Transportation in Canada 2020 - Overview Report

Road Transportation

Image - coastal road


  • At the February 2020 meeting of the Council of Ministers Responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety, Ministers approved the release of the new Strengthening School Bus Safety in Canada report from the federal, provincial and territorial Task Force on School Bus Safety, which confirms that school buses in Canada have an excellent safety record
  • Ministers agreed to continue to work together to strengthen road safety in Canada, emphasizing a collaborative approach among jurisdictions including measures to strengthen commercial motor vehicle safety with electronic logging devices and entry level training in an effort to prevent driver fatigue

Developments enhancing efficiency

Trucking is keeping Canada’s supply chain flowing during this challenging time. The land border between Canada and the US remains closed for all non-essential travel in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this context, trucking establishments have been considered critical businesses and truck drivers have been considered essential workers helping to sustain food security, health care, and other critical sectors. Truck drivers are also exempt from the mandatory isolation requirements for individuals entering Canada, which apply to healthy workers providing essential services across the border. Transport Canada has been working with stakeholders and our provincial and territorial counterparts to ensure that truck operations can continue to operate safely and efficiently.

In the first few months of the pandemic, tighter economic conditions and social restrictions translated in reduced demand for goods and services, and hence reduced demand for trucking services, thereby increasing operating expenses and creating cash flow challenges for carriers.

Trucking companies were also reporting significant increases in costs and loss of revenues due to a spike in fore-haul and back-haul empty miles due to demand imbalances. According to the a 2020 survey by the Canadian Trucking Alliance, the industry norm for empty miles had increased from around 10-15% to 30% during the pandemic. Empty back hauls do not generate payload revenue for trucking companies and it results in increased supply chain costs, decreased trucking productivity and profitability and increased environmental impacts. This development may have been acute for northern communities where backhauls to the south were limited and for Canada-US movements.

Finance Canada announced a number of financial assistance programs that were also available to the trucking industry and drivers. These programs included, the Business Credit Availability Program, Canada Emergency Business Account, Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, and measures to defer income tax payments for businesses. Learn more about these programs

Developments enhancing safety and security

The motor vehicle transportation sector continues to undergo major transformation and Transport Canada’s safety and security regime is keeping pace with this transformative change.

There has been a significant downward trend in motor vehicle casualties for a number of decades now in Canada. Since their peak in the mid-1970s, fatalities have decreased by over 2/3 while serious injuries have declined over 60%. This notable progress was achieved despite significant growth in Canada’s population (+60%), number of licensed drivers (+122%) and number of registered vehicles (+124%). Safer vehicles, road infrastructure and road user behaviour have all contributed to this greater level of safety.

Over the years, Transport Canada has introduced or updated a significant number of vehicle safety standards and regulations. These include regulations touching on vehicle safety features such as electronic stability control, door lock and door retention, truck anti-lock brakes, steering control systems, head restraints, child restraints, seat anchorage strength, occupant protection in frontal collisions, tires, headlights, rear view mirror visibility, helmet and seatbelt use.

School bus safety

In February 2020, the Council of Ministers Responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety, approved the release of the Strengthening School Bus Safety in Canada report from the Task Force on School Bus Safety. The task force, comprised of federal, provincial and territorial governments, school bus manufacturers, school board representatives, school bus operators and safety associations, was mandated to review safety standards and operations, both inside and outside the school bus, with an emphasis on seatbelts.

The task force’s report includes consensus-based recommendations, informed by existing evidence, and focuses on supporting the bus driver with the driving task and deterring illegally passing motorists. Specifically, the task force recommends that all jurisdictions explore the application of the following safety measures based on their assessed needs:

  • extended stop arms and infraction cameras to deter illegally passing motorists
  • 360-degree cameras to better detect and protect children around the exterior of the bus, and
  • automatic emergency braking to help the driver avoid collisions

In response, Transport Canada committed to begin developing regulations to implement the task force recommendations. This work is underway, and involves research and testing at the Motor Vehicle Test Centre in Blainville, Quebec, on school buses equipped with stop-arm infraction cameras, extended stop arms, exterior 360-degree cameras, and automatic emergency braking. As a first step in the regulatory development process, informal consultations on Let’s Talk Transportation took place in fall 2020.

