Ontario Coroner releases Report on Cyclist Deaths with series of recommendations

My next helmet purchase for sure!

Today the cycling blogosphere was all a buzz with the release of the ontario coroner’s report on Cycling Deaths in Ontario in 2011.  And apparently as reported by Bill Bean it wasn’t just the cycling bloggers who were sniffing out a story, the press was there as well:

I love how the press is trying to sell news papers with this issue. I expect most will make this as divisive as possible, whatever sells advertising!  Most of them pick up on the reports statement of preventable deaths and then skip to the mandatory helmet recommendation leading the reader to think the report links them directly, it does not.

On my first read I was immediately hit in the face with the onslaught of ‘cyclist killed by motor vehicle, not wearing a helmet’. These statements in the media and police reports drive me crazy cause we all know that an inch of styrofoam isn’t going to prevent cycling deaths with steel cages moving at high speeds.  I wasn’t expecting in this report, but in hindsight I’m not sure why.

In the Record’s article they start off by mentioning the death of ‘Tiberiu Alexandru David, 43, <who> was killed in 2010 when he was struck from behind by a car on University Avenue in Waterloo.’ What they don’t mention is that he was struck by a 21 year old motorist who was driving with a forged license while his real license was suspended. This 21 year old was given careless, which is what he would have got if he had hit a telephone pole.  This accident was definitely preventable, but has nothing to do with helmets. This young man should have been charged criminally with manslaughter. If this guy had decided to abide by the rules he wouldn’t have been behind a motor vehicle, but he broke the law and his actions resulted in the death of Tiberiu.

I’m not saying that wearing helmets isn’t a good idea but it shouldn’t be mandated, especially with all the data showing the negative impact of such laws (I’ll wade into the helmet debate another time).

I wish the coroner’s report had left out the mandatory helmet law cause there are a lot of good ideas in the report that unfortunately won’t get much air time:

    • Adoption of a “complete streets” approach – to guide the redevelopment of existing communities and the design of new communities throughout Ontario.  I wish this had instead been a recommendation to invest in segrated bike lanes throughout and within Ontario’s cities and small towns.
    • 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. Again I hope this translates into more segregated bike lanes (by segregation I don’t mean paint beside a car lane).
    • 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. This is an awesome recommendation. Education in our public schools is going to be key to changing away from our car centric culture and urban designs.
    • 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. #BOO – Mandatory helmet laws will not help. Look at the case study in Australia. When implemented bicycle use plummeted. The good thing, our urban planners and legislative bodies are familiar with the negatives of mandatory bike laws. 
    • Establishment of a “one-meter” rule for vehicles when passing cyclists. Great law helping that could go a long ways to educating drivers to share the road with other users (cyclists and pedestrians).
    • Prioritizing the development of paved shoulders on provincial highways Yay! Waterloo Region and surrounding areas have been doing this for a while and it’s heavenly to take a bike ride in our country side.
    • 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. Lots of cycling advocates are asking for this change, I need to familiarize myself with the issues on this one before forming an opinion.

If you read through my rambly musings my question is: How do we leverage the postives of this report and keep our communities moving in a direction where alternative forms of transportation continue to be prioritized?

17 thoughts on “Ontario Coroner releases Report on Cyclist Deaths with series of recommendations

  1. First thing I hear on local radio? Helmets…ONLY helmets. Not a single mention of anything else.

    Here is the article from the local newspaper: http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2012/06/18/all-cyclists-need-a-helmet-coroner
    I honestly wish they contacted me for a differing opinion.

    Unfortunately everything else will be ignored. When the media stresses helmets only, this means people who are against making it law have to spend their time and energy debunking helmet safety.
    With the possibility of a helmet law, I almost stop caring about the other things. Once a helmet law is taken off the table, then I can relax and focus on the other issues.

    I wasn’t all that happy with Olivia Chow on 1010AM yesterday. Host says ‘no one can be opposed to helmet laws, right?’. She said she always wears one then went into side guards.

  2. “How do we leverage the positives of this report and keep our communities moving in a direction where alternative forms of transportation continue to be prioritized?”

    By doing just what you’ve done – listing off all the positives of the report and focusing on them. Though perhaps including an image of a complete street, not a helmet, would have been a better choice. =)

    Instead of writing angry letters to the paper arguing about helmets with idiots, write angry letters asking for more paved shoulders and for bicycle education from our local school board.

  3. At our Commuter Challenge Kick off in Waterloo a few weeks back Hans Moor was asked the Helmet question. He side-stepped it brilliantly. Basically he said he disagrees with mandatory helmet use cause the science and statistics don’t back the rationale. However, he also killed the issue by taking the contraversey out of it by saying he wears a helmet for safety purposes even though its not worn in the Netherlands.

