In 2018, motor vehicle injuries stole the lives of 17,475 Canadians according to Parachute's "The Cost of Injury in Canada 2021" report. One of the leading causes of these injuries was related to transport incidents and distracted driving, which is any activity that takes attention away from driving and increases the risk of a collision. This can include texting or eating while driving, talking to family or friends, or fiddling with the car navigation system.
Parachute, a national organization dedicated to reducing the devastating impact of preventable injuries, developed the report in collaboration with the BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit with support from the Public Health Agency of Canada. The 2021 report presents data on all injuries at the national level from the year 2018.
The report's sobering findings are enough to give Canadians pause as we wrap up a summer of road trips and outdoor activities and prepare for the back-to-school season. Consider that preventable injuries, which include injuries resulting from falls, suicide or self-harm, and transport incidents, is the leading cause of death among Canadians under the age of 44, and the third leading cause of death for all ages.
While these injuries or fatalities are all tragic incidents, the reality is almost all these incidents are preventable if proper precautions are taken. "We want to reduce those deaths and serious injuries," said Pamela Fuselli, president and CEO of Parachute. "We're not talking about the bumps and bruises of everyday life; we're talking about the serious injuries and deaths."
While these numbers paint a harrowing picture, Fuselli insists it's not all doom and gloom. To reduce transport injuries, there have been successful preventative measures implemented in the past decade, many related to the Vision Zero approach, such as safer road design, awareness campaigns to increase the use of seatbelts, innovations in health care, implementation of fines and penalties, new safety technologies, and legislations to reduce key causes of injuries such as speeding or distracted driving.
Fuselli says drivers can make better choices to minimize distractions, such as putting down their phones, not eating or applying makeup while driving, and by keeping their full attention on the road, including the other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists who share the road with them. They should also aim to minimize distractions from other people in the vehicle, including kids and passengers.
But ultimately, what needs to happen for the rate of these injuries to decrease is "to ensure preventable injuries are made a priority within society and levels of government," says Fuselli. While there is no one solution, she notes the evidence shows a combination of approaches are most effective.
"These include changes to the environment, policy that's enforced, or legislation or standards that are enforced as well as education and awareness," said Fuselli.
In 2018, transport injuries were the third leading cause of injury in Canada, costing the Canadian economy $3.6 billion. For those affected, the human costs go well beyond dollars and cents, bringing pain, suffering and diminished health and well-being to individuals and their families. "Once an injury happens, the repercussions have begun," said Fuselli. "It has impacts on their families on their friends, on communities, and on Canadian society as a whole."
Dr. Suzanne Beno, a pediatric emergency physician and co-director of the trauma program at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto, echoes Fuselli's comments. As a frontline health worker, she looks after kids who have been injured in transport incidents. She has seen first-hand the ripple effects of traumatic injuries, including the devastating physical and emotional toll- not only on the injured and their loved ones but also within the healthcare community.
Dr. Suzanne Beno, pediatric emergency physician and co-director of the trauma program at The Hospital for Sick Children
For instance, Beno says that children with significant injuries don't just arrive at a trauma center or hospital once and leave fully healed "They have ongoing visits to care, ongoing surgeries if needed, ongoing therapy and rehabilitation at centers or at home, many subsequent visits to emergency departments. It doesn't end with that initial visit."
Through her work in the emergency room, Beno has also seen how driving habits can play a big role in the extent of the injuries suffered, but she says most of these injuries are preventable if people work to improve their driving habits.
"If everyone in society reflected on traffic-related injury as a disease that we can prevent and control, then we'd be a lot better off," said Beno, adding that people can choose to follow risk reduction procedures and take a close look at their driving habits
"These [incidents] are not flukes, these are not one-offs," she said. "This is really a pervasive problem in society, but we know how to fix it. Part of that is just understanding that it's a preventable disease that we can control."
To view Parachute's full Cost of Injury report, visit: https://parachute.ca/en/professional-resource/cost-of-injury-in-canada/