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June 2012
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Ontario’s Coroner Reports on Cycling Deaths

It’s been about 7 months since Ontario’s coroner announced that it was going to review cycling deaths in Ontario, on October 24th, 2011 Chief Coroner Andrew McCallum announced that he be investigating cycling deaths over the last 4 years in Ontario. That report was released this week, Office for the Chief Coroner for Ontario: Cycling Death Review – A Review of All Accidental Cycling Deaths in Ontario from January 2006 to December 31st, 2010. Today I had a chance to sit down and go through the report in detail. The findings are not surprising, there need to be some changes and enhancements to the infrastructure, education, legislation and enforcement.

A few things that caught my attention in the report:

  • 129 deaths reviewed in total. 111 male, 18 female.
  • The deaths are referred to as ‘accidental’ in this report. All of these ‘accidental’ incidents were PREDICTABLE and PREVETABLE
  •  Only 26% of those killed were wearing helmets! 56% of those <18 were not wearing a helmet at the time of their accident (it’s illegal under the age of 18 to not wear a helmet). 55% of resulting deaths were due to head injuries.
  • 24% of Canadians are obese, 2/3rds of us are inactive!
  • In 71% of the deaths there was a modifiable behaviour by the cyclist contributing to the death.
  • In total 30 drivers were given 34 charges; 13 criminal and 21 under the HTA
  • The recommendations presented speak to the data collected. Each file was manually reviewed and 77 data points were captured.

Here’s a quick summary of what the report says …

The review team developed a project charter with a mission statement, a scope and 5 hypotheses. The hypotheses shaped the focus and direction of the report. Each of the 129 files manually reviewed had 77 data points recorded, all of which were scoped from the 5 hypotheses.

The 5 Hypotheses and Subsequent Findings:

  1. Cycling deaths are more likely to occur during the spring and summer months: This hypothesis was confirmed; three-quarters of fatal cycling collisions occurred from April to September.
  2. Cycling deaths are more likely to occur in those not wearing helmets: Our data showed the rate of helmet use to be very low – only 26 percent of those cyclists killed during the Review period were wearing a helmet. Those cyclists whose cause of death included a head injury were three times more likely to not be wearing a helmet compared to those who died of other injuries.
  3. Cycling deaths are more likely to occur when the cyclist and/or driver involved in a collision with a cyclist is using a mobile entertainment/communication device: Our data were not conclusive enough to confirm this hypothesis, as this information was not captured reliably in all cases. However, we did identify 21 cases in which either the cyclist or the driver were engaged in distracting activities that were felt to have contributed to the collision. In ten of these, the cyclist was wearing headphones attached to a mobile entertainment device.
  4. Cycling deaths are more likely to occur when one or more persons involved in the collision are under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs: Again, the nature of our data was such that we were not able to make a definitive statement about the rate of alcohol and/or drug use among drivers involved in fatal cycling collisions. Despite this limitation, we identified 30 cyclists and 10 drivers who were under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs at the time of the collision; the number of the number of individuals under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is likely significantly under-represented in our data. The prevalence of alcohol and/or drug use while cycling in our Review is significant, and supports the need for targeted public education as noted above.
  5. The vast majority of cycling deaths are preventable: This hypothesis was strongly supported by our data. In virtually every case, some modifiable action(s) on the part of the cyclist, driver, or both, contributed to the death. Uncontrollable factors, such as weather and road conditions, rarely contributed to the death. In three cases the exact circumstances were not known, so it was not possible to determine with certainty whether the factors which contributed to the collision were related to the cyclist, the driver or both. However, our data support the conclusion that all of the 129 deaths in this Review could have been prevented.

In total there were 14 recommendations made to various Ministries in Ontario,  to the Municipalities and to Transport Canada. A  detailed description of the 14 recommendations can be found in the full report under the categories of infrastructure, education, legislation and enforcement.

The recommendations included:

  • 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.