THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORT AND COMMUNICATIONS
OTTAWA, Tuesday, September 26, 2017
The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications met this day at 9:30 a.m. to study the regulatory and technical issues related to the deployment of connected and automated vehicles.
Senator Dennis Dawson (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, this morning the committee is continuing its study of connected and automated vehicles.
I’m pleased to introduce our panel of social witnesses: Mr. Bob Brown, Transportation Committee Chairperson of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities; from the Ottawa Chapter of CARP, the former Canadian Association for Retired Persons, Mr. Rick Baker; and Ms. Brenda Vrkljan, researcher at Candrive, a Canadian research program aimed at improving the safety and quality of life of older drivers. She is also Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy at McMaster University.
Thank you for accepting our invitation. I would invite Mr. Brown to make his presentation. He will be followed by Mr. Baker and Ms. Vrkljan. The senators will then have the opportunity to ask questions.
Mr. Baker, or whoever you’ve chosen. Ms. Vrkljan, do you want to start?
Brenda Vrkljan, Associate Professor, Occupational Therapy, School of Rehabilitation Science, McMaster University, Candrive: Honourable senators and members of the committee, good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to share my expertise with regard to the potential impact of connected and automated vehicles on older Canadians. I am an occupational therapist and rehabilitation scientist at McMaster University, where my research over the past 11 years has been on the relationship between aging, medical risk and community mobility, with a focus on driving in older adulthood.
Prior to pursuing my PhD, I worked as an occupational therapist in hospital in Chatham, Ontario, which is located off Highway 401 between London and Windsor. While its size of fewer than 50,000 people qualifies it as a mid-size city, it is surprisingly rural. Residents from the surrounding towns and villages consider Chatham an urban hub. Chatham is where you get your groceries, attend medical appointments and meet friends and family for dinner. Unfortunately, when an individual experiences a health or medical-related change, this can impact their ability to perform everyday activities, their occupations that give meaning and purpose to daily life.
Among my patients, driving was identified as a key goal. Consequently, you can imagine the devastation when some were told they could no longer drive. As an occupational therapist, it was extremely difficult to see my patients and their caregivers struggle with this news, as our philosophy and clinical training, as a profession, is focused on enablement, not disablement. Loss of a driver’s licence has been linked with social isolation, decreased health status, higher rates of depression and even institutionalization. Hence, you can see, in a health care context, how the promise of connected or automated vehicles would revolutionize the promotion of safe and viable mobility, particularly for our aging population living in rural areas.
Because of my experience in Chatham, my PhD research focused on ways to keep older adults safe behind the wheel for longer. In this regard, I examined the relationship between older drivers and passengers in terms of the potential implications of emergent in-vehicle navigation technology on their driving safety. Not surprisingly, differential perceptions among my study participants with respect to the safety and utility of this technology were linked to their underlying experiences with other forms of technology.
While doing this research, it seems I was not the only one thinking about innovations to improve the safety of aging drivers in Canada. Two physicians in Ottawa were asking similar questions and taking a similar approach.
In 2002, Dr. Shawn Marshall and Dr. Malcolm Man-Son-Hing were forward-thinking when they established the Candrive research team with seed funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Candrive stands for the Canadian Driving Research Initiative for Vehicular Safety in the Elderly. Candrive is an interdisciplinary team that brings together leading researchers, clinician scientists like me and government stakeholders, as well as older adults, with the unified aim of improving the safety of older drivers.
Since 2002, Candrive has been conducting research that has led to positive changes in both older-driver policy and clinical practice. I am co-principal investigator, alongside several others, of the Candrive prospective older-driver cohort study. For over six years, this study has tracked 928 Canadian drivers aged 70 and older in three main areas.
First, the health of our participants was assessed annually, using a complex battery of tools, including their perceptions of their own driving abilities. Second, a GPS device was installed in their vehicles that tracked every trip they made in their own car. Over 42 million kilometres were logged by our participants.
Finally, we captured any crashes or violations that occurred over the course of the study. We are in the process of analyzing this data, as one of the key goals of the Candrive research program is to develop a valid and easy-to-use clinical screening tool to help assess the medical fitness to drive in older adults.
The Candrive research team has been critical to improving our understanding of the relationship between health and driving as we age, and the study has also served as a platform for me and other investigators to launch further investigations of this population, including how advancements in vehicular technologies can impact their behind-the-wheel behaviour.
At McMaster University, we recently established the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging, where we bring together different disciplines to address complex issues. McMaster has a strong history of cross-faculty collaboration that has led to significant scientific achievements in health and medicine.
Working with colleagues and graduate students in rehabilitation science, geography and social science, our research team has embarked on a series of studies that explore the experiences of older drivers who own and operate vehicles with some of the most high-tech gadgets available. Results from one of our most recent studies, led by Dr. Jessica Gish, involved in-depth interviews where older drivers described how access to such technology generated a sense of comfort and safety. For example, auditory and visual cues provided by lane-departure warnings and similar systems were seen to promote good driving habits. However, when it came to more highly automated features, such as adaptive cruise control, some participants described this technology as unsettling.
Congruent with my original doctoral work, our research suggests much disparity in the level of knowledge and understanding with regard to how these systems actually operate.
As you are already aware, too much or too little understanding of this technology could negatively impact driving behaviour, with serious, or even fatal, consequences. A particular consideration is the ease with which such systems fit within long-standing habits and driving routines.
We can learn a great deal from our older drivers with regard to the usability and functionality of connected and automated vehicles, due, in part, to their extensive driving history and varied comfort levels with technology, as well as health- and age-related changes, all of which can impact any one of us when using a vehicle.
Many technologies are already available in our cars. We have a tremendous opportunity to start tracking, as we did with the Candrive study, the implications of these technologies on our roadways today.
Thank you very much, and I look forward to addressing questions from the committee.
