Lessons from tragedy: What we can learn from fatal bike accidents in Ontario
Cycling is a part of so many people’s lives for good reason: it’s practical, cost-effective, enjoyable, and has many health and environmental benefits. But unfortunately, for many, there is a big barrier to this much-loved activity: the fear and risk of accidents.
A report by the Ontario Medical Association looked at what was preventing more people from getting out and riding their bikes — something that would have a positive effect on the health of the general population. The report found that:
What people fear the most is the chance of getting hit by a car or larger vehicle, and in Ontario this fear is currently warranted.
Many cyclists are injured and some killed each year in Ontario. According to the Ontario Injury Compass 2009 special report on cycling, there were 26,300 emergency department visits and 1,374 hospitalizations for cycling injuries in that year. …
Whereas falling from the bicycle was the most common cause of injury, 20% of all cycling injury hospitalizations were the result of a collision with a motor vehicle.
As a cyclist, your best defense is to know what situations and settings are most frequently associated with accidents, so that you can take extra care. In 2012, the Ontario Office of the Chief Coroner released a cycling death review that examined 129 cycling-related deaths that happened in our province from 2006 and 2010.
Tragically, the report found that 100% of the cycling deaths studied were preventable. Here are some of the report’s findings:
- 78% of deaths involved a cyclist colliding with a motor vehicle
- In the majority of deaths that involved a motor vehicle, the driver was attempting to pass the cyclist from behind
- The majority of deaths occurred in recreational cycling, as opposed to commuting
- Low helmet use was a major factor: only 26% of cyclists in the review were wearing a helmet and only 6.25% of children under 18 years old
- Most fatal accidents occurred in the afternoon and evening, with the peak time being between 8pm and 10pm
- Poor road conditions, poor visibility, and poor lighting were present in only a small minority of fatal accidents.
Most of the report’s recommendations are aimed at various government ministries, with the goal of improving infrastructure, increasing education, and modifying legislation to make cycling safer for all. But what can cyclists themselves take from this report, to avoid being victims of serious bike-related injuries and accidents? A few themes emerge:
- Always wear a helmet. It’s the law for children under 18 years old, and should be a habit as normal as wearing a seatbelt for everyone else.
- Always follow the rules of the road. Stop signs, traffic signals, and speed limits exist to protect all those who share roadways. Yielding the right of way is also critical.
- Pay attention to your surroundings. Inattention is one of the most common contributory cyclist actions in fatal accidents.
- Be wary of large trucks. Because of their size, structure, and blind spots, bicycle collisions with large trucks never end well.
As long as bikes and motor vehicles share the road, there is the potential for accidents. When it comes to bike safety, small changes in behaviour go a long way.