Cycling safety needs to be a higher priority for Ontario's Ministry of Transportation.
Bam! You’ve been doored. You land awkwardly, and hard, on the asphalt. Luckily there are no passing cars or trucks. You untangle yourself from your bike and hobble to the curb a bit dazed. Your front tire is badly warped. You consider phoning 9-1-1, but you’re already embarrassed by the attention you’ve drawn from bystanders. “I’m okay”, you say. The driver is very apologetic and offers to drive you home. You decline then lock up your bike and take the subway.
The next morning your ankle is aching and you have a few colourful bruises. You decide you want your collision to be documented, if only so that authorities know the extent of this road safety problem. You’re surprised to discover after some internet research that you have not actually been in a “collision,” according to the provincial Ministry of Transportation. It’s not considered a “collision,” even if you had been seriously injured, or worse.
You wonder if anyone at MTO has ever crashed into a car door (and decide you will send them an instructional video.)
In 2015, the province increased the fine for dooring a cyclist to $365 (plus demerit points) to show how seriously it takes the matter, although, curiously, it stopped counting doorings as collisions or to include them in their annual road safety report.
So then, what is considered a collision in the eyes of the MTO? A collision is property damage, injury, or death that results from contact with a motor vehicle that is in motion. Since doorings involve a cyclist being hit by a stationary motor vehicle, your collision is not—according to MTO—a collision. It doesn’t matter that your bicycle is, in fact, a vehicle under the Highway Traffic Act or that your vehicle was clearly in motion.
One consolation from this odd definition by MTO is that you won’t be sent to a Collision Reporting Centre because, officially, there is no collision to report.
There are two reporting centres in Toronto: one on the alien-sounding Toryork Drive, in far North York, and the other near Lawrence and Warden. Toronto motorists involved in one of the city’s 70,000 annual road collisions are routinely sent there for minor collisions not investigated by the police. When cyclists are in collisions (not doorings) they too may be sent there if the matter was not reported at the scene. (The City of Toronto website states that cyclists won’t be sent to a reporting centre for car-bike collisions, but Constable Clint Stibbe of Toronto Police says, “If reported later (the next day), then [cyclists will get] a referral to CRC.”
Although doorings don’t appear to be a priority to the MTO, they are (now) documented and tracked by the Toronto Police—thanks in part to a push by dandyhorse, the Toronto Star, and Cycle Toronto. (doored.ca offers a non-official reporting option for cyclists.)
Toronto Police will attend the scene of any collision, including a dooring, involving a cyclist (or pedestrian) and a motor vehicle. Where the event is a dooring, the police do not use the provincial Motor Vehicle Collision Report, because you were not involved in a collision, but instead use their own “dooring incident” report. This report is more rudimentary than the standard collision report, and not sent to MTO, but allows Toronto Police to track doorings.
Doorings appear to be on the rise in the city, according to the Toronto Police numbers. In 2016, 209 doorings were documented by police, up from 175 in 2015. Whether doorings are similarly documented in other Ontario cities is unclear.
Where the police have not been called to the scene of a dooring, a cyclist can still call the police non-emergency number (416-808-2222) after the event. The police will dispatch an officer to speak to the cyclist and take a report for any dooring. Stibbe says that, “If reported later, the priority would be lower, so an officer could take some time to get there, but the officer would attend.”
The cyclist will not, of course, be told by police to go to a Collision Reporting Centre for a dooring. It’s unclear if a cyclist who goes to a local police station to report a dooring will be turned away. When you phone the non-emergency number, an officer says he would not object to preparing a report for a dooring from a cyclist who has come to the station. (Ideally, the cyclist would have recorded information, such as the car’s licence plate, make and model, the driver’s name, telephone, insurance details, witness contact info, and a description of the person who opened the door, especially if it wasn’t the driver.)
As a result of changes made by MTO in 2015, doorings no longer fall into the definition of collision. MTO spokesperson Bob Nichols says MTO regularly reviews its collision reporting forms and procedures “to ensure that they best capture relevant road safety events, and that they provide comprehensive data for research and policy development to protect the safety of all Ontario road users.”
But how can injuries from doorings not be a “relevant road safety event”?
Nichols says that dooring injuries are captured in the National Ambulatory Care Reporting System. The NACRS website says it “contains data for all hospital-based and community-based ambulatory care: day surgery, outpatient and community-based clinic, and emergency departments.” (This would only cover doorings that involve hospital care.)
The MTO’s approach to doorings matters because the MTO has been very slow to recognize cycling as a mode of transportation. The way the MTO deals with doorings suggests it still behaves like the Ministry of Cars and Trucks. And when the MTO doesn’t bother to document a serious hazard like dooring, it leaves the impression that cycling safety is not a priority. The fact that cycling advocacy groups have to rely on obscure documents like the NACRS for relevant statistics, doesn’t promote confidence in the MTO.
In fairness, the MTO has started making a greater effort to include bicycles in its work. In 2013, for example, the MTO introduced the #CycleON strategy to replace its outdated cycling policy. MTO has earmarked money for cycling infrastructure, even if it’s in the absence of obvious benchmarks for success. MTO’s website now also includes a section on “Bicycle Safety” that directs cyclists to helpful resources like the Toronto Cycling Committee. (The Cycling Committee, a citizen advisory body, was disbanded five years ago, so visitors are actually directed to the City of Toronto’s cycling page.)
All of this leads you to the conclusion that it’s no surprise that collisions involving cyclists are under-reported, and if the MTO wants to be taken seriously by cyclists it has to re-think its definition of a collision.
Albert Koehl is an environmental lawyer, road safety advocate, and co-founder of Bells on Bloor.