New Democrat Olivia Chow Wants Harper’s Conservatives to Put the Safety of Canadians First

Protecting Canadians is one of the most basic responsibilities of our government, and this principle applies to our transportation system. As the NDP critic for Transportation and Infrastructure, I am convinced that our federal government could be doing a lot more to improve the safety on our roadways while preventing driver fatigue across Canada.

In fact, the Canadian Council for Motor Transport Administrators makes the case that driver fatigue is a factor in hundreds of accidents every year in our country. Fatigue is an aggravating factor to dangerous conditions, which means that bad weather, as an example, is made all the more dangerous when the driver has not had enough rest. Fatigue leads to decreased alertness, slower reaction time, poor memory and judgement. The facts show a clear relationship between driver fatigue and crash incidences causing tragic deaths.

Driver fatigue is especially worrisome in the case of inter-city buses where dozens of passengers are at risk every time bus operators have been asked to work extra-long hours, or have not had a chance to adequately rest between their shifts. In the US there are about 50 bus passenger fatalities annually and 325 fatalities where buses have killed occupants of other vehicles, pedestrians or cyclists. These statistics are a warning for Canadians.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has acknowledged that long work hours contribute to drivers being less alert. It’s time that we take a good look at beefing up our regulatory system to ensure that bus lines are not putting their employees and passengers at risk simply to increase profit margins.

As a starting point, I support legislation to require a 10-hour-maximum drive time per day, a 14-hour-maximum on duty per day, and a 10-hour-minimum guarantee for rest between shifts. Our international partners have already implemented rules like this. In fact, the United States has a daily maximum of 10 hours of driving time, and the EU has an even tougher standard of 9 hours of driving per day.

Of course, a stronger law is not a silver bullet, but it is a logical first step that protects passengers and levels the playing field between bus companies. We must not give an advantage to those bus carriers who do not follow good safety practices, and who do not plan safe work schedules and routes.

Currently bus lines have incentives to keep drivers on the road for long periods, regularly over 13 hours behind the wheel with very few breaks. The truth is that they know that they will not be caught, because they are not regularly being inspected. We need to enforce our standards and conduct routine investigations.

Violations that put Canadian travellers in jeopardy cannot be tolerated – companies deserve stiff fines when they break these rules. Too often, bus drivers have not had enough sleep each night. Their work schedules have not allowed them to get enough sleep. We must prevent severe fatigue that quickly builds over the course of a busy week of driving.

We also need a comprehensive approach to keep Canadians safe. This means better designs for our roadways and intersections, appropriate railway crossing infrastructure, rigorous review and inspections of safety management plans, and proper training for drivers about the dangers of fatigue. We need more than just a web site to prevent driver fatigue in Canada.

It is time for the Canadian government to recognize the importance of preventing accidents, and this starts with real solutions and laws to curb unsafe practices. Terrible tragedies like Lac Mégantic can be prevented and we must work harder to ensure that accidents like this never happen again. Conservatives have a bad record when it comes to putting the safety of Canadians first and preventing accidents before they occur. It is scandalous that the federal government has failed to implement the recommendations from the Transportation Safety Board, which would save lives if they were put into place. Whether it is food safety, rail safety, or consumer protection, Conservatives tend to react once a problem occurs rather than enforce existing laws, conduct routine inspections and review safety plans beforehand. An NDP government would work broadly on transportation safety as a key priority. We need an approach that will anticipate threats facing Canadian travellers before they occur. New Democrats can do a better job implementing fatigue management training on our roadways, while modernizing and enforcing safety measures so that Canadians can travel in security as they deserve. Let’s deal with transportation safety together to prevent anymore unnecessary tragedies.