and dreams. They had aspirations about what they could do in their lives, and their presence brought joy to their families and friends.
It would be a disservice to them and to their families if we lost sight of that.
Sadly, this story is not unique. It is an experience that many families share. During my time in the emergency room, I provided care to patients who, through no fault of their own, were victims of distracted driving. Tragically, some of these patients died as a result of their injuries. When I tell the House that last year 29 people died as a result of distracted driving in my home province of Manitoba, I want members to remember that the number 29 is not just a statistic and not just a number, it represents the families who will never see their loved ones again, the lives who suddenly stopped aspiring to help make our communities a better place, and the sons and daughters who will not have a parental figure to guide them through life.
While we have made great strides in changing dangerous behaviours like impaired driving and speeding, work still needs to be done on distracted driving. This is why I introduced this bill, and this is why I stand here before the House today.
Today we have the opportunity for the federal government to take a lead and address this issue. This bill calls upon the Minister of Justice, in collaboration with the Minister of Transport to work with the provincial and territorial governments to develop a federal framework to coordinate and promote efforts to deter and prevent distracted driving involving the use of hand-held electronic devices.
The framework would include six provisions on the following: the collection of information relating to incidents involving the use of hand-held electronic devices; the administration and enforcement of laws respecting distracted driving; the creation and implementation of public education programs; the role of driver-assistance technology in reducing the number collisions and fatalities; the sharing of best practices among jurisdictions; and, recommendations regarding possible amendments to federal laws, policies, and programs.
In order to fully understand and properly address this issue, we need to have the correct information to properly measure the effectiveness of any measures that are introduced. At the moment, we do not have that.
A report prepared on request by the Library of Parliament states:
There are several data limitations related to the compilation of statistics on the number of collisions and fatalities associated with distracted driving in Canada. In particular, there is neither a uniform definition of distracted driving nor a uniform data collection survey that is used across jurisdictions that would provide comparable cross-jurisdictional data.
Additionally, the Traffic Injury Research Foundation of Canada states:
While many jurisdictions have sought to improve data that are collected in relation to this important issue in recent years, at present it is limited for a variety of reasons.
First, the role of distraction in crashes is difficult to determine at roadside since drivers are unlikely to admit to engaging in distracted behaviours behind the wheel, particularly in the event of a crash. Without direct observation by police or reports from witnesses, or rare conditions being present, such as a phone in hand, distraction may not be recorded as a factor.
Second, while some distraction data are collected, it is often not possible to analyze these data in terms of individual or specific distraction-related factors simply because of the breadth of factors that may play a role.
Finally, data comparisons across jurisdictions is also difficult as each may utilize a slightly different definition of distraction (perhaps in accordance with legislation), collect different levels of detail, categorize distractions using different groupings, or have different types of charges that police may apply based on the Highway Traffic Act.
The report concludes:
To date, measures of distraction or effectiveness of strategies are fairly limited and not comparable across jurisdictions. Often measures are process-oriented, and outcome measures such as crashes cannot be directly linked to results of specific initiatives in order to gauge effectiveness.
A federal framework can help create a means for cross-jurisdictional data collection with uniform definitions on distracted driving and can be an important tool in measuring the effectiveness of current provincial and territorial legislation and programs.
One of the criticisms I have heard regarding this legislation is that using a hand-held communication or electronic device while driving is already illegal. This statement is true, in most of Canada. In Nunavut, there is no law prohibiting the use of a hand-held electronic device while driving. There is legislation prohibiting careless driving, but none specifically addressing this issue.
Additionally, there is a range of penalties across Canada with varying degrees of severity between jurisdictions. A federal framework can help jurisdictions create a degree of consistency, but most important, a federal framework can determine the effectiveness of the administration and enforcement of these laws. The World Health Organization, in its 2015 Global Status Report on Road Safety, stated:
To date, there is little information on the effectiveness of interventions to reduce mobile phone use while driving. As a result, a number of countries are following an approach that has been known to be successful in addressing other key risk factors for road traffic injuries. Legislation prohibiting the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving exists in 138 countries, and a further 31 countries prohibit both hand-held and hands-free phones. However, due perhaps to difficulties enforcing this legislation, there remains little evidence of the effectiveness of such measures: in the Netherlands, mobile phone use has been banned since 2002 but there is mixed evidence about the impact of this measure.
