When have you last seen a professional, racing cyclist not wearing a helmet? At a minimum that should provide an indication of how important helmet use is to the safety of all cyclists. Yet what information is available to the average cyclist riding along or adjacent to urban roads about helmet use? Turns out that not much, or no information is provided. Collisions occur, some of them fatal, yet the involvement of helmet use in those collisions is never reported.
While conducting observations of cyclists along roadways in London Ontario, Gorski Consulting has provided a variety of data about cyclist speeds, characteristics of cyclists and where they ride. In the latest data, from the first six months of 2022, we have now also examined the issue of helmet use. And the results are quite surprising.
The Helmet Use Data
Cyclists were observed on the streets of London over a period of six months from the beginning of 2022 until the end of June. In that time photos were taken of 501 cyclists who were either riding cycles on a roadway, riding on a sidewalk or stopped within any portion of the traffic right-of-way. The results of these observations are summarized in the table below.
There were 417 male and 58 female observations. In 6 observations the gender of the cyclist could not be determined.
Where gender could be determined the percent of female riders was just 12.2 %. This finding is not much different from findings from other years dating back to 2013.
Looking at helmet use, 248 of the 417 males cyclists were not wearing a helmet. This amounts to 59.5 % non-usage. For females, out the total of 58 observations, 29 were observed not to be wearing a helmet, or 50.0 % non-usage.
The actual percentages of non-use were actually higher because the non-use counts discussed here are for instances where we could be certain that a helmet was not used. In a number of instances a cyclist head was not visible or was covered by other clothing such as a hood. While the number of those instances was not large it, never-the-less, indicates that the actual percentage of non-use of helmets is higher than indicated.
Strangely, helmet non-use by cyclists appears to be less on the Thames Valley Parkway. In a study conducted in July, 2021 268 cyclists were observed in the Greenway Park area of the TVP. Sixty-eight cyclists were observed who were not wearing a helmet. This is a 25.3 % non-use rate. This rate of non-use appears to be much lower than the previously mentioned observations along City streets.
These results are both unexpected and concerning. Given the reasonable concern of being struck by passing motor vehicles one would think that cyclists would be more prone to accepting ways of protecting themselves with proven protective gear such as helmets. This data seems to contradict that expectation. Yet there is an additional factor that needs to be considered – the riding location of the cyclist.
Cyclist Location Data
The table below provides a breakdown of where the cyclists were located, if on the roadway or on the sidewalk.
The summary at the bottom of this table shows that, of the 417 male cyclists, 273 were observed to be riding or stopped on a sidewalk. Thus 65.47% of male cyclists were observed on a sidewalk. Similarly for females, of the 55 females, 38 were observed to be on a sidewalk. Thus 69.1% of female cyclists were observed on a sidewalk.
Thus one possibility for the low helmet use rates on London’s roads is that about two-thirds of cyclists ride on sidewalks where the danger of being struck by a motor vehicle is greatly diminished. This can only be speculated.
What seems of interest is that the number of cyclists riding on sidewalks continues to be very high. The observations for these first six months of 2022 indicate a higher percentage of cyclists on sidewalks than in previous years where similar observations were made. It remains a topic of no discussion that Provincial traffic laws and London’s laws make it illegal for cyclists to ride on sideways and yet cyclists continue to disobey these laws. No one wants to address this large elephant in the room.
Congratulations taxpayers of Hamilton, you have officially won another local scandal. The price? You will be paying perhaps $300 million dollars out of your property taxes to pay for all the lawyers on all sides of the various scandals.
Presently you have been paying millions of dollars to conduct the Red Hill Valley Parkway Judicial Inquiry, which has been going on since 2019, and legal fees keep coming in. Once this inquiry is completed a $250 million class action lawsuit will commence. The largest benefactors from this legal process will be the lawyers.
Your next payments may be for the Chedoke Creek Sewage Leak scandal. Repercussions from this might have been lessened if your politicians and staff had been up front and admitted that the sewage leak occurred. Instead, politicians covered it up and even supported the cover-up after they got caught. And then some politicians wanted the City to investigate who leaked the leak to the public and punish the whistleblower(s).
Now, another sewage leak has been revealed that was dumping sewage into the Hamilton harbour for 26 years. City staff have downplayed the extent of the leak. And that it was all an understandable, inadvertent mistake. That may be so but why would you now believe anything that a city politician or staff member says? The script has likely been written by lawyers at the City of Hamilton Risk Management Department. Does that not give you a clue that the script was written to minimize the future legal implications? Can you really believe that the script was written to properly inform you?
