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Ontario Coroner: 100 Per Cent of Cycling Deaths Were Preventable

Study includes recommendations to improve cycling conditions in the province.

Yesterday, Ontario’s chief coroner released a long-awaited report about cycling deaths in the province [PDF]. It is filled with statistics and facts, but one stands out: of the 129 deaths studied in the report, 100% were preventable.

Before undertaking the study, the team hypothesized that the 129 cycling fatalities in Ontario between 2006 and 2010 could have been prevented and found that “this hypothesis held true in each and every death we reviewed,” according to the report’s introduction. Uncontrollable forces like weather conditions and visibility rarely played a role, with visibility conditions listed as good in 87% of cases, weather conditions being clear in 83% of cases, and 53% of incidents happening in daylight.

In more than two thirds of the cases, the cyclist was partly responsible for the accident—by disregarding traffic signs, entering the curb lane too quickly after being on the sidewalk, or travelling against traffic. Most commonly, when drivers contributed to accidents it was by speeding and not paying attention. In almost half the cases involving a motor vehicle, both the driver’s and the cyclist’s (in)actions contributed to the accident.

So what can be done to prevent these needless deaths? In its report, the coroner’s office offers 14 recommendations in four areas: infrastructure, education, legislation, and enforcement.

Some highlights from that list of recommendations:

  • Take a “complete streets” approach to planning, which calls for enhanced safety for all road users through initiatives like separated bike lanes and reduced speed limit zones.
  • The creation of an Ontario cycling plan to streamline planning, legislation, and funding.
  • Including hang tags with information about bicycle safety with new bikes.
  • Integrating cycling and road safety information into the public school curriculum and including cycling related scenarios on driving tests.
  • Promoting helmet use through initiatives like offering tax exemption on helmets and launching awareness campaigns.
  • Potentially legislating helmet use for all riders, after an extensive study on user impacts of such a law.
  • Requiring side guards on trucks.
  • Instituting a 3 foot/1 metre passing rule for vehicles passing cyclists.

Some resistance has already been expressed to some of the recommendations, like mandatory helmet usage. But the report’s authors stressed that controversial proposals were included based solely on the data from the deaths they reviewed, saying in the report “We have avoided making any recommendations, however positive and well-intentioned, if they are not supported by our data.”

With almost a quarter of Canadians suffering from obesity, the report adds, it is important that we as a society promote cycling as part of a healthy lifestyle. Mitigating the safety concerns many have about cycling is one key way to get more people riding.

Coroner’s Report on Cycling

Comments

  • George_vic_bell

    This looks like a pretty lame report…there is nothing about bike lane statistics…how many of these deaths occurred in locations with separated bike lanes, sharrows, 1 lane roads, 2 lane roads, highways? What was the speed limit on the roads? Seems like a pretty obvious thing to look at…but no stats or mention of it…

  • Ndavidkelly

    There’s no way to prevent stupidity. I was just in a cycling accident where a pedestrian cut across four lanes of stalled rush hour traffic, darting into the bike lane and I had no time to react. Hit him then the ground. He was fine, I suffered a broken bone.

    Mandatory helmet use won’t work. But I like the tax exemption on helmet purchases…

  • Anonymous

    Things that are going to happen as a result: nothing. Meanwhile, Vancouver has an ambitious and admirable 30 year plan that involves massive increases to cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

    • Anonymous

      Doesn’t Vancouver have a mandatory helmet law though?

      • Anonymous

        Yes it does. They passed it in 1996, and even tho a lot of people wear them, there are still a lot of people who don’t. And it doesn’t seem highly enforced either. The difference is that Vancouver, while having a helmet law, also has a very robust cycling system and plan. If Toronto was that engaged, and responsible, I don’t think the helmet law would be raising such a stink.

        • Anonymous

          So shouldn’t helmets be *more* in need in Toronto, until such infrastructure exists?

          Also Vancouver has more of a plan than a system.

          • Anonymous

            I think helmets are a lower priority than infrastructure and education. I think encouraging helmet use through rebates and breaks is a great idea, because then people make that choice for themselves.

            But laws? If they want to pass laws to make things safer then why don’t they pass a law on truck side guards first?

            That was recommended years ago, and the only reason that hasn’t happened is the trucking industry balking about cost.

          • Anonymous

            I agree that they should pass laws for truck side guards and create better infrastructure and education. I’m just not sure why you feel that all these issues are mutually exclusive?