In parallel, the department is working with the Government of British Columbia and the Sudbury Student Services Consortium in Ontario to carry out school bus seatbelt pilot projects. These pilots will run for around 1 year, and involve 3 buses per jurisdiction. The seatbelts will be installed in accordance with Transport Canada’s 2018 federal safety standards.

Commercial motor vehicle safety

Under the Motor Vehicle Transport Act, Transport Canada is responsible for certain operational matters relating to commercial motor vehicle activity (like hours of service, safety ratings). Provinces and territories are responsible for the enforcement of federal motor carrier operational regulations (like hours of service regulations that mitigate risk of fatigue). To advance a cohesive national approach to commercial motor vehicle safety, Transport Canada worked closely with provinces and territories through the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators on measures to strengthen commercial motor vehicle safety, and prevent fatigue.

In January 2019, federal, provincial and territorial governments agreed to finalize a Technical Standard on Electronic Logging Devices for commercial carriers, which replace paper-based daily logbooks to reduce the risk of fatigue-related collisions. The standard was initially completed in December 2019 and received formal approval at the February 2020 meeting of the Council of Ministers Responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety. It establishes minimum performance and design specifications for the electronic logging devices, which are largely based on US technical requirements, but adapted to accommodate the Canadian Hours of Service Regulations. A revised version of the Technical Standard was published on October 27, 2020 by the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators.

In June 2019, Transport Canada published amendments to the Commercial Vehicle Drivers Hours of Service Regulations in Canada Gazette Part II, to require the use of electronic logging devices by federally-regulated motor carriers and their drivers, with a coming into force date of June 12, 2021. Electronic logging devices are intended to strengthen road safety in Canada by mitigating the risk of fatigue-related collisions. Electronic logging devices will replace paper-based daily logs, which can be falsified or incomplete, and, in some cases, duplicated or missing. The amendments will yield a number of benefits including:

  • better tracking of driver fatigue
  • reduced administration costs
  • improved compliance and
  • greater harmonization with US regulatory requirements

As the regulatory amendments require motor carriers and drivers to only use electronic logging devices certified by accredited certification bodies, Transport Canada partnered with the Standards Council Canada for the implementation of the electronic logging device certification scheme. The council opened the accreditation process on March 18, 2020, and after a rigorous review, FPInnovations was announced as the first Transport Canada accredited certification body on October 26, 2020. Other organizations are undergoing the accreditation process. The FPinnovations certification process is now well underway, and devices are being tested for compliance with the technical standard.

To further improve commercial motor vehicle safety, Ministers Responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety agreed to build upon and leverage the work undertaken by several jurisdictions to develop a national standard for entry-level training for commercial drivers in Canada through the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators. At their meeting of February 2020, Ministers approved the national standard for entry-level training of commercial motor vehicle drivers, specifically for Class 1 drivers (NSC 16 – Commercial Truck Driver Entry Level Training for Class 1 drivers) which serves as a basis for the entry level training rules and requirements.

Vulnerable road users

In the fall of 2016, the Council of Ministers Responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety mandated the creation of a task force to enable a collaborative process with provinces, territories and stakeholders to consider measures that could improve the safety of pedestrians and cyclists around heavy vehicles. The resulting summary report, Safety Measures for Cyclists and Pedestrians around Heavy Vehicles – Summary Report, captured findings and evidence designed to protect both vulnerable road users and heavy vehicle drivers. The report was approved by the Council of Ministers and published on their website in 2018.

Transport Canada has continued to make significant progress achieving a number of milestones, including tracking best practices and lessons learned from jurisdictional pilot projects that support vulnerable road user safety. To encourage knowledge exchange and potential solutions, a central repository in the form of a website was developed in partnership with Parachute Canada, a well know injury prevention organization and champion of Vision Zero in Canada. This living website will be launched in 2021 and continue to grow as new initiatives, data, technologies become available, providing a resource for road safety stakeholders.