Municipalities in Ontario all have a similar political and staff structure as Hamilton. There are members of the political and staff regimes who believe that they can do as they please because their actions and decisions rarely reach public scrutiny. Whatever repercussions may result from their actions these individuals rightly understand that municipal risk management departments will protect them because they are a part of the corporation. Taxpayer’s money is essentially limitless and, when all else fails, they can simply parashoot out of their positions and work elsewhere. Most municipalities do a good job of limiting their exposures to liability by listening to their handlers at their risk management departments. The unfortunate circumstance with Hamilton is that the actions of certain individuals crossed the line of the standard arrogance and local news media eventually exposed those actions. Unable to control local media the City of Hamilton was forced to come up with new lines of defense, including the invoking of a judicial inquiry. Its about public perception.
We can be sorry for the unknown number of taxpayers who tried to inform themselves about the character of the politicians for whom they voted and who set transparency and accountability high on their list of desirable qualities. For the rest we can simply say: you deserve what you got. You voted for politicians whose goal was to hide whatever could be hidden. You voted for politicians who were willfully blind and did not want to inquire what City staff was up to.
A new City mayor and council have been voted into office and it will be interesting to see if they understand transparency and accountability. The new mayor, Andrea Horwath, has requested an investigation into the latest sewage leak. It remains to be seen whether she will follow the script that her risk management lawyers give her.
People have a right to believe what they will but I believe climate change is not some devilish hoax. As such important changes must be made to how our society functions. The need to reduce our carbon footprints must involve the recognition that our transportation systems must change. Mass transit and active transportation are key components of this needed change.
I recognize that seemingly major changes have taken place in transportation infrastructure in my hometown, London, Ontario, like they have in many Canadian cities. Most notably many cycling paths, lanes and tracks have been constructed. This transformation is not easy: It irritates those driving personal motor vehicles like it also irritates cyclists who do not see that transformation occurring fast enough. However I recognize that this transformation must occur. During this difficult time of transition it is important to face the challenges with an open realism. Problems that develop cannot be just swept under the carpet, they must be identified and made visible. It is only through this openness that adjustments can be made with a minimum of disruption to all.
For this reason I have chosen to take a single day, November 3, 2022, as a random indicator of what cycling issues exist in London, Ontario. Photos were taken on this day while I drove through the streets of London. There is nothing special about this day. It is just something that we could expect on any typical fall day in London.
Typical Cycling Observations On A Typical Day
I begin this review with the photo, shown below, looking northward on Hale Street, taken of the newly constructed cycling facility at the intersection of Hale and Brydges Streets in east London. This intersection was altered to narrow the confines within which motor vehicles make turns. It is believed that such slower turning speeds will improve safety. The alteration also created protected lanes for cyclists.
The unfortunate reality is that there is a detrimental reason why speeds are reduced in narrowed regions whether they be here at this intersection or on any road. The reason why speed is reduced is because the narrowed area of passage increases the likelihood that a motor vehicle will travel outside of the narrowed lane. This is not an imaginary danger, it is real, and it is recognized by the motor vehicle driver. Egress from the narrowed lane increases the likelihood that an impact will occur with another vehicle or with roadside objects such as a curb, hazard marker or even a pole or a tree. Cities do not keep track of “minor” collisions thus those collisions are invisible in the official statistics. So, from an official standpoint, there is nothing but an improvement from narrowing roadways. But damage to a motor vehicle, even if minor, can be a substantial cost. A cost that remains unknown and untracked.
Another reality of cycling infrastructure is that too often cycling lanes become blocked or impassable for various reasons. In many cases motor vehicles, such a delivery and maintenance vehicles, stop in a cycling lane because there is no other way for drivers to complete their tasks. In other instances materials are left in the cycling lane. Garbage containers migrate into a cycling lane during days of garbage pick-up, snow is cleared from a road onto a cycling lane, or leaves fallen from trees are concentrated within a cycling lane. Thus there is still an infant stage of recognition that cycling lanes need more clearing of these vehicles and objects that prevent cycling lanes from being used.
Another reality is that cycling on many roads in London still remains a dangerous activity. While the City of London and the Province of Ontario continue to promote a fairytale that cycling is safer on the right portion of a travel lane, the reality is quite different along some roads. There are many roads in the City of London that remain extremely dangerous for cyclist travel. As an example, many four-lane arterials such as Highbury Ave, Oxford Street, Hamilton Road and east portions of Dundas Street contain no safe zone within which a cyclist can travel within the curb lane. It is exceptionally dangerous and unethical to continue to advise cyclists that it is safe to travel in the curb lanes of these roads when the danger of being struck is obvious. Many cyclists have come to understand these dangers and, despite the possibility that they could be fined by police, they opt to travel on the sidewalk.
