National Roundtable on Distracted Driving

On June 28, 2018, Transport Minister Marc Garneau hosted a national roundtable to discuss the serious safety challenges associated with distracted driving.

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Invited guests included representatives of:

  • motor vehicle manufacturers
  • police services
  • insurance providers
  • mobile device manufacturers
  • wireless service providers
  • the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA)
  • the Canadian Trucking Alliance
  • provinces and territories
  • public awareness and research-based organizations

For the complete list of roundtable participants, refer to the Appendix.

Minister Garneau’s remarks

Minister Garneau began the roundtable by welcoming participants to this important discussion, which would focus on addressing the challenges of distracted driving. He identified this issue as a major concern that warrants attention, citing distracted driving as a contributor to crashes.

For example, according to 2016 data from Transport Canada’s National Collision Database, distraction was a contributing factor in an estimated 21% of fatal collisions and 27% of serious injury collisions. These statistics are part of an upward trend of distracted driving-related collisions (up from 16% and 22% a decade earlier). The Minister noted that these statistics involve real people. Canadians expect and deserve a transportation network where they feel safe travelling to work, school and other events.

Minister Garneau further expressed that road safety is a shared responsibility among the federal government, provinces, territories, municipalities, police services and motor vehicle drivers. He congratulated jurisdictions for their leadership in legislation, education and enforcement, noting that provinces and territories have made their legislation better and used holistic approaches to address distracted driving. He further highlighted the role of industry in creating vehicle systems, technological devices and cellular networks, all of which we need to consider in the conversation about distracted driving—both in the day’s program and in the future.

The Minister emphasized that the day’s discussion was a beginning. It was an opportunity to discuss what has happened, what has worked, and what needs more work to develop a successful path forward.

Preparation for the event

In advance of the roundtable, participants were provided with the following information to help them prepare and to support focused discussions:

CCMTA’s draft White Paper on Distracted Driving

This white paper offered an excellent backdrop to the workshop discussion. It was written to provide information to CCMTA members as they develop policy and legislation to address distracted driving. The paper summarizes work carried out to date and identifies gaps in knowledge. It will support and inform jurisdictions as they continue to address the issue of distracted driving.

Highlights from the white paper address distracted driving legislation and penalties in each jurisdiction. While these may differ, Canada needs to ensure laws are broad enough to cover the new and rapid growth of emerging technologies and applications.

The paper also expresses the importance of a coordinated approach within jurisdictions as to the timing of public education and awareness. This includes enforcement dedicated to distracted driving. Leveraging resources will help strengthen messaging, increase reach, and potentially motivate drivers to respond. While awareness alone may not be enough to change driver behaviour, it can be key to a multifaceted intervention strategy.

Finally, the white paper stresses the need to address all aspects of distracted driving. Addressing one issue at a time will not create a solution. Governments, non-governmental organizations and other road safety partners must work together to successfully address the various issues associated with distracted driving.

Questions for consideration by key panelists

The following questions helped to set the stage for a productive discussion:

  • What goes into designing and developing the technology of your product or service that limits distraction (e.g., design guidelines, best practices, testing, etc.)?
  • What are the challenges related to designing and implementing driver interface systems and safety features into a vehicle?
  • What other types of safety technologies could make the driving task safer, without causing the driver to over-rely on such systems?
  • What is the most efficient and the safest way of dealing with portable devices that interface with vehicle systems? 
  • What services can be provided as standard equipment ‎on cellular plans to help drivers mitigate distractions while driving?
  • In what other ways can connectivity improve safety?
  • What types of apps can be built into devices to help address the issue of distracted driving?
  • Can phones be “taught” to turn off functionality while the owner is driving?

Questions for consideration by roundtable participants

These questions were sent in advance to enable a collaborative approach to solutions, and to encourage participants to share their knowledge and expertise:

  • What activities are already underway in your organization to address the distracted driving issue? Should these activities be scaled up to a national level?
  • What are key actions required to change road user behaviour concerning electronic communication devices while driving, cycling or walking?
  • How can different sectors and domains work together to address this issue and strengthen road safety?