Further, Transport Canada continues to study new technologies such as advanced driver assistance systems and automatic emergency braking to evaluate their performance and determine their potential effectiveness in reducing fatalities, injuries and/or effects of collisions. This work will augment the evidence base, facilitating the development of a vulnerable road user safety regulatory package.

To that end, Transport Canada conducted consultations on these technologies via Transport Canada’s Let’s Talk Transportation portal in the fall of 2020.

The Enhanced Road Safety Transfer Payment Program

Budget 2019 included a new funding program called the Enhanced Road Safety Transfer Payment Program ($30M over 3 years) to build capacity among provinces/territories and other organizations to support nationally consistent road safety objectives (like measures to address impaired and distracted driving).

The first call for proposals for the program (2019-2020) was launched on December 16, 2019. In total, 22 applications were received, and 22 multi-year projects were approved for a total funding request of around $8M.

The second call for proposals (2020-2021) was originally planned to launch in March 2020; however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the launch was delayed until October 21, 2020. In addition to the provinces, territories, provincial or territorial-owned entities and Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators, the second call also included private and public sector organizations, non-profit road safety organizations, academia, and other organizations that take an active role in advancing road safety issues.

Under this call, 45 applications were received and 38 multi-year projects were approved for a total funding request of around $10M. Approved projects focused on impaired driving due to consumption of drugs or alcohol, distracted driving, commercial drivers, and technological innovation.

Manufacturer’s recalls

In 2020, Transport Canada received over 625 safety recall notices from companies, affecting more than 3.6 million vehicles. It is estimated that 25% of recalls go unrepaired, potentially leaving a large population of vehicles operating on Canadian roads with an unrepaired safety problem.

In an effort to provide Canadians with better safety recall information, and improve recall completions, the department conducted pre-regulatory consultations on an amendment to the Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations that would require companies to provide certain recall information on their websites. In October 2020, the Recall Information for Canadians consultation was published on Transport Canada’s Let’s Talk Transportation platform. Amongst other things, it seeks to require high-volume vehicle companies to provide a recall search service using a vehicle identification number (VIN) to provide a list of recalls affecting each vehicle.

The department also continued a pilot project which provides access to the Transport Canada Vehicle Recalls Database through the Amazon Alexa voice AI platform. This open-source project was initiated to explore innovative ways to communicate information about recalls to Canadians. The Vehicle Recalls Canada skill can be activated on any Alexa-enabled device.

Connected and automated vehicles

Recognizing that automated vehicles have significant potential to improve safety, in March 2018, Transport Canada amended the Motor Vehicle Safety Act to afford greater flexibility in the department’s regulatory regime to keep pace with emerging technologies (like modernized or new authorities to grant exemptions, take enforcement action, and modify or suspend outdated regulations). Building on the strengths of a robust and agile safety regime, Transport Canada released a suite of guidance and tools to provide further clarity and direction on automated vehicles:

  • Canada’s Safety Framework for Automated and Connected Vehicles released in February 2019, articulates the department’s vision for safety and provides access to a broad range of guidance and tools that support the safe testing and deployment of automated and connected vehicles in Canada
  • The Safety Assessment for Automated Driving Systems in Canada also released in February 2019, assists industry in reviewing the safety of highly automated vehicles they intend to manufacture, import, operate or sell in Canada
  • Canada’s Vehicle Cyber Security Guidance released in May 2020, provides a set of technology-neutral guiding principles to support industry in strengthening their vehicle cyber resilience. The guidance offers best practices on managing cyber security risks and protecting the entire vehicle ecosystem with safeguards, as well as how to detect, monitor, respond to, and recover from vehicle cyber security events
  • the process for seeking exemptions from the Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards to support the safe introduction of connected and automated vehicles while encouraging the development and use of innovative technologies

Transport Canada continues to examine opportunities to update its various connected and automated vehicle guidance materials. This includes examining best practices for the safe testing of low speed automated shuttles. Planned updates to our National testing guidelines are expected to discuss these vehicle types as well as other lessons learned from connected and automated vehicle testing in Canada to date, and additional guidance and tools in support of vehicle cyber security are forthcoming.