    Basically the medai and public could latch on to this idea and they won’t hear the rational arguement against a proposed law cause to the non-cyclist they see cycling as dangerous (drank our north american car culture koolaid). As cycling advocates if we side-step this issue perhaps we can have a sane discussion on the host of other important issues.

    Personally, now that I typically cycle less than a kilometer to the majority of my destinations I don’t wear a helmet. It’s not convenien, I bike slow, I’m wearing normal clothes, it’s not dangerous. However, when I’m mountain biking or road biking, hitting speeds in excess of 50 km/hr and sharing the road with dump trucks, I wear my helmet.

    I’m against a mandatory bike helmet law, but it’s not a deal breaker for me. And I think it’s wise if I don’t stand on that hill to wage war, just not sure if I can stay out of the fray cause I’m a conflict junkie. (I think I have the beginnings of my helmet post started, thanks Ryan).

    1. Graham, helmets are designed for impacts at 50km/h or with dump trucks for that matter.

      Mandatory helmet laws are a tool of the anti-cycling crowd and they like it because it is so effective at reducing the number of riders on the road. Imagine how many people would drive if they had to go to school for 3 years to earn a licence and wear full racing style safety gear. That’s the closest analogy I can come up with in my sleep-deprived state…

      I’m so cynical about all things government that I fully expect this report to get shelved just like the last one… it’s also worth noting that aren’t really any new ideas in this report in fact it just seems like “hey do some of this stuff that we’ve been saying for a long time now”
      I

      1. also I think the best of kind of “activism” is to just ride as much as possible… so I need to do more of that instead of working and internet commenting ;)

      2. That was my cynical take … How much did this report cost us? What did they do? Google bicycle blogs and then come up with a top 10 bullet list and send it to a bunch of lawyers for review.

  4. Not that I am some great defender of the coroner or the media but I suspect many cycling deaths have some form of head trauma so why wouldn’t the coroner suggest that a helmet might be a first good step? Also, why wouldn’t we expect the media to cherry pick from a report to get a story they think will sell more advertising space – that is what the mainstream media does isn’t it? I think you expectations of the media Graham give them way too much credit

    Personally I think full acceptance and compliance of a helmet law is the only way to move onto other areas of debate. When we are environmental activist we wish our politician use more precautionary principle so why wouldn’t we expect the same when enacting bike safety laws? I guess if you felt there was a helmet conspiracy at work, but I think if we expect the mainstream media to report from that angle we’ll be waiting a long time. One could draw many parallels to motorcycle helmet laws or seat belt laws and in a country when healthcare is publicly funded the general appetitive for debate over such things is generally pretty low. Rightly or wrongly the helmet will be the focal point until everyone is wearing one and the stats prove the merits or the absurdity of the law.

    In my opinion the true solution is the dedicated lanes and bike friendly street design. I think we should concede the helmet fight and focus energy on street design and education.

    1. Hi Sean, I agree with your sentiments :)
      However there’s a big difference between recommending helmet usage and legislation making it mandatory. Helmet usage is a different issue than legislating it’s usage and we have to be careful of equating them as the same thing.

    2. Helmet laws don’t actually decrease head injury rates though. This has been seen in real statistical studies in Australia and New Zealand where they have tried it. Motorcycle helmets and seatbelts are desgined for saving lives, but bicycle helmets are designed for low speed impacts at speeds below 22km/h. They don’t even cover the full face like a motorcycle helmet. How would it prevent a concussion from a face-first impact with the road?

      Way more important stuff like education for drivers and cyclists beginning in primary school and continuing on into high school and driver’s ed would likely have a way more significant impact on injuries and collisions, but that is a lot of hard work.

      What I want to see is drivers prosecuted for breaking the law and actually suffering consequences. I want to see a small amount of the billions spent on roads used to build real cycling infrastructure. And on top of that, there are way more head injuries to automobile drivers, so if anyone should be forced to wear helmets it should be car drivers. I don’t see why I should have to acquiesce to wearing something that won’t protect me so drivers can continue to run cyclists over with impunity.

      The healthcare thing is a complete red herring too, why not outlaw smoking and tobbacco, force everyone to exercise a lot and tax junk food too? The helmet issue is a way for everyone to just ignore things and keep everything the way it is. This report seems to contain almost all the same recommendations that the last report in the 90s did. It’s just a huge waste of time and if politicians think they’ll gain in polls by forcing styrofoam beanies on us then they will, plain and simple. Once they do that, they’ll be able to ignore everything else in the report and point to a reduction in the number of head injuries while ignore the massive drop in cyclists, especially casual cyclists.