The day’s discussion was conducted under the Chatham House Rule: “When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”

Themes of the roundtable discussion

The roundtable discussions focused on the following themes:


  • Technologies built into vehicles are designed to be interactive to minimize driver distraction. They offer the convenience of both assisting and supporting the driver’s ability and safety. Being able to pair some devices further helps to reduce driver distraction.
  • There is a paradox: the same technology that can improve safety and convenience can, at the same time, increase the risk of motor vehicle collisions. Distracted driving is emerging as an increasing risk. Its harmful impact on driving is being compared to impairment by alcohol. While there is some support for the banning of hand-held devices, whether or not that will happen is uncertain. Therefore, in-vehicle technology is an important way to find solutions.
  • Vehicle manufacturers confirmed their commitment to customer safety. This is evidenced by various in-vehicle technologies designed to avoid collisions or reduce their severity. Furthermore, system features are designed to reduce the number of steps required to activate various services (“minimize cognitive load”), have the same common look and feel, and enable lockout when the vehicle is moving.
  • Information was provided about various in-vehicle systems. One system provides a variety of in-vehicle services, including turn-by-turn navigation instructions, automatic crash response and roadside assistance. Drivers access these features by pressing a button or enabling hands-free calling. One technology allows drivers to control speed, radio volume and text messaging. Another program lets drivers make hands-free telephone calls, control music volume and uses voice commands for other functions.  Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) such as blind spot assist, emergency braking, curb control, lane departure and other automated controls are designed to improve customers’ safety by ensuring hands and eyes stay focused on the task of driving. The probability of collisions increases when drivers are not focused on driving.
  • Recognizing the importance of consumer safety includes looking at innovative technology, seeing the need for guidelines and principles, and making recommendations to inform design.
  • Consumers believe the technologies available in their vehicle are safe. However, the devices must be used as intended. Drivers’ knowledge of the correct use of in-vehicle systems is very important. A misunderstood symbol, beeping sound or flashing light can cause a driver to lose focus. Without the proper knowledge, these very technologies pose a risk of distracting the driver.
  • Everyone has a role to play in how in-vehicle technologies function, from car dealers informing new owners before they drive off the lot to drivers understanding the features in their vehicle. While the purpose of this technology is to assist the driver, ultimately, the responsibility for driving safely still falls on the driver.  Devices should be designed to minimize distraction while driving.
  • Hand-held devices will continue to be used inside the vehicle. Therefore, safety technologies need to allow for their continued use in a way that ensures the driver’s hands stay on the wheel and their eyes on the road.
  • American Automobile Association (AAA) research was mentioned. This research suggests that the more technology is added to a vehicle, the greater the cognitive load on the driver, which could provoke a reaction and trigger distraction.
  • The design of in-vehicle technologies continues to be highly integrated. Currently, vehicles travel between Canada and United States and across provincial/territorial borders seamlessly. In-vehicle systems are developed globally with motor vehicle manufacturers designing to established standards. Extensive testing is done to ensure the variety of technologies available are operating as they are designed. Interoperability is key. As a result, it is important to recognize the need for integrated, global market approaches, with industry, government and the technology sector working together.
  • When considering cross-border perspectives (Canada and the U.S.), economies of scale allow integration of in-vehicle technologies, which should be upgradable. There is also an issue with older vehicles on the road, which operate without this technology.
  • Also noted was the current rapid growth in the development of new technologies. This makes it important to keep the dialogue open between stakeholders. Addressing distracted driving requires a combination of applied technical and regulatory issues, education, enforcement and public policy. It is encouraging to hear that manufacturers are aware of the issues. It would, however, be a mistake to pin current hopes on emerging autonomous and connected vehicle (AV/CV) technologies. While the safety systems of today are the foundation for the next generation of vehicles, fully automated cars are still decades away. Distracted driving, currently and in the short term, is a growing worry as deaths and injuries appear to be rising from resulting collisions.
  • Vehicle safety remains a priority. Transport Canada is testing advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), including automatic emergency braking (AEB) and lane departure warning, that can reduce collision severity and help drivers avoid collisions.
    • Further, Transport Canada’s Human Factors research group has done research on visual, physical and cognitive distractions related to different vehicle systems, as well as other tasks a driver may be engaged in while driving.
    • The department has also supported public opinion research to gauge the public’s concern about distracted driving, including self-reports of engaging in the behaviour.
    • Another initiative by Transport Canada’s Motor Vehicle Safety Directorate consists of research and work to develop standards that are used in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) guidelines to reduce distraction. In addition, the department has a project to develop guidelines for the design of onboard visual displays.
    • Transport Canada’s research supports the development of standards and regulations. We help determine the safety potential of new technologies, develop test methods and establish performance criteria. Our research has contributed to international guidelines and standards, based on examining the impact of distraction on driver behaviour both on the road and in its driving simulator. Work includes the development of methods for the assessment and mitigation of distraction.


