Photo by r. jeanete martin
A major review of Ontario cycling deaths is recommending significant changes to the laws that govern the province's roads, including making it mandatory for all bicyclists to wear helmets and outfitting all Canadian trucks with side guards.
The Ontario coroner's report, released Monday, June 18, studied all 129 fatal cycling accidents that occurred in the province between 2006 and 2010, and came up with 14 recommendations that it says will make riders safer.
While the most controversial is the suggestion that Ontario join four other provinces that already have mandatory helmet laws, the report also recommends mandating side guards on trucks, enacting a "one-metre" rule for drivers when passing cyclists, ensuring that all new roads in the province are built according to the "complete streets" model, and making cycling safety part of school curricula.
"These recommendations, if they're implemented, allow cyclists to ride the roads without harm and without fear of injury," said Patrick Brown, a critical injury lawyer and director of Cycle Toronto, at a press conference announcing the release of the report. "It will open the door so that so many more people can enjoy this great form of transportation."
The proposal for mandatory helmet use stems from data showing that 73 per cent of riders who died during the five-year study period were not wearing protective headgear. While Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI and British Columbia already require all bikers to don helmets, Ontario law currently compels only bicyclists under the age of 18 to do so.
Jared Kolb, director of outreach for Cycle Toronto, one of the groups that contributed to the review, said he supports all the report's recommendations, but stressed that the coroner is calling for the helmet law to be introduced in conjunction with a study on how it would affect cycling activity.
Kolb is concerned about studies that found cycling rates in other jurisdictions dropped as much as 40 per cent after helmet laws were introduced. He believes the overall benefits of increasing cycling rates may outweigh the positive effect of mandating safety gear.
"That's a tough one," he said of the helmet law suggestion. "There's a public health issue here that the mandatory helmet law doesn't necessarily speak to."
The report was drafted with input from an expert panel that included representatives from cycling groups, the police and the provincial and federal governments. Several of its recommendations are similar to the findings of a 1998 coroner's review of Toronto cycling deaths, which led to beefed-up collection of cycling collision data. But its most important suggestions, such as investigating the feasibility of outfitting all Canadian trucks with protective side guards, did not lead to concrete changes.
Bike advocates believe side guards, which keep pedestrians and riders from falling beneath trucks, could drastically reduce the incidence of serious accidents like the one that killed Jenna Morrison in Toronto's downtown west end last November.
Despite inaction on the 1998 report, NDP transportation critic Jonah Schein believes the growing number of cyclists in the province could make the latest review hard for Queen's Park to ignore.
"Cyclists are active, they're intelligent, they're leading the way. I'm absolutely grateful for that, but we need the provincial government to catch up," he said.
Schein is calling for the Liberal government to enact all 14 of the coroner's recommendations, although some, like truck side guards, would also require federal law changes.
A statement released Monday by Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli says the government supports the coroner's report "in principle" and will study it as part of an ongoing update of Ontario's cycling policy.
• Amend the Highway Traffic Act to make helmets mandatory for all cyclists.
• Require drivers to give cyclists a 1-metre berth when passing.
• Make side guards mandatory on heavy trucks.
• Ensure that all road design/redesign be guided by a "complete streets" approach including bike lanes and reduced speed limits.
• Prioritize paving the shoulders of provincial highways.
• Mount a public awareness campaign targeting new drivers and truckers.
• Incorporate cycling safety into the public school curriculum.
• 86 per cent (111 of 129) of those killed while cycling were male.
• Over half of cycling fatalities (66 of 129) involved persons 45 and older.
• Cycling fatalities in Ontario declined each year from 2006 (41) to 2009 (14), but rose again (to 25) in 2010.
• The vast majority of cycling deaths occurred in clear weather on dry roads with good visibility.
• Only 27 per cent (35 of 129) of those who died were wearing a helmet.
• 63 per cent of fatal collisions occurred during recreational activities.
• In 44 cases, the accident was blamed on cyclist behaviour.