  5. “Helmet laws don’t actually decrease head injury rates though. This has been seen in real statistical studies in Australia and New Zealand where they have tried it. Motorcycle helmets and seatbelts are designed for saving lives, but bicycle helmets are designed for low speed impacts at speeds below 22km/h. They don’t even cover the full face like a motorcycle helmet. How would it prevent a concussion from a face-first impact with the road?”

    I am sure there’s a mountain of research for either side and you could probably put 5 doctors and 5 behavioral psychologists for both sides in a room for months and they’d never come with a consensus.

    Seantbelts and motor cycle helmets are also meant to prevent injury as well as save lives. If there’s a chance I might be knocking my head off something at 22km/h I’m going to put on a helmet.

    So my point is that if the helmet debate, whatever side one is on, is taking away from the debate on more important topics lets not fight the helmet laws and let there be a coroners report in 5 years where all the fatalities are wearing a helmet. It’s the “pick-your-battles” analysis we sometimes use in everyday life.

    “Way more important stuff like education for drivers and cyclists beginning in primary school and continuing on into high school and driver’s ed would likely have a way more significant impact on injuries and collisions, but that is a lot of hard work.”

    …and more money. I agree with you 100%. The sooner the helmet law is passed and out of the conversation the better.

    “What I want to see is drivers prosecuted for breaking the law and actually suffering consequences.”

    ..I agree here too. I would add enforcement of all the laws as well. Ontario does a poor job of enforcing the highway traffic act all around.

    “I want to see a small amount of the billions spent on roads used to build real cycling infrastructure.”

    And so do I…and essentially that is one of the mandates on this blog I think? Grass roots movements typically have limited resources and time so again my point is that arguing over the helmet laws detracts from the real issues. If we all have helmets on then there is no argument for not having the infrastructure discussion.

    “And on top of that, there are way more head injuries to automobile drivers, so if anyone should be forced to wear helmets it should be car drivers. I don’t see why I should have to acquiesce to wearing something that won’t protect me so drivers can continue to run cyclists over with impunity.”

    If I’m hit on my bike and going through criminal and civil proceedings for damages the extent of my injuries will be considered in both courts. Regardless of what role the helmet played in my injuries I am going to want to have had one on for my case so no one can argue that my injures may have been less had I been wearing one and by extension some of the negligence is one me.

    “The healthcare thing is a complete red herring too, why not outlaw smoking and tobbacco, force everyone to exercise a lot and tax junk food too?”

    It’s not a red herring actually. It does shape policy development as it pertains to personal and public safety. All these things inevitably come up against the personal freedoms crowd in Canada and the fact that heathcare is funded from the public purse does factor in as the argument.

    I wouldn’t be surprise if we see in our lifetime changes to healthcare policy relating to personal choices people make. As the voting majority gets older and starts competing for scarcer healthcare dollars things will change – the only debate will be where and how we draw the ethical lines. Some Ontario doctors already pick and choose patients based on health and lifestyle habits.

    “The helmet issue is a way for everyone to just ignore things and keep everything the way it is. This report seems to contain almost all the same recommendations that the last report in the 90s did. It’s just a huge waste of time and if politicians think they’ll gain in polls by forcing styrofoam beanies on us then they will, plain and simple. Once they do that, they’ll be able to ignore everything else in the report and point to a reduction in the number of head injuries while ignore the massive drop in cyclists, especially casual cyclists.”

    So that’s kind of my point. Give them what they want so we can move on. We are never going to change the fact that there will be dumb politician that waste time and money on stupid things for a whole host of legitimate and not-so-legtimate reasons. I feel naked without my helmet now and even if there’s a 1% chance it will protect me from something, anything, I have no issue putting it on. If there’s one thing that makes community based intitives successful it is the ability of the group to have a sigulariy of focus to channel the passion and enthusium that the members bring. If people want a helmet law fight I say go and fight it but I am out. If people want to improve bike safety awareness and infrastructure it is my position that a helmet law fight will only take energy and time away from where the focus should be.

  6. Sean: “I suspect many cycling deaths have some form of head trauma so why wouldn’t the coroner suggest that a helmet might be a first good step?”
    —-This is somewhat true. The case studies do list head trauma as one reason (along with others) for some of the deaths. However once you read the background stories on what actually happened, you have to seriously question how a helmet would help. An 11-year-old going head on with a van at highway speeds….A cyclist going 70km/hr down hill hitting a boulder (which in this case I believe the cyclist WAS wearing a helmet). Many accidents need to be put in proper context, not just a black & white, head trauma vs no head trauma.
    So no, a suggestion of a helmet law isn’t a good first step.

