Ontario's chief coroner orders review of cyclist deaths in province from 2006-10

Lessons drawn will help inform road safety initiatives - could we hope for a similar review here?

by Simon_MacMichael   October 25, 2011  

Toronto Cyclists (credit- Benson Kua, Wikimedia Commons)

The deaths of several cyclists killed in London are to be reviewed to determine whether lessons can be drawn to try and avoid such tragedies in future; however, on the day we report news of another fatality in the British capital, the London in question is the one in Ontario, Canada, where the chief coroner has announced a review of cycling deaths across the province between 2006 and 2010.

Between 15 and 20 cyclists lose their lives on Ontario’s roads each year, roughly similar to the number of deaths of bike riders in the British capital. The population of Ontario was 13.2 million in 2010, similar to that of London and its surrounding metropolitan area, although of course population densities are much lower in the Canadian province, whose principal cities are Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton and London.

The decision by Dr. Dan Cass, regional supervising coroner for the Toronto West region who will be leading the review to investigate cycling fatalities in Ontario follows lobbying by a coalition of campaign groups representing cyclists and senior citizens, reports the Toronto Star.

In August, two Toronto-based lawyers representing those groups, Albert Koehl and Patrick Brown, and Marie Smith, former president of the United Senior Citizens of Ontario, urged that such a review be urgently conducted in an editorial in the same newspaper, following a spate of cyclist fatalities, although the number of deaths has remained fairly consistent in recent years.

Referring to the editorial, Dr Cass said, “That spurred us on for sure.” A previous review of cyclist fatalities confined to Toronto and covering an 11-year period in 1998 led to the city drawing up a Bike Plan and introducing cycle lanes across the city, as well as a cycling advisory committee being set up, although the latter has recently been dissolved.

“We know a lot has changed since then,” continued Dr Cass, citing growth in the number of cyclists as well as greater interest in sustainable transport. “It seemed timely to do this and look at how we can make things as safe as possible for cyclists going forward,” he added.

Mr Brown, who pledged himself to try and help make the roads safer for cyclists after representing the family of a cyclist who had been killed in 2005, welcomed the review, saying: “I think it’s about time instead of finger-pointing we make some doable recommendations to prevent future fatalities of cyclists.”

However, he regretted the fact that the review will not extend to deaths of pedestrians, but expressed hope that such a review might be conducted in future, commenting: “We’re certainly hopeful they do the same type of review of pedestrian deaths … perhaps it would be too much to bite off all at once.”

Andrea Garcia, spokeswoman for the Toronto Cyclists’ Union said that she hoped that the review might also help allay the fear of those who are reluctant to cycle because of road safety concerns.

“We know that 60 per cent of Ontarians would cycle more but are afraid to do so,” she explained. “The safer we can make the streets for cyclists, the more people will want to take it up.”

According to Dr Cass, the coroner’s office is inviting comments on the review from the public. “The data and the hard science part of it is one thing,” he revealed. “But I think people’s observations and thoughts are very valuable as well, so we really encourage the public’s involvement in this, too.”

With cyclist safety increasingly under the spotlight on this side of the Atlantic, is it too much to hope that a similar review might be conducted here?