Bob Brown, Transportation Committee Chairperson, Council of Canadians with Disabilities: The Council of Canadians with Disabilities is a human rights organization for persons with disabilities that works for an accessible and inclusive Canada.
CCD’s members are provincial, territorial, cross-disability, consumer-controlled human rights organizations and national uni- and cross-disability, consumer-controlled human rights organizations. I won’t go through our list of all of the members, but we have probably over 76 new member organizations across Canada.
In every decade since the 1970s, CCD has played a crucial role in advancing the status of persons with disabilities. CCD has played the role of convener, bringing together the disability community, governments and others to remove barriers and create greater inclusion; innovator, informing and facilitating understanding of access and inclusion as it has evolved over the decades; and consensus builder, developing a shared vision that facilitates progress and change.
You can see in the appendix some of the work we have done over the years. I won’t go into all of that now.
For persons with disabilities, there are both advantages and disadvantages to automated cars and commercial vehicles. Numerous issues come to mind concerning the vehicles, infrastructure and policy implications. For example, vehicles that are designed or adapted for persons with disabilities need to be designed according to the principles of universal design. Universal design means that the vehicle must be designed for everyone to use.
People using mobility devices would need to be secured in the vehicle by a restraint system, either an existing restraint-type system or a new type of restraint system technology to be designed in the future. Securing a passenger with a disability by a vehicle restraint system usually requires the assistance of a non-disabled person or someone who is capable of doing it, a robotic device in the future or a standardized restraint system.
In the instance of a shared ride system, assuming this is not a driverless vehicle, there are issues concerning payment and how some people with disabilities who experience barriers related to independently completing a payment transaction would be accommodated. For example, some people who have dexterity problems, such as me, which affect their ability to handle money and credit cards, need to have assistance with these tasks.
There needs to be infrastructure to allow for the operation of charging systems at designated parking spots for persons with disabilities who are the users of wheelchairs and other types of mobility devices. This infrastructure needs to be designed with persons with disabilities in mind.
As I started to mention, commercial vehicles like rideshare or city buses may be problematic. People would need to be secured, depending on the system, in the vehicle or lift up the seat. Again, I reiterate: Payment could be an issue for some. That is still a problem today.
The social and economic effects will be felt widely with this technology when persons with disabilities are able to use this technology.
One of the first things that people require in life is housing. The second need for persons with disabilities would be transportation to get to jobs, education and other social events in order to participate in society.
If this technology is designed correctly to be useable by persons with disabilities, it will enable people with disabilities to get employment and work in the community. Other basic technologies, such as GPS apps for visually impaired or blind people, are presently coming out, enabling them to independently find their way on their own; they are able to get into buildings, find parking lots and everything.
Again, the technology must be designed to know when an extra-wide parking space, for example, is required by a wheelchair or walker user. It must ensure that no one is permitted to block the vehicle entrance. Alternatively, it needs to be designed to back the vehicle up out of the parking spot so the person can enter or exit the vehicle.
I want to reiterate the importance of universal accessibility in the design of the vehicles and interfaces. It is necessary for inputting an address into an information system. Also, it must be flexible enough for add-ons and future technologies such as mobile phones or for people to be able to input the address and run the vehicle from their phone. That is one thought.
I will not go into the appendix, but we have done quite a bit of work in a number of other fields. With your questions, I hope we can further expand on what I just mentioned.
Rick Baker, President, Ottawa Chapter of CARP, Advocacy, CARP (formerly Canadian Association for Retired Persons): Good morning, honourable senators and guests. My name is Rick Baker. I have the pleasure of serving as the President of CARP Ottawa. On behalf of our president and owner, Moses Znaimer, I am here today to speak to you.
CARP, which stands for the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, is Canada’s largest advocacy association for seniors and retirees. Our over 300,000 members across Canada receive numerous benefits and services provided by our national office and by some 24 local chapters across Canada. Here in Ottawa alone we have over 11,000 active members and are growing exponentially as the demographic scenery is shifting significantly.
CARP advocates for better health care, financial security and freedom from ageism. Our members engage in polls and petitions. They email their elected representatives, connect with their local chapters and share stories and opinions on urgent issues. Our voices are heard and well respected by decision makers and policy-makers.
To this end, we do appreciate this opportunity to speak to the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications about the subject of the deployment of connected and automated vehicles and the long-term implications and challenges of these technologies.
First, it is incumbent on this type of technology with engineered vehicles to be safe both for the user and for the public at large. This is a relatively new idea and concept being shared with Canadians, and we believe that it must be thoroughly researched and documented to ensure that it meets all legislative and operational standards, on both national and provincial levels. Recently here in Ottawa there have been many media blitzes showcasing this type of technology, and they have sure raised eyebrows about how it would work.
In building age-friendly cities and communities, it is important that the needs of seniors and retirees are taken into account and that they have the means to access this technology. We have found in a number of our polls and surveys that not all of our members are able to access the types of advances being proposed. We can certainly continue to poll our members about this new concept and provide you with our results if there are specific types of questions that you wish to have answered.
There are numerous issues confronting our aging society about road safety and the types of injuries that are occurring. With these new types of proposed vehicles, it will be even more important to make sure that every single incident is recorded and that the public at all times is safe and free from any type of injury.
Our seniors today face arbitrary upper-age limits and restrictions for driving. Telling people to hang up their keys is not good policy; it’s ageism. Does this mean that there should be no restrictions on driving? Not at all. But restrictions should be based on people’s ability to drive, not on the year of their birth certificate. It will be very interesting to see how this is managed by driverless or automated cars.
Focusing on age limits for drivers and operators of these types of vehicles ignores the larger issue: Far too many Canadians can’t readily access excellent or even barely adequate public transit. Many drivers of all ages are in their cars not because they want to be there, but because there are no reasonable alternatives. This may be a new way to minimize this concern. However, it does not say that we should not be continuing to invest in good, solid transit systems. Excellent transit makes for liveable cities, improved traffic and fewer fatalities. That is a solution for all ages.