    Sean: “Personally I think full acceptance and compliance of a helmet law is the only way to move onto other areas of debate.”
    —-I’ve said this before, however if a helmet law was the only way to get everything else in the report, then I’d rather leave things ‘as is’.
    Since truck side guards were shot down so fast, I see no reason why the helmet issue can’t be removed either.

    Sean: “One could draw many parallels to motorcycle helmet laws or seat belt laws and in a country when healthcare is publicly funded the general appetitive for debate over such things is generally pretty low.”
    —-Many do, but I believe these example to be quite flawed. Motorcycle helmets are not just a piece of Styrofoam AND they cover the entire head (or many do).
    Likewise with seat belts, they don’t actually prevent head injuries. A motorist/passenger can still smack their head against the window, or even the head rest.
    I also don’t believe (public) health care should be an issue. If that is peoples reasoning for a helmet law, then we better spend the next decade working to weed out nearly everything in our daily lives until we are completely bubble wrapped.

    Sean: “In my opinion the true solution is the dedicated lanes and bike friendly street design. I think we should concede the helmet fight and focus energy on street design and education.
    —-I along with the majority of people who ride bikes will agree that dedicated lanes & bike friendly street design is a must. However I will NOT concede the helmet fight just to focus on such things. Montreal and other cities/towns in Quebec have created proper bike lanes, reduced speed limits on roads without having to concede to helmets.

    Sean: “lets not fight the helmet laws and let there be a coroners report in 5 years where all the fatalities are wearing a helmet. It’s the “pick-your-battles” analysis we sometimes use in everyday life.”
    —-The problem there is then you’ll have people such as myself (and 90% of people in my city) who don’t currently wear helmets.
    How many of those 90% will
    1. Start wearing a helmet
    2. Continue to ride without a helmet
    3. Stop riding altogether.
    Helmet laws tend to show that people choose options 2 & 3.

    Of course such a report would be interesting since in Alberta, head injuries went up and cycling rates went down when they put in their youth helmet law.

    Sean: “Give them what they want so we can move on.
    If people want to improve bike safety awareness and infrastructure it is my position that a helmet law fight will only take energy and time away from where the focus should be.”
    —-Why should we?
    Helmet laws HAVE shown to reduce the number of people who ride a bike. People already bitch about too few cyclists on the road to create bike lanes, so with a helmet law in place even fewer people will be riding.
    I listened to an interesting interview a few days ago from Vancouver, where the host questioned someone about too few people using the bike lanes in that city. The other guy said if/when BC removes their helmet law you’d see a massive increase.

    Why should Ontario go backwards in putting in a helmet law, when other places (Mexico City, Israel) have repealed such laws AND there is talk of looking into removing the law in BC?

  7. In my first post, I mentioned local radio talked ONLY helmets…In credit to the radio host who really has little interest in bikes, (has suggested in the past that bikes shouldn’t be allowed in the winter), he wasn’t crazy about making it law.
    He tried playing devil’s advocate at times, but to no avail.

    Nearly EVERY person who called or emailed was against the law as well, and most in fact wore helmets.
    Two people wanted it law, and the one didn’t ride a bike and the other was a sport/rec rider.

  8. Sedentary lifestyles and the resultant health issues are costing us billions. Head injuries from cycling accidents are tragic on a personal level for sure, but compared to the exponential numbers of early deaths from a sedentary and obese society I think do add up to far more public money and also are many more preventable deaths than only those people that die where the helmet would have been a big factor in saving their lives. Since helmet laws discourage cycling and there are many studies that show the more a population cycles the healthier it is, anything that discourages cycling can be seen as encouraging a sedentary lifestyle. On a personal choice level I don’t think helmets should be discouraged but that’s about the best way to say it. But even drivers wearing full-face helmets would save many more lives than cycle helmets ever could. Where’s the push for that law? Helmets for bikes are all about making something innocuous into something dangerous when it’s much safer than the alternative ways of getting around. This item did appear at number 10 in the list of suggestions for a good reason… if we ever get all the other things in place AND people are still dying from head injuries alone, under 22km/h then perhaps we can concede on the helmet law.

  9. Dump the helmets, it’s that simple, I’ve cycled for fifty years on London’s roads, unhelmeted, I taught myself to ride a bike unaided in the sixties in Brixton, I’m still here doing those roads to this day, including along the A2 out of southeast London, one of the southeasts bsusiest roads, no problem, If it is made law here, I’ll break the law, no if’s or buts, Tom, Crystal Palace, London..

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