  • Distracted driving is a growing problem in terms of enforcement. The number of fines issued per year seem to show that ticketing alone may not be having the right impact with drivers. Provinces and territories have made distracted driving a priority, and have put in place some of the more progressive legislation to address this issue. Escalating fines and sanctions, increased enforcement and the development of public education campaigns have all been used to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving.
  • A consistent national approach to enforcement and penalties would create a united stand against distracted driving, to change the social acceptance of this behaviour.
  • We need to consider modern techniques to overcome barriers to enforcement. This might include devices to detect cellular signals coming from vehicles. Enforcement is particularly hard when heavy vehicles are involved, given the height and location of the driver in the truck cab. Using drones might prove useful in offsetting this issue. We need a collective mindset around modern enforcement, along with a plan.
  • It will be important to engage with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police to identify and elaborate enforcement issues, methods, tactics and challenges.

Research and data gathering

  • We need a clear picture through collision investigation and data analysis. This can then be used to assess how best to support successful enforcement strategies, as well as meaningful education and awareness.
  • Accurate data gathering supports evidence-based design of awareness campaigns and efforts needed to change attitudes towards distracted driving.
  • Accurate and timely data can help to change distracted driving. This is to be discussed at CCMTA’s upcoming road safety data workshop.
  • Further research areas should include data from the Canadian and U.S. naturalistic driving studies. These data would be used to develop policies, regulations and public awareness campaigns.
  • A key issue for data collection is how to maintain and improve collecting and reporting data on distracted driving, from multiple sources. The issue of data is top of mind for members of CCMTA, and the membership is examining data issues and opportunities.
  • Research would benefit from knowledge and experience held by key stakeholders, including members of:
    • CCMTA
    • Global Automakers of Canada
    • Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association
    • Canadian Wireless Technology Association
    • the technology sector
    • the commercial sector (e.g., Canadian Trucking Alliance)
    • insurance companies
    • enforcement agencies
    • schools
    • manufacturers

    Collaboration is happening with both Canadian and international researchers—for example, the:

    • American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA)
    • Canadian Automobile Association (CAA)
    • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
    • Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
    • International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
    • Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE)
    • World Health Organization (WHO)
    • United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)

    CCMTA, as the custodian of the Road Safety Strategy (RSS) 2025, maintains a database of proven and promising practices for all stakeholders to consider.

  • Participants were also informed of Transport Canada’s Innovation Centre and their work with the Department of Innovation Science and Economic Development, who are responsible for managing the digital spectrum used by hand-held devices.

Education and public awareness

  • Public education is key. However, we can do more, especially with respect to how distracted driving is defined in legislation, identifying what it includes, and which data are collected or reported.
  • Education needs to align with adopted technology. This is significant when we consider vehicle and fleet turnover, whereas changes to technology happen at a much more rapid rate.
  • Discussion included comments on the importance of education and training for all types of drivers at all levels. This would include messaging targeted to commercial and passenger drivers and different age groups to ensure outreach resonates with various audiences. To be effective, this should seek to promote and constantly engage. Although training helps develop a cultural mindset, government needs to give more input.
  • Educational programs should support activities already in place and include awareness campaigns that seek to change attitudes. These might include tying into social responsibility programs, mobile giving or charitable drives. Also, positive “peer pressure” may help create change. This requires that everyone work together.
  • Our culture also needs to change. While technology has made our lives more convenient, these changes may also positively or negatively impact safety. Technology may offer further solutions to address distracted driving, but we can change the culture by focusing on behaviours that trigger distracted driving. We’ve done this successfully in the past. Examples of historical change: seat belts, alcohol-impaired driving and smoking.
  • A “Keep your Eyes on the Road” campaign and training, using driving simulators to show the effects of cognitive demand, were also mentioned. Example of another campaign: “Auto Dealers against Distract Driving.” Education and public policy must consider the issue of cognitive load in order to drive this issue forward.
  • Enforcement and efforts from the police alone won’t change the public’s behaviour. We need education, along with the recognition that distracted driving is a social issue. We also need to commit to action. For example, a public pledge to combatting distracted driving might be effective. When the pledge is public, there may be more likelihood of change. We could put this kind of program in place by asking drivers to take a pledge to leave the phone alone while driving.
  • While training, education and awareness are pivotal, following through with enforcement is equally important.