As we progress into a much more rapid technological age, seniors will still have a significant role to play. This type of technology will ultimately have a bearing on them and their lifestyles. Let’s make it so that everyone accesses the benefits of this type of technology.
I could go on for many hours on this particular subject, but I want to highlight a few areas that should be taken into consideration.
Affordability: Who can really afford these types of vehicles as we go forward?
Insurance premiums: Imagine what people will have to pay to have their vehicle insured.
Pricing of the technology in vehicles.
Infrastructure: Will we need new and existing parking lots, roadways and what have you that go along with that
Sharing the highway with driver cars and driverless cars.
Energy consumption: How will that be managed?
Parking: As Bob mentioned very eloquently, ensuring that persons with disabilities have proper parking.
Linkage with the public transportation system: How these cars are manufactured and where that will be done. Opportunities for employment to construct the said vehicles and where.
Government financing and support: Who will fund this?
Legislation, which is absolutely key for this type of technology.
And most important, caution, because any approvals are given at any level of government.
Let’s do it right. Let’s educate and inform everyone about safety and the practicality of this advancement.
The Chair: I would like to thank all three of you for your presentations.
Senator Bovey: I would like to thank you all for your presentations.
Mr. Brown, you have been very eloquent in underlining the need for universal accessibility, and you defined the technical issues, which are, indeed, realities facing this new technology and will need to be put into the mix.
Assuming that we get that part right and that there is room to fold up wheelchairs and walkers, and room for an assistant to help an individual get in and out of the car, how can we make sure that people with disabilities and Canada’s aging population benefit as quickly as possible from these automated and connected vehicles?
Many are telling us that it will give a new freedom and new living opportunities for those with disabilities and our older citizens in helping them to get to doctor appointments, et cetera.
Can you reflect on how we make sure this happens quickly?
Mr. Brown: It clearly depends on which mode of transportation you are looking at, for example, a driverless bus or a taxi or a shared-ride vehicle. I will talk more about the securement systems.
The present technology, in a taxi system you need to be secured, whereas with a bus system you normally don’t. You can travel backwards, and you are probably the safest person on the bus travelling with something behind you in the case of an impact.
This opens up all kinds of opportunities for people, but if something goes wrong or if something happens with getting onto a vehicle, such as a bus, for example, with a seat up, how does the bus know when to take off, and how do you monitor that? Is there a control somewhere overseeing the bus, such a camera or something like that?
The opportunity this affords people to get out, especially with personal vehicles, is where I think the biggest opportunity is, and it will benefit persons with disabilities if they can actively use it safely and on a day-to-day basis. As long as they are able to input the information about where they are going and the vehicle is able to find out where it is going on its own with the automation, it would work. I think that was your question.
Senator Bovey: I presume you are bringing all these issues to the manufacturers.
Professor, I have read your work in developing this tool to aid in deciding whether or not someone should be driving, and I applaud you for it.
In terms of the gap in deployment of fully automated vehicles and one that requires a driver to take over in emergencies, could there be a graduated licence to allow a senior to participate in level-three technology while not being a fully licensed driver? Is there a mid role there?
Ms. Vrkljan: I appreciate your point. I think you’re quite forward-thinking regarding the opportunities going forward with some of the technology that’s available to older drivers. We have to be mindful about the match between the person in the vehicle and their abilities.
I am not sure if you mean de-graduated licensing, where we slowly supplement or complement some of the abilities, through the vehicle, of maybe some age- and health-related changes that are happening?
Senator Bovey: Yes.
Ms. Vrkljan: De-graduated licensing right now is a bit of a utopian concept, I think, because it is a nice idea in terms of helping support people as they transition away from driving and then the vehicle coming to supplement some of those changes.
Right now, it’s very difficult in terms of knowing. We are at a transformational time in terms of whether some of the technology in the cars, in fact, does complement some of the changes that people are experiencing, because, as my colleague said, it is a very individualized process. We can’t apply an age per se. We have to look at people’s functional abilities. So to say that lane departure warnings would be good for this type of person doesn’t yet exist in terms of complementing. Does that mean they don’t have range of motion in their neck to be able to turn because of arthritis? Is it because there is some vision impairment in terms of macular degeneration?
I am a bit leery of thinking about the match between vehicles and people’s abilities.
Senator Bovey: Would you put it forward as a concept to be discussed as the technology improves?
Ms. Vrkljan: As I said at the end of my statement, there is a opportunity to study seniors right now, today. In fact, we have put in a grant to our Ontario government with some colleagues at McMaster to study seniors, as we have done in terms of the technology that is available today.
We don’t need to wait to explore this issue. We could explore this with seniors today in terms of people’s abilities. And people of all abilities, including people with disabilities as well. We have lots to learn from them in terms of their aging as well.
We need to track people and understand their journey and how they go about their day. I think we still lack an understanding of how people’s abilities change and how we can help compensate through transportation and housing as well. Those two go hand in hand.
Senator Cormier: Thank you very much for your presentation. I have been very interested in all the research that has been conducted with a group of seniors, in particular as reported by CTV. You talked about the issues related to costs and the safety of seniors and persons with disabilities.
You talked about the issue of training. In your opinion, how should we proceed and what can the federal and provincial governments do to help persons with reduced mobility and seniors prepare and adapt to these new modes of transportation?
Mr. Baker: Thank you very much for your question. Training is certainly part of my mantra as well, as I happen to be a professor, and I teach a really interesting program called Retirement Communities Management dealing with seniors across Canada.
But in part of my presentation, I indicated that CARP has chapters across Canada. Each and every one of our chapters would be glad to hold training sessions to better educate our populous. Education, as you know, and training are really critical so that people have a good grasp of this concept and what it means for them in terms of how they can be engaged as well.
