Dec 172012
 
The New Brunswick government has eased restrictions on teenage drivers.
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Governments should base their policies on facts.

by Jody Dallaire

The New Brunswick government recently took a bold stand, reversing restrictions on novice (read: teen-agers) drivers — and then had to back pedal a scant week later.  As the parent of a newly-licensed teen-aged driver, I found the government’s change of direction confusing. So I did my own research — as the government should have done in the first place.

Here’s the scene: the 2012 Speech from the Throne said: “Your government has completed its consultations on the graduated driver’s license program and will be bringing forward changes.”

The next day, Nov 28, the Minister responsible for Public Safety announced: “Novice drivers will no longer be restricted from driving between midnight and 5 am under an amendment to the Motor Vehicle Act introduced in the legislative assembly today…The change is the result of extensive consultation with New Brunswickers. Our consultation showed that the night-driving restriction was a hardship for many New Brunswickers, and there was no evidence this restriction was improving safety.”

The original decision seems more like a knee-jerk reaction to a few complaints received during the summer BBQ-circuit rather than a well-thought-out policy initiative.

As mentioned, the Minister withdrew the proposed legislative changes merely one week later because the general public, the Canadian Automobile Association and the MADD Canada denounced the proposed changes. What I find ironic  is that the Minister used the a similar justification for withdrawing the proposed legislative changes: “We have listened to New Brunswickers.”

This leaves me to wonder how the government defined “extensive consultation” and to wonder whom they consulted — given the public outcry after the decision.  The original decision seems more like a knee-jerk reaction to a few complaints received during the summer BBQ-circuit rather than a well-thought-out policy initiative.

So for these past few days we have heard our elected representatives in the  Legislative Assembly debating whether or not the government should lift the ban restricting the hours driven by young drivers.

Here is some background. The Government of New Brunswick adopted the graduated license program, including the ban on overnight driving,  in June 2008. Unfortunately there was no standing vote on this bill particular bill (Bill 74 – An Act to Amend the Motor Vehicle Act) so I cannot determine if the Tories, then in opposition, supported the bill or not. The legislative changes were proclaimed and came into effect in 2009.

The relevant section of the Motor Vehicle Act, namely Section 84 (5), says that for the first two years a novice driver, under the age of 21, while in stages 1 (learner’s permit)  and 2 (passed road test) of the graduated license program, cannot drive between the hours of 12 am and 5 am unless accompanied by a licensed driver who gives their consent. Exceptions include  stage 2 drivers who are driving at night for educational or employment purposes, or who have won exemptions for other valid reasons.

According to a report produced by Canada’s Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) entitled Mapping our Progress to Safer Roads: The 2012 Provincial and Territorial Legislative Review, five Canadian jurisdictions include a night-time driving restriction in Stage 2 of their graduated licensing program.  In this same report, MADD Canada calls for the remaining jurisdictions to do the same.

The Atlantic Chapter of the Canadian Automobile Association responded to the government’s announcement of lifting the ban with a news release that said: “The combination of reduced visibility, glare, fatigue, possible impairment and other factors make nighttime particularly hazardous for teens, who are not yet accustomed to managing the risks behind the wheel…The current program was built on a foundation of overwhelming scientific evidence that supports restrictions on the number of passengers allowed in a vehicle, as well as time-of day driving restrictions. Most provinces in Canada have introduced similar restrictions.”

Transport Canada has a wealth of information on its web site. A publication entitled Road Safety in Canada states: “While only 13 per cent of licensed drivers were aged 16-24, 24 per cent of fatalities and 26 per cent of those seriously injured were 16 to 24 years of age.”

Transport Canada also releases annual statistics on motor vehicle traffic collisions. The most recent data is for the year 2010. The data illustrates roads at night are the primary location for fatal crashes involving young drivers in urban areas.

Proposing public policy initiatives that are based on knee-jerk reactions and not founded in research, are not a good thing and do not benefit the public interest. I am glad to see that the government backed away from the proposed changes when challenged.  Let’s hope that future legislation will be based on evidence and not wistful summertime barbecue longings.
 

About Jody Dallaire


Jody Dallaire lives and works in Dieppe New Brunswick where she writes a weekly column on women's equality issues and matters of social justice. Email: jody.dallaire@rogers.com.

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