Transport Canada is also continuing to work with provinces and territories through the Canadian Council Motor Transport Administrators Automated Vehicle Working Group to consider updates to the Canadian Jurisdictional Guidelines for the Safe Testing and Deployment of Highly Automated Vehicles. This document outlines a number of administrative considerations for provinces and territories to support the safe testing and deployment of connected and automated vehicles.

These efforts were informed by ongoing research and testing by Transport Canada to assess the performance of connected and automated vehicle technologies. This includes driving simulator research to help develop methods for evaluating the safety of driver interactions with these features and track tests that examine how advanced collision avoidance systems on cars, trucks, and school buses can reduce crashes and help detect and protect vulnerable road users.

With respect to consumer awareness of connected and automated vehicle technologies, Transport Canada undertook a public opinion research study to better understand the Canadian public’s attitudes towards, and confidence in emerging vehicle technologies.

Transport Canada has also undertaken a breadth of public outreach efforts on emerging technologies such as updating its web presence and carrying out paid and social media campaigns using, for example, animated videos to help inform Canadians about the benefits and safety considerations of emerging vehicle technologies, including driver assistance technologies currently available on the market (What you need to know about driver assistance technologies). The social media campaigns were considered a significant success, reaching over 2.4 million viewers, with over 50% of them viewing the entire video.

In September 2020, Transport Canada conducted pre-regulatory consultations to seek views on the inclusion of automatic emergency braking in new vehicles, and the creation of a standard for advanced driver assistance systems, many of which feature low level driving automation (like SAE 1 and 2). The feedback gathered from these consultations will serve to inform future regulations.

Developments enhancing environmental protection

Zero-emission vehicles

In 2020 the Government of Canada continued to take action to accelerate zero-emission vehicle adoption and make progress towards the federal zero-emission vehicles targets of 10% of new light-duty vehicle sales by 2025, 30% by 2030 and 100% by 2040. The 2020 Fall Economic Statement provided further investments in zero-emission vehicles, including an additional $287 million over 2 years, starting in 2020-21, for the Incentives for Zero-Emission Vehicles (iZEV) Program and an additional $150 million over 3 years, starting in 2021-22, for infrastructure investments to support increased deployment of charging and hydrogen refuelling stations.

In 2020, the Government of Canada also announced an investment of $295 million for the Ford Motor Company’s Oakville Assembly Complex to be retooled for battery electric vehicle production mid-decade. This will help create economic opportunities for Canadians as the country transition towards widespread use of zero-emission vehicles.

Between the launch of the program in May 2019 and December 2020, over 72,000 Canadians and Canadian businesses benefitted from Transport Canada’s iZEV Program. The COVID-19 pandemic slowed down light-duty vehicle sales, including zero-emission vehicle sales in 2020. As a result the program saw an 18% decline in uptake between May 2020 and December 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. Despite lower zero-emission vehicle sales in 2020, the program, along with other federal zero-emission vehicle investments, helped to increase the zero-emission vehicle market share of light-duty vehicles to 3.8%, up from 3.1% in 2019. This reflects the continued strength of zero-emission vehicle demand despite the pandemic.

Heavy-duty Vehicle and Engine Greenhouse Gas Emission Regulations

The Government of Canada continues to implement the Heavy-duty Vehicle and Engine Greenhouse Gas Emission Regulations. These regulations set performance-based greenhouse gas emission standards for new on-road heavy-duty vehicles (such as highway tractors, buses and dump trucks) and their engines made in 2014 and later years. In May 2018, the Phase 2 amendments to the regulations were published in the Canada Gazette, Part II. These amendments establish more stringent greenhouse gas emission standards that begin with the 2021 model year.

As the US Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for trailers hauled by tractors continue to be legally stayed in the US, a first interim order was made on May 27, 2019, delaying the greenhouse gas emission standards for trailers in Canada by 1 year. This was followed by a second interim order made on May 18, 2020, delaying the greenhouse gas emission standards for trailers in Canada by another year, until May 18, 2021. As the second interim order will expire on May 18, 2021, Environment and Climate Change Canada will be proceeding with the development of a third interim order to further delay the trailer standards in Canada by up to 1 additional year.