Ms. Vrkljan: I can speak to that. Some of the findings of our research indicate certainly a lack of understanding of how people manage change in terms of the vehicle. The aging population right now has seen tremendous change. In fact, seatbelts kind of came into law when these people were getting licensed and growing up, so to speak, in Canada. I’m talking about our boomers.
I think we have to take a multifactorial approach, certainly working with organizations like CARP and CAA as well. We know that people renew their licences every five years in certain provinces. That depends, of course, on the differential jurisdictions. I know at the federal level you’re not necessarily responsible for personal vehicles; nonetheless, lots of discussion between Transport Canada and the provincial jurisdictions.
At that five-year renewal, whether there is some kind of education session — we know in Ontario we have an education session that happens at age 80, so that’s an opportunity. I know it’s age-based, but it’s still something everybody needs to go through. I think that’s a huge opportunity to help people understand not just technology in cars but also how communities can be redesigned, health promotion in terms of walking and age-friendly activities, keeping people well and mobile for as long as possible.
We know that people see their physicians and occupational therapists and have that kind of discussion. More research on retraining needs to be done; until there is a collision, we wait, but we're not being as proactive as we could. I think we could retrain people.
Mr. Brown: Just a little different approach about how to help people. It’s a little like the chicken and the egg; once people are able to get out and get a job, it’s affordability of the technology. Normally persons with disabilities are the most impoverished demographic in society, but this technology would probably help a lot of people be able to get to employment. Once they get employed and start getting wealthier, they would be able to afford the technology. It’s a little difficult that way. There may be issues of funding or partial payments or things to afford the technology, but that’s way down the road, I guess.
Senator Cormier: I am also concerned about the disparity between urban and rural regions as regards access to training and to these new technologies. What are your thoughts on that? You talked a lot about private cars and less about public transit. Consider my mother, for example, who is 94 years old and still very independent. She still has her driver’s licence, but is no longer able to drive her car for health reasons. In her case, I think public transit would be more suitable to help her get around. What are your thoughts on the disparity and the measures that should be taken to help people in rural areas access these technologies?
Mr. Baker: That is a very important point that you’ve brought up, sir. We have certainly identified that across Canada with our local organizations. One of the things that we do extremely well is work with a lot of volunteer groups who reach out to persons in need. For example, with your mother, depending on whether she lived in a rural community, we would identify a volunteer corps, and our volunteers are there just in the flick of a switch to help people be able to get to their appointments and what have you. Probably in the rural areas it will be much more difficult to have the mass transit systems that we have in our larger urban areas, but volunteers are very critical.
Ms. Vrkljan: When we talk about volunteers, we have to think about safety and, of course, making sure that people have their police checks. At one point in time I was a volunteer driver for seniors in the community to try to understand that perspective. I think we still have lots to learn from how people in rural communities access and deal with driving cessation. We actually don’t know very much about that process right now here today.
We have just embarked on a research project through our new institute, the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging that is funded by our chancellor, who is a forward-thinking person as well. He has made a donation to focus on optimal aging. So again, a cross-disciplinary approach — geographer, social scientist, myself, even business looking at the logistics around how to make that affordable, accessible and functional for people. One of the things we’re doing is interviewing seniors about their experience to try to understand the demographic that lives in rural areas.
I had to go through a police check as a volunteer driver because often these services need to be door to door, which means I need to pull up my car, actually sometimes help people from inside their house to the vehicle. So it’s not as simple as people just coming out and walking down the street to a bus stop.
I appreciate volunteerism in Canada. Certainly we are well-known for reaching out. I think the Hamilton area has the most volunteers per capita in Canada. We do need a formal system in place. There is a lot of pressure on caregivers, transportation being one of their primary stresses. So you can think about the scaffolding effect, particularly in rural areas. I saw that first-hand in Chatham in my clinical experience.
Mr. Brown: I was at the UN for a CRPD conference in June, and they were saying they predict that cities by 2050 will double in size because people have to move to where the services are. If there are no services, especially for the elderly or persons with disabilities, there is a problem.
Senator Boisvenu: Welcome to our witnesses. You have given some very interesting testimony. Canada and Quebec, in particular, both have aging populations. Automated transportation might hold out promise to these populations, but it can also be very worrisome.
My question is for Ms. Vrkljan. In 2015, the Conference Board of Canada stated that Canada was lagging quite far behind in terms of technological change. I am referring to the leadership it can assert and investment in infrastructure. We know that Canada will be investing $40 billion in infrastructure in the next four or five years. When we ask the Minister of Transport questions, it is not clear if we are getting the right answer, if all the parties involved in these expenditures share a common vision for those investments and especially a common approach to integrating these new technologies.
We all know older parents for whom losing their driver’s licence was a blow. Have you conducted any sociological or demographic studies in this regard? Should Canada — as well as Japan and other countries whose population has been aging for a number of generations — be worried about the advent of these technologies, in terms of preparation and financially? As we have heard, the first electric or automated vehicles will be very expensive and therefore not very accessible to those people. Will the advent of these technologies be welcomed enthusiastically or will it be a nightmare?
Ms. Vrkljan: The classic question. It’s a challenge to consider a place and try to compare ourselves to a place like Japan, which is much more high-density. I think the beauty of Canada — and also the challenge — is the large land mass. So we have to think about spreading our resources. I do appreciate that Prince Edward Island is not treated the same way as Ontarians. We need to take that into consideration in terms of people’s individualized needs.
I think I see tremendous opportunity. Through our Candrive study, we had thought that people who were driving were maybe of higher socio-economic status, and in fact what we found, including at my Hamilton site, is that people manage. Transportation is very important to their ability to get around, their social participation, which we know is linked to health. So they manage their finances very carefully in terms of gas prices and taking all of that into account still, so they would manage and they understood, in terms of their accounting, how they manage their automobile.