  • Information was shared on use-based insurance. This involves installing a device in a customer’s vehicle or downloading an app on a smartphone that allows insurers to track distance driven and driving behaviours. Companies then collate this information to determine a price for insurance. Use patterns (e.g., hard braking, accelerating), and other driving behaviours can directly influence insurance premiums. This could provide significant societal benefits by incentivizing safer driving habits.
  • This was elaborated through a discussion about in-vehicle telematics, a method of monitoring a vehicle by combining a GPS system with on-board diagnostics to record and map exactly where a car is and how fast it’s travelling, and to cross reference this information with how the car is behaving internally. Telematics can be designed to lock out interaction with devices when the vehicle is in motion, as a way to reduce driver distraction.
  • Many road safety measures in place (e.g., universal use of seatbelts, graduated driver licensing) were supported by insurer advocacy efforts. However, with human error being the primary cause of more than 90% of collisions, improving safety has its limits. The insurance industry also advocates for better enforcement and strict penalties for dangerous driving behaviour, such as drinking and driving. Fear of detection and penalties has significantly impacted driver behaviour.
  • Distracted driving is a similar behaviour that we need to address with measured penalties and incentives that change driver attitudes and actions. Detection and enforcement are still challenges, however. While penalties are necessary, we need to balance them with education and incentives. These include campaigns and allowing drivers to use technologies, such as use-based insurance, to monitor their driving behaviour and align auto insurance premiums with how they drive.
  • More information was provided about provincial rules and restrictions that control ways in which consumers can be enrolled in use-based insurance programs, and how insurers can use data collected through the in-vehicle device. For example, insurers cannot use data on actual driving habits to determine insurance premiums. Insurers can only use data to offer a discount on the premium set through the traditional pricing methods—which, to a degree, de-links insurance premiums from driving behaviour and limits incentives and rewards for driving safely. Efforts are being made to lessen certain restrictions. Ultimately, the intent is to benefit consumers and positively affect road safety.

Participant remarks

Following panelists’ presentations, roundtable participants shared their remarks. These included:

  • We need to give attention to the definition of distraction in legislation with respect to driving (specifically, what it includes and excludes).
  • Many organizations are promoting and developing campaigns that focus on distracted driving. We need the right message, at the right time, at the right place. Participants were willing to share existing tools and experience (e.g., corporate giving back initiatives) to support campaigns.
  • Access to consistent national data would support a coordinated approach to distracted driving. Currently, we need to address data gaps. Participants all agreed this needs to be a key consideration moving forward.
  • We could use training and awareness methods to demonstrate that, the more complex and numerous the tasks, the more distracted drivers become. Drivers would gain a better perspective on distracted driving if they understood the challenges associated with cognitive load. A suggestion was also made in reference to reducing the cognitive load while driving.
  • We need to understand that distraction is a complex issue. The reason for losing focus while driving can range from using in-vehicle technology to anxieties over work or life situations. We must take a holistic approach to the issue to fully address distracted driving
  • Public education and campaigns will encourage drivers to turn off their phone or put it in airplane mode. Disabling the phone can be a choice or be mandatory. Technology could be used to limit use of the phone while driving. For example, offering “driving mode” functions on all phones would allow drivers to indicate they are busy driving and will reply to any missed phone calls or messages when it is safe to do so.
  • Engaging the next generation of drivers is a challenge. They have always had this technology. We live in a culture where the norm is to be connected at all times. Also, it isn’t enough to say “don’t be distracted” because everyone is distracted in one way or another. As cell phones have become a tool for socializing, we should make the behaviour of using the phone while driving socially unacceptable, as we did with drinking and driving. People used to say “have one for the road” and it was acceptable. Today this is no longer the case.
  • Partnerships between stakeholders will help us use opportunities and existing mechanisms. Multi-stakeholder discussions need to continue to support collaborative work with all partners.
  • Schools can help by promoting the message that it is not acceptable to use an electronic device when driving.
  • Coordinated activities can help to identify where to focus efforts, build on best practices, gather data and identify gaps in order to determine next steps.
  • Given the professional nature of their role, it may be important to consider the approach to the heavy commercial vehicle driving sector when it comes to distracted driving. The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) has prepared a 10-point plan that addresses road safety, including the issue of distracted driving, as it applies to heavy vehicles.
  • The economic costs of collisions due to distracted driving, not to mention the injuries and loss of lives, has made this a key issue for both public and private sector stakeholders. The general consensus is that we need a collaborative approach to address what is fast becoming a top road safety priority in Canada.