The health and safety of Canadians is of the utmost importance to all levels of government in Canada and if the laws that are in place are not properly protecting Canadians, then we need leadership at the federal level to address this issue. I would like to reinforce that the bill does not make any activity illegal. It asks the federal government to take a leadership role in ensuring the efficacy of our country's laws.
Informing the public of the dangers associated with distracted driving is paramount to reducing incidents of collisions and fatalities. Just like with impaired driving, people need to be informed of the serious consequences of their actions if they take their eyes off the road to check a message or send a text.
I bring up impaired driving because this is a similar behaviour that we have been able to change because of education and awareness campaigns. It was not too long ago that the words, “one more for the road”, could be heard at a party or a bar before someone left for the night. Right now, it is socially unacceptable for someone to encourage another person to have another drink before they get into a car, and I am certain that there are members here today who have stopped someone from getting behind the wheel if the the person has had too much to drink.
We need to treat distracted driving as though it were the new drunk driving. We can do that by changing behaviours and educating Canadians.
According to the Traffic Injury Research Foundation's report on distracted driving in Canada, there have been examples of successful campaigns involving multiple levels of governments with law enforcement and stakeholder participation that have been able to reach a wide audience. However, there were limitations. The report states, “it was also recognized that more active methods of engagement in terms of emotional appeals, social norming, and tailored messages to specific audiences were needed.”
Additionally, there are still troubling behaviours in drivers. For example, according to the Canadian Automobile Association, 69% of Canadians think it is unacceptable to text at a red light, but 33% still admit to doing it.
A federal framework can help establish parameters for what is needed to implement a successful awareness and education campaign from coast to coast to coast.
The issue of distracted driving involving the use of hand-held communication devices is a result of new technologies. There will always be new advances, but now comes the opportunity to determine if these new technologies can be adapted to reduce the number of collisions and fatalities.
Transport Canada's report, “Transportation in Canada 2011, Comprehensive Review”, states:
Transport Canada has an ongoing driver distraction research program to better understand the safety implications of new technologies and to identify distraction countermeasures.
I am glad this ministry is treating this seriously. Measures are being considered for special features; for example, a phone app that would divert calls to an inbox while driving above 10 kilometres an hour. However, it would be important to determine what recommendations can be gathered from stakeholders and the provinces for a federal framework.
Additionally, the Manitoba provincial road safety committee announced a road safety plan, with strategic recommendations that included considering the need for a coordinated approach and legislative amendments to guide the use of autonomous vehicle technologies as a measure to reduce traffic collisions as a result of distracted driving.
The same report also recommended collaborating with other provincial, municipal, and territorial partners on road safety research initiatives, including comprehensive data collection and consistency. This recommendation aims to strengthen consistency and consensus for data collection, address potential data gaps, and enable better interjurisdictional data comparison and evaluation. This is why I have also included in my bill a provision for a federal framework to include the sharing of best practices among jurisdictions.
Addressing distracted driving is not a partisan issue, it is a Canadian issue, and one that has undoubtedly impacted all of us here in this House in one way or another. As a runner and motorcyclist, I have lost count of the close calls I myself have had with distracted drivers. In fact, only one week ago, within an hour of discussing this bill with my colleagues, I was about to cross the street in front of Parliament when a white SUV ran a red light, nearly hitting me. The driver was oblivious that he ran a red light because he was deep in conversation with someone on his mobile phone.
There is a pressing need for a response and a leadership role to be taken by the federal government. This is why I am asking for support on all sides. If a framework to prevent distracted driving can save one life, then we would have done our duty for Canadians.
I look forward to the questions from my colleagues and for a fruitful and thoughtful debate on this issue.