One thing we were surprised at in our study -- we didn’t expect it, because we had GPS devices put in their cars -- is that people were buying new vehicles. So we actually had to put the GPS device — this is a device that goes in the OBD port. I know you had speakers talk about that port before, having looked at the minutes. So that’s to understand the vehicle diagnostic. It’s not your classic GPS in terms of personal navigation. But people were purchasing cars, particularly at the end. Unfortunately our study kind of finished at the crux of when we had this launch in terms of new technology due to the end of our funding.
In the United States, there is a study that they are undergoing, our neighbour here, called Long Road. In fact, they have included high tech to track high tech and the older adult. So it’s a take-off of the Candrive study I spoke about. It has almost the exact same data collection methods, except they have added tracking people’s in-vehicle technology.
What is important about that is that we understand what people are doing today. That helps us plan for tomorrow. Here in Canada, my dream, and I think my recommendation, would be to have a site that compliments the Long Road study here in Canada. Each site in the U.S. has 600 participants, and there are about five sites, so it’s almost 3,000 — if I’m doing my math; I might not be -- but 3,000 participants in the U.S., at different spots. My colleagues at the University of Michigan have a site and they are also tracking their GPS.
All of that is to say we need to understand what Canadians are doing today in order to prepare for tomorrow. What infrastructure needs to be in place in a rural area that is different from an urban area? I think it's really important to understand that.
In a place like Hamilton, for example, if I was to have the McMaster site, we know that just beyond Hamilton it gets rural very quickly, as I talked about. Ancaster, even just beyond Ancaster, so 10 kilometres from McMaster, you’re actually already in a rural area.
Our site, in terms of the Candrive study, certainly drew from the rural areas. We are planning, with this study with my colleagues at McMaster, to look at rural Canadians, people that were at the McMaster site, to understand their experience.
Senator Eggleton: Thank you very much. In a socially inclusive society, your voices and the people you represent are very important.
The development of autonomous and connected vehicles is happening rapidly. Some say we’re moving towards a computer on wheels. So a lot of new technology is coming into play now and will continue in the future.
I want to know how much you are in the loop on all of this, on behalf of the different constituencies that you represent. Governments, at all levels, are talking about it. Industry certainly is talking about it. Do they consult you? Do you feel that your needs are getting to their ears?
All three of you.
Mr. Brown: The short answer is no. It’s just the last couple of years, really, that the automation — you know, electric vehicles versus hybrids, versus other technologies such as fuel cells, and hydrogen, how to fill them up and things, service them, because you still have to take care of the vehicle, I assume.
But no, we haven’t been in the loop for that. It’s probably a good idea maybe that we should be starting to reach out ourselves, because that’s normally what we tend to do. This has moved very quickly. We’re excited about it, but it does have some implications that we have to address, especially the universal design and filling and if it’s electric, the universal design, how to find it for a person who has difficulty, the dexterity or ergonomics, that kind of thing.
The short answer was no.
Ms. Vrkljan: Candrive has reached out. I was pleased, when I was invited, that the government was forward-thinking in terms of striking this committee. I was not aware this committee was happening, but when I received this invitation, certainly I have had lots of positive feedback upon telling people that the Senate is exploring this.
In terms of government, I feel like we have the Ministry of Transportation in Ontario and other provincial ministries with the Candrive project. They were right at the table in support, not surprisingly, because we were also tracking crashes of our participants and violations. So very involved.
Industry has been a little more challenging. What we have tried to do, and what I’m doing at McMaster — and I will continue with my persistence — is work with the engineering faculty. They have linkages with industry, but unfortunately they are not always thinking about the human in the design process.
Of course, we know through universal design, also thinking about people with disabilities, thinking about older adults, in terms of the range of ability, lots of strengths, of course, but there is a range there. If we design thinking about that population, then we’re more apt for people who are within — who are more able-bodied so to speak; typical users are able to use it and find those things easier to use, which is the concept of universal design.
So I think the government could certainly support and recommend to industry that older drivers and people with disabilities be included when they are testing and trying out different technologies.
The engineers certainly do a good job at design, and they are very committed to coming up with some really strong innovations, but I think they could be even stronger if the human is in the loop. I’m excited about the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging, because at McMaster, trying to cross those silos can be challenging. The engineers certainly want to set the table, because we bring that human element.
Mr. Baker: Thank you for that question, Senator. Certainly echoing what my colleagues are saying here in terms of engagement.
On an annual basis, we at CARP National, but also with support of our chapters, try to identify some key issues we will go forward with and that we feel it’s important to advocate around for seniors and retirees. This is a relatively new idea that has come forward to us. We appreciate the opportunity to come today to speak about it. Certainly we’re prepared to buy in and be very much engaged in the whole process as we move forward.
I do have a good opportunity, as I go to Toronto within three weeks, where annually we meet with the national board to look at issues that we should be going forward with. So I will certainly put this on the plate for us to consider.
Senator Eggleton: Don’t wait for them to reach out to you; you go to them.
Mr. Baker: Exactly. We do.
Senator Eggleton: Make sure you are in the loop.
Let me ask you about one other subject. Any of you can answer this. I’m reading now that there is such a thing being developed as a self-driving wheelchair. We have seen the motorization and the electrification of wheelchairs developing over the last few years. This perhaps takes it to a further dimension, the same as the automobile, perhaps ending up with a self-driving wheelchair.
What can you tell me about that and the advances in wheelchair technology? This is an urban issue, really — well, it is a rural issue too, I guess. Where is it going to go? In downtown Toronto, these motorized wheelchairs are by and large on the sidewalk. Occasionally, I have seen some of them in bicycle lanes. Occasionally, I get horrified by seeing one trying to compete with the auto traffic on the streets.
