Fewer young drivers are being killed in motor-vehicle crashes in B.C., but the number can still be cut further, the chair of a panel on the issue says.
"Something must be going right, because we have seen, since 2008, a declining rate in young-driver fatalities, but that doesn't mean there aren't ongoing opportunities to look at ways we can further reduce those numbers," Michael Egilson said in an interview on Wednesday.
The B.C. Coroners Service has just released a report and recommendations from a death review panel on young motor-vehicle drivers in B.C. that examined the circumstances in which 106 drivers were killed in accidents between 2004 and 2013. Most were men aged 17 to 18, with speed, impairment and lack of seatbelt use among contributing factors.
Mr. Egilson noted that despite the decline, motor-vehicle accidents remain the leading cause of death in B.C. for youth aged 15 to 18, and any such fatality is devastating. The rate in 2013 was 2.9 driver deaths aged 16 to 18 per 100,000 licences compared to 15.5 in the same age range in 2008.
Following a recommendation from the panel, the coroner's service announced it will now conduct a review to determine how to reduce such deaths further.
Key elements of the review will be an assessment of the province's graduated licensing program, launched in 1998, to see if it can be made more effective, and a renewed effort by the coroner's service and the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia to collect more data on fatal crashes.
Deadlines for parts of the effort range from February, 2016, to December, 2017.
Shahbaz Munshey, owner of the 46-year-old Johnston's Driving School in Vancouver, said he welcomed the review. "It's not a bad idea to review the whole system," he said. "It's investing in the system and fine-tuning it."
Asked about the decline in fatalities, Mr. Munshey said he suspected enhanced police patrols and laws against the use of cellphones while driving were having an impact. "If someone is driving, they're thinking twice," he said.
Kurtis Strelau, general manager for Young Drivers of Canada in the Greater Vancouver Area, said his company welcomes the review as part of any measure that would save lives, especially a focus on how parents support new drivers.
In an e-mail exchange with The Globe and Mail, he wrote that driving instructors spend a limited amount of time with clients compared to parents, who set an example for young drivers. "The new driver will do what they see others do," he wrote.
A spokesperson for the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia – the Crown corporation that provides universal auto insurance in B.C. – said on Wednesday that the company is reviewing the report, but will work with partners such as the Coroner's Service to properly respond.
In a statement, Leslie Dickson said ICBC sees the province as a leader in graduated licensing, which has, in the corporation's view, reduced crashes. ICBC, wrote Ms. Dickson, will offer data for the review, including material on the impact of distracted driving.
Mr. Egilson said the whole process may not necessarily lead to making it tougher to get a licence.
"In looking at what B.C. has compared to the rest of North America, I think that B.C. certainly seems to have some significant requirements," he said.
"The outcome of this isn't necessarily calling for tougher restrictions. What it is calling for is looking at whether there are ways we can be better supporting young people to be safe responsible drivers and reduce serious accidents and fatalities."
He also said there's no clear explanation for the decline in fatal accidents, although he called it "a really good trend line. Pleased to see it."
The graduated licensing program in B.C. prohibits learners from driving between midnight and 5 a.m. and limits them to two passengers. They must pass a test to get to the next stage. Then, after 24 consecutive months without a driving prohibition, the driver can go for the final test.
Mr. Egilson said it seems a solid approach. "This isn't like the old days, where you could walk in at 16, and two weeks later, you could go do a test and if you passed that, you would have a full licence with no restrictions."