Going forward

CCMTA’s White Paper on Distracted Driving is a solid framework upon which to build a Distracted Driving Action Plan. It will be a key stimulus for moving forward on this important issue.

We will need to use a holistic approach to effectively address distracted driving and associated behaviours. Ultimately, manufacturers, technology companies, drivers, enforcement officials and the insurance community all have a role to play in identifying and putting in place solutions for distracted driving. Solutions could include education, awareness and research, and will continue to evolve over time. Although technology is part of the problem, it can also be part of the solution.

In response to this approach, participants generally agreed to use the following activities as a way forward:

  1. Provide comments on CCMTA’s draft White Paper on Distracted Driving
  2. Explore the development of a research plan (e.g., to identify best practices and how to support outreach and technology)
  3. Identify data gaps and seek methods to improve quality data
  4. Identify methods for aligning enforcement with education and awareness programs
  5. Explore partnerships and memorandums of agreement between Transport Canada, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) and other partners

Transport Canada will continue to engage with provinces and territories, industry and other key stakeholders to address the issue of distracted driving.

Appendix: List of participants

  1. The Honorable Marc Garneau, Transport Minister of Canada (Chair)
  2. David Paterson, Vice President, Corporate and Environmental Affairs, General Motors of Canada
  3. Blake Smith, Director, Environment Energy and Vehicle Safety, Ford Motor Company of Canada Ltd.
  4. Brian Fulton, President and Chief Executive Officer, Mercedes-Benz Canada Inc.
  5. Grant Courville, Vice President, Product Management and Strategy, QNX
  6. Drew Collier, President, Corporate Services, LGM Financial Services Inc.
  7. Mark Nantais, President, Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association
  8. David Adams, President, Global Automakers of Canada
  9. Robert Ghiz, President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association
  10. Steve Loutitt, Director, Infrastructure Compliance and Licensing / Registrar of Motor Vehicles Department of Infrastructure, Government of Northwest Territories
  11. Steven Roberts, Deputy Superintendent of Motor Vehicles of Road Safety BC, Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Government of British Columbia
  12. Lyne Vézina, Directrice, Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec
  13. Ryan Stein, Executive Director, Auto Insurance Policy and Innovation Research, Insurance Bureau of Canada
  14. Janine Farmer, Senior Policy Advisor, Road Safety, Government of Nova Scotia
  15. Kevin Mitchell, Director, Road Safety, Government of Nova Scotia
  16. Chris O'Connell, Registrar, Government of New Brunswick
  17. Doug MacEwen, Registrar of Motor Vehicle Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy Highway Safety, Government of Prince Edward Island
  18. Alan Doody, Registrar of Motor Vehicles, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
  19. Allison Fradette, President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators
  20. Brad Holland, Vice President, Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators
  21. Ian Jack, Managing Director, Communications and Government Relations, Canadian Automobile Association
  22. Robyn Robertson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Traffic Injury Research Foundation
  23. Paul Leduc, Captain, Sûreté du Québec, representing the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police
  24. Jean-Bruno Latour, Sergent – Superviseur Module Conseil, Sécurité routière, DSOPS
  25. Nicola Di Iorio, MP, (Lib) Saint-Léonard – Saint Michel
  26. Stephen Laskowski, President and Chief Executive Officer, Ontario Trucking Association and Canadian Trucking Alliance
  27. Geoff Wood, Senior Vice President, Ontario Trucking Association and Canadian Trucking Alliance
  28. Marc Cadieux, President and Chief Executive Officer, Quebec Trucking Association
  29. John Pearson, Executive Director, Council of Deputy Ministers Responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety
  30. Michael DeJong, Director-General, Multi-Modal and Road Safety Programs, Transport Canada
  31. Ibrahima Sow, Director, Road Safety Programs, Transport Canada

Other attendees

  • Tiéoulé Traoré, Manager of Government Relations, Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association
  • Christine Le Grand, Program Manager/Researcher, Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators
  • Ward Vanlaar, Chief Operating Officer, Traffic Injury Research Foundation
  • Paul Boase, Chief, Road Users, Transport Canada
  • Gael Italiano, Policy Analyst, Transport Canada
  • Jennifer Purdy, Program Advisor, Transport Canada
  • Zyeleika McTague, Administrative Assistant, Transport Canada