So where do you see this all going in the future and what kind of regulation might be needed in the self-driving wheelchair category?
Mr. Brown: I have to be honest — I haven’t heard of that myself yet. From a background in research and development, I can see that coming. In fact, I have developed, working with Carleton University, an electric chair that would be able to use just voice control and things like that. Of course, it just worked in the lab because the microphone was the weakest technology because of things like background noise. It was designed to shut down, so it just stopped, which obviously wouldn’t work outside. But I would expect the same kind of technology would work on an electric wheelchair. It’s just a control system, feedback going into it, just depending on the design.
Now that could, for some people, be very beneficial. Some people are just not able to get around. I suppose it may help for seniors cognitively or a person with disabilities.
The big thing, though, with technology like that is affordability. But I haven’t heard of that as of yet or of it being considered anyway.
Ms. Vrkljan: As occupational therapists, we are certainly involved in the prescription of wheelchairs and making sure that they are suited to the person in terms of their abilities, so it goes back a bit to what Senator Bovey had asked initially around that match between people’s abilities.
Again, the self-driving wheelchair is not a solution. When you first hear about it, you say, “Wow, that could really help,” but it still needs to have certain adaptations to the particular person and their abilities. So as occupational therapists, we have to make sure about people’s vision and functional abilities, and Bob mentioned cognition and people’s attention. Being able to navigate Toronto streets, as you talked about, is very challenging.
I know that some of your earlier committees were trying to understand how humans act and anticipate how we might act upon seeing a wheelchair driving at a certain speed, where pedestrian meets self-driving wheelchair. There are similar issues with regard to the automobile. My colleagues at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and a research network called AGE-WELL are considering how these kinds of mobility devices can impact individuals.
The crux here is that we can help encourage mobility, and then safety can kind of put a stop to it, so we always have to be that fine line between individual mobility and enabling people, and then making sure that we have proper regulations. Certainly, we want to promote mobility. As an occupational therapist, I want to enable people, not disable people. I’m concerned sometimes that the regulations will stop progress as well.
I think there are many challenges with the self-driving automobile, the self-driving wheelchair and the self-driving stove, for example.
The Chair: If you think the challenge of doing that in Toronto is bad, try it in Montreal.
Senator Mercer: Driving in Montreal is an adventure. Thank you all for being here.
Senator Eggleton actually set up my question because he spoke about what is happening in urban and then casually he said he supposed rural areas too. Well, the issue in rural Canada is a much bigger crisis than it is in urban Canada. There is no public transit where I live. There is no taxi service where I live. I live in a small village of a few thousand people. We have two gas stations and a grocery store, and the grocery store, fortunately, has a liquor outlet as well, so we’re not totally isolated.
But I had two rather serious illnesses in the past 10 years. Three years ago this week, I had a stroke, and when I had the stroke, my licence was suspended while I was recuperating. I had to be retested before I could drive again. That put the pressure on my wife to drive me. When I went home from the hospital, I had no access to any service. If I was single or if it wasn’t for my wife, I would have been totally isolated. I would have had to physically move from my home into an urban centre to be able to get the simple services I need like the grocery store and the drugstore. When we talk about this being a solution or a helpful thing for public transit, yes, for urban people. But this is one of the biggest countries in the world geographically. We’re missing services to others.
I would like you to comment on that.
The second thing, Mr. Baker, you mentioned insurance premiums in your list of things. I view car insurance as legalized extortion. You know, you have to have it. If you don’t have it, you’re not allowed to drive. So they have got you. By the way, don’t make a claim because if you make a claim, well, they may or may not pay. And if they do pay, then your premium will go through the roof. It’s quite a racket.
Anyway, how do we justify, from an insurance point of view? Who do we blame? You talked about road safety and the types of injuries that might occur. I’m in a driverless vehicle, a bus or taxi or whatever, and there is an accident. I’m hurt. I want to sue. Whom do I sue? Where does the liability come in? There is nobody driving the vehicle. Yes, I could sue the other vehicle involved, but what if that was another driverless vehicle? I don’t understand how that is going to work, and how Canadians are going to be protected.
Mr. Baker: Certainly, your first question about the rural area is a tough question to answer, in terms of trying to make sure that services are accessible for people living in a rural area. At this point in time, certainly, this concept is more of an urban issue they are trying to deal with. Hopefully, it will eventually reach out to our rural areas, but it will take many years, I believe.
Secondly, in terms of trying to answer for the insurance industry, I’m certainly not the expert. Usually if there is an accident, many times it comes right down to the police investigation, because they are the first persons on board, usually, to try to come up with some type of situational analysis of how this accident happened. I wouldn’t be able to answer you about what type of premiums people would be paying if there are certain liability claims.
Mr. Brown: From what I read in the papers, they expect the number of accidents to go down, because you eliminate the driver and driver error. So in some ways, probably the cost would go down for insurance. But I guess it goes to the manufacturer. Of course, you need quite a bit of product liability. A lot of things are invented and come along, but it is the product liability that just kills the idea.
As I mentioned, I was at a conference of the UN earlier this year in June. If we didn’t consider this new technology that might change society, they were estimating that by 2050 our cities will double because people will be moving from the smaller communities for the services, as you said — the drug store, the doctor’s office, a hospital. If you need one, you want to get closer to those services.
Ms. Vrkljan: My statement talks about working in a small town in Chatham, Ontario, which sits between Windsor and London, along Canada’s most populated corridor; yet, it is surprisingly rural.
When I was working as an occupational therapist, and I would see people who had had a stroke, driving was one of their primary goals. Of course, going home was critical, but they went hand in hand. The promise of automated cars for that region or for rural areas would be an important place to start in understanding. If they can work in rural areas in terms of getting the infrastructure right, we could learn lots in terms of transitioning to urban areas. Urban areas bring their own density with bicyclists and pedestrians and people with disabilities.