  • Nick

    I liked one idea that I saw elsewhere: requiring drivers to open the driver side door from inside the car with their right hand. In this way, an automatic should check is enforced, reducing the possibility of dooring. I think Denmark does this. I know too that German drivers are required to do a right side should check when turning right to avoid cutting off cyclists on bike lanes beside the roads. If they don’t do this they fail their driving exam.

    • Anonymous

      How do you enforce that?

      • Anonymous

        Not easy. My idea would be to have cars automatically fold in the drivers’ side mirror when the alarm is activated, or there is no weight in the driver seat (as used for airbag deployment).

        That way passing bicyclists would at least be able to tell if a car is *safe* to pass, and focus their (limited) vision elsewhere.

        Sales pitch: The car that saves your mirror from being torn off.

      • Nick

        Obviously one can’t but this “programming” happens at the driver training level so that the behaviour becomes (hopefully) automatic.

    • Guest

      I grew up in BC and doing a right shoulder check was mandatory before turning right (or doing any movement out of your lane) there. It is just impossible to enforce except for on the driving test.

  • stopitman

    The coroner should also tell the MTO (Ministry of Transportation) to stop being morons by reminding them that they haven’t been the Dept. of Highways for 50 years and that engineers have absolutely no clue on how cities work and how to keep bikers and pedestrians safe.

    I also wonder how long until Ford will downplay this report, especially considering that it’s from the Chief Coroner.

  • Anonymous

    The helmet law debate is doing a good job distracting people from other more important points of action. ie: complete streets and truck side guards.

    I think that you can pass a helmet law, but that doesn’t mean people will follow it. I also don’t think it will really be enforced. In the end, passed or not, its not going to make a difference in the long run.

    What passing a mandatory helmet law will do, however, is give Toronto an excuse to further sit on its hands and do nothing to improve on-street biking infrastructure and road care. When people move to start asking questions about that, they’ll just shrug and go “well we passed the helmet law, that should be enough, right?”

    I’m not against helmets. I use one. Every time. But I really think the way to really make roads safer, is to invest in infrastructure and education. That, in the end, is really the city’s real responsibilities in all this, and so far they’ve shirked a lot of that responsibility.

    • Anonymous

      Unfortunately, we’ll need a change in administration first. Had miller’s legacy been preserved this would be very different, so I’m not sure I buy your argument.

      • Roy Murray

        Miller had an opportunity to create a vibrant bicycle network during his seven years as mayor. Not much evidence of that.

        • Anonymous

          We still live in a democracy dear…

    • Natika

      I think all of the points are equally as important. Helmets could save lives now while we’re waiting and working on the infrastructure to be developed and other rules to be changed. I don’t see the point in being negative about this one or that one or assigning blame to one party or another. Let’s just keep working on ALL of it.

      • ladyday001

        I do not agree with you on this one. I like helmets. I wear one. But I really think that if Toronto passes a mandatory helmet law _right now_, it will further enable the city to sit around on its tush and just keep not following through with building infrastructure.

  • Guest

    How is a helmet going to help me if my guts are squashed Mr. Coroner? Stick your helmet up your ass.

  • Lou

    FKU Torontoist, censoring comments now. Yu are just as bad as the cops.

  • Natika

    They’re all good suggestions. I particularly like the one about more scenarios involving cycling on driving tests and more safety education in schools.

    Here’s a few more ideas:

    1) Ban bikes from being able to cross traffic to get into left hand turn lanes. Cyclist should instead dismount at the intersection and wait to cross with the pedestrians.

    2) Allow bikes on sidewalks when there are no bike lanes. This could be limited to only touring bikes that can’t achieve high speeds or something like that.

    3) Don’t allow cars to turn right on red lights. This one is a bit controversial because drivers should be checking to their right anyway, but the problem is that too many people do rolling stops and too many are focused on the possible car traffic coming from the left that they forget to check right as well. Also, as a cyclist, it’s easier to anticipate a car starting to move in front of you and be able to adjust for it, than one that just suddenly darts in front of you.

  • affordable

    Bicyclists should be licensed, at least when operating a bike in as densely populated an area as Toronto. Consider that fact that motorists are required to pass a written and road test before being licensed to drive and yet a cyclist interacting with the same traffic can simply buy a bike and jump on to start riding through heavy traffic. Moreover, I have witnessed bicyclists strike pedestrians and continue on their way, with the injured person(s) and/or witnesses having no way of identifying the offending cyclist. This is a situation which cannot continue.