Minister of Transport
House of Commons
February 25, 2020
Dear Minister Garneau:
Re: Stockholm Declaration and immediate actions needed to improve road safety outcomes in Canada.
We are writing you today as concerned road safety professionals and researchers regarding road safety in Canada. At the third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety held in Stockholm this month, a new declaration on road safety was endorsed to halve fatalities and injuries by 2030.1
We wish to draw to your attention the fact that Canada ranks sixteenth in international road safety performance, with best performing countries such as Norway having less than one-half the road fatalities of Canada. If Canada were to achieve the road fatality rate of Norway, we would save over one thousand lives every year. Best performing countries have not always had good safety performance but enjoy good performance because they have given road safety the priority it needs.
In contrast, the Canadian approach to road safety has not been sufficient to provide Canada with the lowest possible levels of road trauma. Each year in Canada approximately nineteen hundred people are killed in road crashes and many thousands are seriously injured and hospitalized. In addition, Canada is no longer making progress in reducing fatality and injury rates for pedestrians and cyclists and, in fact, some cities in Canada have seen increases. Since 1950, over 235,000 people have been killed in motor vehicle crashes in this country.
Road trauma is not the result of unfortunate ‘accidents’ that we can do little about but rather is the result of system-wide failures that can be corrected through evidence-based interventions. The leading thinking today is the safe system approach which puts the onus of responsibility on system designers and accepts that humans make mistakes as road users. Governments therefore have an important role to play in reducing deaths and suffering to people.
There are many reasons federal leadership on road safety is needed. The first is the ethical desire to reduce death and serious trauma to people. The second is that the climate crisis, as well as major environmental and ecosystem threats, has made it essential for governments to ensure that transportation systems are sustainable. Sustainable systems entail decarbonizing the transport energy sector and fostering diverse mobility modes such as walking, cycling and public transit and by making these attractive and safe. The third is the increasing toll of physical inactivity including high levels of child obesity in Canada that is leading to higher levels of non-communicable diseases among Canadians.2 By making walking, cycling and public transit attractive and safe, Canada could also mitigate against this growing public health crisis. The fourth is that mounds of research reveal that the burden of road trauma falls disproportionately on people at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum and on Indigenous communities resulting in major public health inequities in our country. Finally, the fifth reason is that sustainable, multi-modal transport reduces the economic burden of transport on low- income individuals thus helping to actually alleviate poverty.
At the same time, Transport Canada has direct responsibility over motor vehicle safety standards and safer motor vehicles alone provide enormous benefits. Research shows that a great deal of progress in improving road safety overall has come from safer motor vehicle design, and these changes have saved hundreds of thousands of lives since the 1960s.3, 4, 5, 6, 7 Since Canadians purchase approximately one and one-half million new cars and light trucks every year, we are missing an opportunity for improvements by not updating our motor vehicle regulations in the most optimum way and independently of the United States. In a 2016 audit, the Auditor General of Canada found that Transport Canada generally waits for the United States to change its motor vehicle safety standards before modifying Canadian standards.8
The federal government continues its policy of harmonizing with inadequate U.S. vehicle regulation, continues to have no vehicle active or passive safety standards or requirements to protect pedestrian and cyclists, continues to have no public-facing star rating assessment program for motor vehicles, continues to have inadequate motor coach and bus crashworthiness regulation, continues to allow foreign importations of right-hand drive polluting vehicles older than fourteen years into Canada, continues to allow dangerous 12- and 15-passenger vans on our roads, continues to have no requirement for sideguards on large trucks to protect vulnerable road users, continues to allow children to ride in school buses with no seat belts, continues to have no national safe-routes-to-school program, continues to provide no response to the victims and families of the Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy, and continues to not provide the Transportation Safety Board the mandate and jurisdiction it requires to investigate motor coach and large vehicle crashes.
First Nations governments, the provinces and territories, Indigenous communities and local governments across Canada are not positioned to realize real and sustained road trauma reductions by themselves. Across the world, the evidence is clear that countries with the best road safety performance make road safety a national priority.
We are calling on the federal government to make road safety a national priority, to work toward making land transportation systems sustainable, to set specific targets for road safety improvements including the official adoption of the Stockholm Declaration and the spirit of its full text, to create a specific and funded action plan for change that will halve road fatalities and injuries by 2030 in Canada, to address the issues outlined in this letter, and to establish Ministerial accountabilities for delivering on results.
We look forward to hearing from you on this important matter that affects all Canadians, and we call on lawmakers and parliamentarians to use all the means at their disposal to make road safety a top priority.
Neil Arason Author of No Accident: Eliminating injury and death on Canadian Roads (Wilfrid Laurier University Press), Victoria, BC (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Ahmed Shalaby, P.Eng. Professor of Civil Engineering, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB Technical Director, Safer Roads Canada (Ahmed.Shalaby@UManitoba.ca)
Graham Larkin Executive Director, Vision Zero Canada, Ottawa, ON (email@example.com)
The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada (Justin.Trudeau@parl.gc.ca)
Mr. Vance Badawey, MP, Chair of the House of Commons Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities (Vance.Badawey@parl.gc.ca, TRAN@parl.gc.ca)
Mr. Todd Doherty, MP, Opposition Critic for Transport (Todd.Doherty@parl.gc.ca)
1 Stockholm Declaration, Third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety: Achieving Global Goals 2030, Stockholm, 19-20 February 2020, https://www.roadsafetysweden.com/contentassets/b37f0951c837443eb9661668d5be439e/stockholm-declaration-english.pdf
2 Kristie, D. & Perrotta, K. (March 2017), Prescribing Active Travel for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet: A Toolkit for Health Professionals, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.
3 Farmer, C., & Lund, A. (2006). “Trends over time in the risk of driver death: What if vehicle designs had not improved?” Traffic Injury Prevention, 7(4), 335–42.
4 Richter, M., Pape, H., Otte, D., & Krettek, C. (2005). “Improvements in passive car safety led to decreased injury severity—a comparison between the 1970s and 1990s.” International Journal of the Care of the Injured, 36, 484–88.
5 Martin, J., & Lenguerrand, E. (2008). “A population based estimation of the driver protection provided by passenger cars: France 1996-2005.” Accident Analysis and Prevention, 40, 1811-21.
6 O’Neill, B. (2009). “Preventing passenger vehicle occupant injuries by vehicle design—A historical perspective from IIHS.” Traffic Injury Prevention, 10(2), 113–26.
7 Kahane, C.J. (2004). “Lives saved by the federal motor vehicle safety standards and other vehicle safety technologies, 1960-2002: Passenger cars and light trucks. With a Review of 19 FMVSS and Their Effectiveness in Reducing Fatalities, Injuries, and Crashes.” NHTSA technical report, DOT HS 809 833, 88. Retrieved from http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/regrev/evaluate/pdf/809833Part1.pdf
8 Auditor General of Canada (2016), Report 4 – Oversight of Passenger Vehicle Safety -Transport Canada: Ottawa: Author, https://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_oag_201611_04_e_41833.html