Other initiatives

The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change also committed the federal government to work with provinces, territories and industry to explore options for retrofitting heavy-duty vehicles with fuel-saving technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2018, a federal-provincial-territorial task force was created, which has agreed on a work plan to prepare a report describing the heavy-duty vehicle sector in Canada and the uptake of fuel-saving technologies that can be retrofitted to heavy-duty vehicles, and which are still outside the scope of the new heavy-duty vehicle regulations. In 2020, the task force continued to work together to produce their Phase 1 report. This report provides a detailed examination of the role of retrofits in the heavy duty vehicle sector, including describing the barriers to adoption. This report will be released in 2021.

In addition, under the Strengthened Climate Plan, released in December 2020, the Government of Canada made a number of additional commitments targeting emissions from on-road vehicles, including:

  • investing an additional $150 million over 3 years in charging and refueling stations across Canada, as announced in the 2020 Fall Economic Statement
  • working to align Canada’s Light-Duty Vehicle regulations with the most stringent performance standards in North America post-2025, whether at the US federal or state level
  • working with partners in the year ahead on supply-side policy options to achieve additional reductions from Canada’s light-duty vehicle fleet, including regulations and investments to accelerate and expand the consumer availability of zero-emission vehicles in Canada as demand grows
  • developing a national active transportation strategy and working to deliver more active transportation options, such as walking trails, cycling paths and other forms of active mobility
  • advancing the government’s commitment to help procure 5,000 zero-emission public transit buses and school buses, including by leveraging the Canada Infrastructure Bank. To support this goal, the Canada Infrastructure Bank’s Growth Plan has earmarked $1.5 billion to expand and accelerate the adoption of zero emission buses
  • improving the efficiency of heavy-duty vehicles standards for post-2025 by aligning with the most stringent standards in North America, whether at the US federal or state level
  • conducting stakeholder consultations on measures to increase the supply of, and demand for, medium- and heavy-duty zero-emission vehicles in Canada, to ensure businesses have access to the types of zero-emission vehicles that meet their needs

COVID-19 and road transportation

Transport Canada, in collaboration with other government departments, industry representatives, provincial and territorial road safety administrators took concrete actions to support the safe movement of essential transportation workers and goods, and to protect Canadians required to travel by road. These actions included:

Coordination and engagement
  • Transport Canada held regular calls with provinces and territories through the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators, as well as industry associations and other government departments. These engagement efforts provided an opportunity to identify and work collaboratively to address issues pertaining to commercial motor vehicles as they emerged (for example, logistical challenges posed by the closure of restaurants and rest-stops, and access to personal protective equipment)
  • Regular calls were held between Transport Canada and US Department of Transportation officials to identify and address cross-border issues, emphasizing the benefit of joint measures to combat COVID-19
Regulatory and enforcement actions
  • When border measures were announced, including the restrictions of non-essential travel between the US and Canada, Transport Canada expedited the approval of Canadian’s applications to return to Canada in their US registered vehicles, ensuring Canadians were able to travel home safely and as quickly as possible
  • Guidance was also provided to stakeholders regarding potential non-compliance with motor vehicle safety requirements (like defect notification and repairs) due to COVID-19
  • To alleviate pressures to the supply chain, Transport Canada issued a regulatory exemption under the Commercial Vehicle Drivers Hours of Service Regulations, pursuant to the Motor Vehicle Transport Act, to specifically support direct assistance efforts in response to COVID-19. A Targeted Essential Freight Transport Exemption Template was subsequently developed to support ongoing case-by-case exemptions related to COVID-19
Federal leadership and guidance

Working with other departments, provinces and territories, and industry stakeholders, Transport Canada developed guidance documents and tools outlining measures to help limit the spread of COVID-19 in road transportation, including as it relates to commercial vehicle operations and school busy safety, as well as the use of personal protective equipment in the sector. Notably, this included: