Ontario Chief Coroner’s Analysis of Cyclist Deaths in Ontario

Coroner recommends adoption of a “complete streets” approach to reducing deaths

Ontario’s Chief Coroner has released his report on “A Review of All Accidental Cycling Deaths in Ontario From January 1st, 2006 to December 31st, 2010” (or here for .PDF). It is a detailed study into the causes of 129 cycling deaths in Ontario over a five year period. It makes for very interesting reading, both in terms of the observations it makes about bicycle deaths and the recommendations it makes to prevent future ones. Even a quick perusal of the executive summary is worthwhile (reproduced below).

Coroner’s Report on Cycling

Some of the findings are a bit of a surprise. For example, there were more cases (44) where the cyclist alone was at fault than the driver of a vehicle (33), a fact that contradicts the popular concept of vehicle drivers as the cyclist’s main worry. Over half of cycling deaths were people over the age of 45 and 85% of the deaths were men. Perhaps most importantly, every single one of the accidents was preventable; they were not the result of uncontrollable factors such as weather.

In an entirely predictable manner, the mainstream media, in its never ending quest to simplify and sensationalize, focused on the more controversial recommendation, legislating mandatory helmet use and ignored the other important (and potentially lifesaving) recommendations. Most even managed to drop a key clause on the helmet recommendation that suggests any helmet law be considered in context of its affects on bike use. The Ottawa Citizen, to its credit, did move to question the linkage. The study made no direct causal link between helmet use and death rates, falling back on the all-too-predictable general assumptions of linkage. One can’t fail to notice, too, that the media pick up on the one recommendation that puts all the responsibility for action on the cyclist and ignores those that affect drivers and the wider community.

The focus on the helmet recommendation is annoying, mostly because this may result in the other recommendations being overlooked, especially the adoption of a “complete streets” approach to community development. They are all sensible suggestions that will make cycling safer and get more people into it. A laudable outcome for so many, many reasons.

As always, the most important point is what will be done with the report. Will Provincial legislators act to implement the recommendations? Or just the easy ones (including the one most cyclists do not want)? Why not let your MPP know? If you are a #bikePTBO rider, contact Jeff Leal. Municipal leaders need to know about the report too, especially given the suggestion for “complete street” solutions. Write to them, to let them know you want action.

Key Observations

  • There were 129 deaths examined in the Cycling Death Review.
  • 86% (111 of 129) of those killed while cycling were male.
  • Approximately two-thirds (84 of 129; 65%), of fatal cycling collisions took place in an urban environment, with the other one-third (45 of 129; 35%) occurring in a rural setting.
  • The peak age for cycling deaths was 45-54 years; over half of cycling fatalities (66 of 129; 51%) occurred in persons aged 45 and older.
  • Children represented a smaller, but significant, portion of cycling deaths. A total of 19 deaths (15%) occurred in those aged 19 and under; 8 of those (6%) were in children aged 14 or under.
  • Numbers of cycling fatalities in Ontario declined each year from 2006 (41) to 2009 (14), but rose again (to 25) in 2010.
  • The peak months for cycling fatalities were July, August and September (46%).
  • A total of 96 of the 129 deaths (74%) occurred in the Spring and Summer months.
  • The vast majority of cycling deaths occurred during clear weather, on dry roads, with good visibility.
  • More than half (69 of 129; 53%), of the fatal cycling collisions occurred in daylight conditions.
  • The peak time for fatal collisions (25 of 129; 19%) occurred between 8:00 pm and 10:00 pm.
  • Only 27% (35 of 129) of those who died as the result of a cycling collision were wearing a helmet. Despite mandatory legislation, only 44% (7 of 16) of cyclists under the age of 18 who died were wearing a helmet. Those cyclists whose cause of death included a head injury were three times less likely to be wearing a helmet than those who died of other types of injuries.
  • In cases where the type of cycling activity was known, 63% of fatal collisions occurred during recreational activities, and 31% during commuting. The balance represented sport cycling activities, either solo or in a group setting.
  • In 44 cases, contributing factors on the part of the cyclist alone were identified. In 33 cases, contributing factors on the part of the driver of a vehicle alone were identified. In 48 cases, contributing factors were identified on the part of both the cyclist and the driver. In three cases, the circumstances of the collision were unclear.

Recommendations include:

  • Adoption of a “complete streets” approach – focused on the safety of all road users – to guide the redevelopment of existing communities and the design of new communities throughout Ontario.
  • Development of an Ontario Cycling Plan to guide the development of policy, legislation and regulations and the commitment of infrastructure funding to support cycling in Ontario.
  • A comprehensive cycling safety public awareness and education strategy, starting in public schools, and continuing through the purchase of every new and used bicycle and through driver’s license testing.
  • Legislative change (Highway Traffic Act (HTA); Municipal Act; relevant Municipal By-Laws) aimed at ensuring clarity and consistency regarding interactions between cyclists and other road users.
  • Strategies to promote and support helmet use for cyclists of all ages.
    Implementation of mandatory helmet legislation for cyclists of all ages, within the context of an evaluation of the impact of this legislation on cycling activity.
  • Establishment of a “one-meter” rule for vehicles when passing cyclists.
    Prioritizing the development of paved shoulders on provincial highways.
  • Mandatory side-guards for heavy trucks.
  • Enforcement, education and public safety activities targeted to the specific issues of cycling safety identified in a given community.