That is why I focused on that. At first I was going to focus on medical fitness to drive. How do we take away people’s licences and make sure that people who are unsafe are off the roadways? We want to make sure of that, but I changed my perspective after speaking with people in rural areas because of the importance of driving to their daily life and to social participation. Yes, it was going to the grocery store, but it was more seeing family and friends.
We know that social isolation is a huge issue for our aging population, and driving is a means to do that. I focused my research on looking at advanced vehicle technology and how it might enable people to get to the places that are important to them.
I think that is where automated vehicles have a promise for helping people compensate for some of the changes they might be experiencing, and our early research shows that older people are not buying cars because they have certain technologies. They notice how those technologies help once they are in the car and using them. Part of the reason they are not searching them out is because they don’t know what they will do for them. What we hear from our participants is how helpful the back-up camera is, given some other changes, but it still complements skills. It is seen as an assist, but it will never take away from the ability of the driver.
Insurance is a tough one. I know you have had experts speak about that. I am glad that you are exploring that issue. We don’t want ageism, in particular, because that is what can happen if we start applying certain abilities because of an age. We know that not everyone who has had a stroke should be labelled the same way. Everyone responds differently to treatment and rehabilitation and recovers differently. We need to treat people as individuals, and the insurance industry needs to respect that as well.
Senator MacDonald: I think it is instructive to have CARP and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities here today. When you think of the introduction of autonomous vehicles, I can’t think of any two groups that would be more open to the introduction of these technologies.
I know the United States Congress is also doing a study on this now. Are the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and CARP in discussion with your equivalents in the U.S.? It is fair to assume that when this technology is applied in North America, it will be done relatively simultaneously in Canada and the U.S. Are you interacting with your respective groups in the U.S., and what sort of feedback are you getting from them with regard to the introduction of this technology, and what are their requests and concerns?
Mr. Brown: We do have dialogue with the American Access Board, but, to be honest, this issue hasn’t come up yet. We are still working on flights and cars and other technologies. This has come up very quickly, and people aren’t at that point yet. Just the fact that you are holding hearings on this is making us think about this and get into the right networks and talk about it. In that way, it was enlightening.
As far as I know, the American Access Board has not been talking about it, either. It is quite advanced.
Ms. Vrkljan: I was just at the World Congress for the International Association of Gerontology that was held in San Francisco, and our colleagues from CIHR, the Institute of Aging, held many symposiums to try to understand the international lens to aging. My colleagues from Australia were there. There are Candrive equivalents in the U.S., Australia and the Western society at this point, for the most part where it is more industrialized, not surprisingly, looking at this issue.
We struggle with technology being seen as a panacea to solve all of our problems in terms of people’s abilities, but what they recognize right now is that we need to study, as I said before, what is happening in vehicles right now. What are the implications for drivers? We can try to prognosticate the impact in the future.
For older adults, when they got their licence, the current generation never had to go through formal testing. Not surprisingly, we have seen, in our samples, some bad habits. We know those bad habits can exist across the lifespan, not just in older drivers. The issue is that the implication of bad habits is that if there is a crash, because they are frail and have some medical conditions, they are more apt to be injured or even killed.
One of the studies that I embarked on, thanks to the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging again, is to do some pilot study on how to retrain healthy older drivers in terms of their abilities, thinking about advanced vehicle technologies as well, to be able to track that.
All of that is to say that certainly there are collaboration and discussion with our international colleagues. Not so much with industry. That is still a missing link. There used to be a national network, Auto21 — I’m not sure whether any of you have heard of it — that brought industry and researchers together. It was primarily engineering, but there was a theme around human factors. Looking at baby car seats, for example, with my colleague, Dr. Anne Snowdon, but also seniors, who are another vulnerable population. That NCE ran its duration, unfortunately, in 15 years, so being able to bring industry to the table is important.
Mr. Baker: Personally I am not aware of any collaboration going on between CARP in Canada and AARP in the States, but I can certainly bring it forward to our vice-president of advocacy to put it on the table again and see if we can do some collaboration and learn from them as well.
Senator MacDonald: The time is here. I think we should.
The Chair: We have to go in camera regarding management issues because we have new legislation coming before us.
Senator Griffin: This is really interesting. I had three questions, but two of them have already been taken care of by Senators Cormier and Eggleton. I have been a CARP member for a long time.
Mr. Baker: Thank you.
Senator Griffin: What are the most important one or two things that the federal government can do in terms of making transportation more accessible? I ask that for everybody.
Mr. Brown: I’ll take a shot at it. It’s hard to say at this point in time because we don’t know that much about it.
Again, I talked about affordability, which is an issue, especially for persons with disabilities. However, it is not limited to the personal vehicle. Aircraft are going to be landing themselves. Technically, they can now, with the autopilot. The technology is there and has been there, but the regulations say that the pilot has to actually land the aircraft.
Not to over-regulate it at first. I agree with my colleague that if you stifle the ability for innovation, which will improve, probably very quickly in this field — Look at universal accessibility and systems for the interface between the vehicle and how to take care of it. If it’s an electric vehicle, how to charge it, things like that, for some people just to be able to use a system like that. I guess just don’t over-regulate it, but ensure that things have been tested. You need to allow for innovation. Technology like this doubles every five years, I believe.
Ms. Vrkljan: I come from the home of evidence-based practice. Evidence-based medicine was actually founded at McMaster University in terms of always thinking that how we make our decisions should be based on facts. When we take that to engineering and vehicle engineering, we also must understand the facts and collect evidence. I am a researcher. The way we do that is through objective studies, understanding the subjective experience as well in terms of people’s experience. So a mixed-methods approach is really important. You can have numbers, but I think you have to give meaning to those numbers as well in terms of understanding people’s experiences of working in rural areas. The number one thing we can do right now is to really understand the technology today and invest in some research.
I work with graduate students, the next generation of Canadian innovators. My occupational therapy students are working directly with first-year engineers on projects where we bring in people with a disability, older adults, people who have actually suffered a stroke, so the students can see that, reducing stigma around that, so that when somebody has aphasia, which is a speech impediment that sometimes can happen as a result of a stroke, they recognize the abilities and the strengths behind that person. So that next generation of engineers is trained in universal design; they think about the user in the loop.
If we do that and invest in research and the next generation, that would be the best thing we could do for enabling transportation and mobility.
Senator Galvez: We have been talking about this subject for a while now, and I think we are getting more of an idea now. Some things are becoming very evident. Hearing you, in particular, something has become evident to me, which is that these developments are driven by the industry, the car industry. The human is not there, and the social part is not there. We need to put the human there.
In my family, I have a handicapped brother, and I have my aging mother. Those are two completely different situations.
Of course, people with disabilities need to be in urban settings to improve their employment and social environment. These vehicles cost a lot of money. Who will be able to afford the insurance and all of this? Who is going to pay, and how are they going to pay?
On the aging group of people, there is another problem. It is true, as my colleagues have said, that they don’t want their licences to be taken away, but that is not the same as the millennials. The millennials don’t want to drive. The millennials don't want to own a car. The millennials use common transport, Uber, Commonauto.
So we may be discussing today about doing a big thing, but then, after the baby boomers, what are we going to do? I just want to think long-term and outside the box.
I think one of our recommendations should be that multidisciplinary, trans-disciplinary research studies must be carried out in order to come up with efficient long-term solutions.
There is an interesting experiment and new practices that are going on in Europe, in the Netherlands, in the Scandinavian countries, where multi-generational housing is going on. So you have young people driving old people. I think that is very important, rather than rendering older people more isolated by giving them ways of being independent and being isolated. So I just want you to hear these comments and comment on these opinions.
What else can we do, as Senator Griffin said, what type of recommendation? I understand not too much legislation, and I agree with that. We have to leave free room for experimentation, but what other recommendations can we make?
Mr. Brown: I would suggest that the big thing is to ensure everybody is included. If there were any legislation, to make sure that all of society is consulted as to what they need. We need to bring in the people and talk about what their needs are. Make it inclusive for everyone, especially universal design. It’s not just one section of the population.
If I could move away from disability just for a second, I have an interest in this as well. From what I read just this morning, Uber is leaving Quebec. That was announced this morning. In the future, we don’t know yet if there’s going to be more shared-ride kind of technology of the personal vehicle. Are there going to be issues, then, of parking in urban settings? These are more the kinds of questions that we may have to ask as part of urban planning and things like that that we need to look at in the future because that’s all going to change as well. We don’t know if it’s going to be shared-ride vehicles, which, as you say, the millennials like, or people who want their own vehicle. What do you do with parking, then, especially when we are trying to get away from the automated vehicles and cars, especially in urban settings, like London, and in the downtown cores, things like that?
Mr. Baker: I applaud this committee for actually reaching out to us to provide you with some insight on the organizations we represent. I think it is imperative that that happen. I also agree that we can be better utilized in reaching out to our members and trying to get a much better pulse on the issue at hand.Certainly for the long term it has a lot of implications, and we need to do it right.
Ms. Vrkljan: When Candrive was first started by Dr. Shawn Marshall and Dr. Malcolm Man-Son-Hing, they had concerns about how older adults were being treated in terms of it being fair and equivalent. That is how the Candrive study started, around trying to promote mobility, equal access and accessibility.
I know your comments raise many questions around the spectrum of ability, from your brother with a disability through to your mom and the aging population. You can look at those as problems; I try to look at them as opportunities. By understanding people who have some functional impairments that are atypical, we can really help design a better society that is inclusive of people of all abilities.
There are some experiments we can do. There is a simulator that the federal and provincial government have invested in at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. It is very advanced, with rain, snow and fog that can be done right in the simulator itself. My group I am co-leading with my colleague, Dr. Furlan, is scoping the evidence. That means we are looking at all of the evidence out there around advanced vehicle technology. It is very complicated to try to pull and cull the evidence, but it is important because from that we can identify gaps. What kinds of experiments, then, do we do in the simulator? What kind of older adults with functional impairments do we test the different technologies with?
We are starting with the review of evidence, which is funded through our Canadian Institutes of Health Research. We then hope to get funding for additional experimentation.
I think the role of the government is to support that kind of innovation and testing and to make sure that we involve people of different abilities.
Senator Boisvenu: I would have liked Mr. Baker to answer my question. People aged 70 and over will be the largest demographic group in Canada in five to ten years.
According to the surveys your association has conducted, Mr. Baker, does this technological revolution offer hope to these older people or is it a nightmare due to the adjustments required, in financial terms in particular? People would not keep those cars for 15 or 20 years because the technology, like our computers and smart phones, will change every three to five years. Does this technology, which is on our doorstep, offer hope or is it a nightmare for the transportation of seniors?
Mr. Baker: I believe it's very hopeful, and I am a true optimist regarding where we are going in the future. It is important, again, that seniors are consulted and that we do provide some background on how they are educated about the issues at hand. We do our best on a daily basis to reach out to our seniors’ organizations, and there are multiple organizations across Canada.
This issue, as I said earlier, is relatively new, but I think we have a great opportunity here to reach out to them and find out their feelings and sentiments about rapid technology and how they can be engaged and included in the long term as well.
With any change there are always people who will push back. However, at the end of the day, if we can prove there is value in the change, people will buy in, and we will have a great life ahead of us.
The Chair: I would like to thank the witnesses. This is a totally different frame from what we have been debating for the last few weeks, but it is certainly an important part of what we will be studying. We will eventually start thinking about what we will be recommending.
(The committee continued in camera.)