Yet this decision to ride on the sidewalk places cyclists in a difficult liability position if a collision should occur. Lawyers are quick to point out that the cyclist’s presence on a sidewalk, or riding within a pedestrian crossing is against the law. As such the cyclist faces financial penalties as some blame/negligence will be attributed to the cyclist. So, while the cyclist is doing what he or she can to avoid injury or death, they are penalized by the bureaucracy of the justice system. In many cases cyclists have no idea of these legal repercussions.
There are conflicts on city sidewalks where larger numbers of pedestrians may congregate, some being children, or elderly. Common sense should dictate that cyclists ought to slow down or even stop and walk their bikes on the sidewalk when such situations are encountered. This is a preferable approach than sending cyclists onto a dangerous curb lane.
A portion of cyclists are radicalized to the point of refusing to recognize that they have a responsibility toward their own safety. While some cyclists may have difficulty paying for a good helmet there are others who refuse to wear one. It is not clear why. Decades ago many motor vehicle occupants refused to wear seat-belts as they attributed seat-belt laws as an unreasonable infringement on their right to freedom. It is not clear if a similar process is underway in the cycling community. Much like seat-belts helmets are proven to provide superior protection to cyclists, especially because serious head injury is such a common injury mechanism.
While there is considerable emphasis and discussion about buying expensive e-bikes the reality, for a substantial number of low income cyclists, is that they must use less expensive and creative ways of moving about the City. For cargo carrying it is common to see a cyclist pulling a grocery cart. It has been observed along many roadways and sidewalks in London that cyclists use grocery carts to transport beer cans to the local beer store. Cyclists can be seen holding a grocery cart in one hand while holding the cycle handlebar in the other. If more cycling lanes are built that are only 1.5 metres wide, and if cyclists begin to be forced onto these lanes, where will this put these low-income cyclists and their wider, appended cart? They will not fit within the narrow confines of a protected cycling lane. Will such riders begin to ride in the curb lane? What safety problems will that create? Observations like these are obtained from detailed video documentations that have been conducted at Gorski Consulting for a number of years.
Transportation officials continue to insist that cyclists must be defined as small-sized, motor vehicles and that cyclists must behave like drivers of motor vehicles on the roads that are designed for motor vehicles. This creates the dangerous reality that cyclists do not fit that definition. It has been demonstrated from our numerous video documentations that cycles have never behaved like drivers of motor vehicles. Without this recognition dangerous scenarios are developed as shown in the photo sequence below.
As can be seen, the cyclist in these photos is attempting a left turn out of a commercial driveway but his presence is screened from view by the white truck. Such a position could not be attempted by a car driver because of the larger size and width of a motor vehicle. Yet, being of a much narrower width, the rider of the bicycle can squeeze into such a position. As seen below, rather than waiting for the truck to clear the driveway the cyclist attempts to make his left turn regardless of the potential consequences.
In the photo below the cyclist can be seen just at the left edge of the Ford Escape such that he has successfully made the left turn across the curb lane. But now he must squeeze through the remaining traffic in the other lane.
Below it can be seen that the cyclist enters the centre, turn-lane as he looks over his shoulder for a gap within which he can cross the through lane. This middle turn lane is designated left turns in both directions such that, pulling out of a blind area the cyclist may not detect that a vehicle could be travelling toward him in that left-turn lane while his head is turned.
As shown below, the cyclist eventually determines that he can cross in front of the traffic that his is looking at and proceeds into the through lane. But this is a sequence of actions that is dangerous. Sequences like these repeat themselves on a regular basis on busy city streets because cyclists do not ride within the same rules and expectations as drivers of motor vehicles.
At times cyclists ride as if they are pedestrians and at others they ride as if they operating a motor vehicle. These differences need to be documented and understood.
New, protected, cycling lanes have been constructed at several locations throughout the City of London. At many locations these lanes are occupied by very few cyclists. Drivers of motor vehicles are not blind to this. In the minds of drivers the space that was originally provided to their motor vehicles is now being taken away for a seemingly useless purpose. In this time where we need the cooperation of all users of our road systems negative impressions about cycling infrastructure does not help.
A discussion needs to be maintained about why cycling infrastructure needs to be expanded but also there must be an immediate process of determining how more persons can be encouraged to ride their cycle on these new lanes and what is preventing them from doing so.
In London there are major problems with a disconnect of cycling lanes. The City has the mindset that building cycling infrastructure is like building or upgrading a road. Planning is prepared, a contract is given and improvements are made within the short distance of the contract. Thus a cycling lane is built for several kilometres and then that lane suddenly terminates, often leaving cyclists in dangerous areas.
There is also a problem with cycling convenience. Cyclists must be able to travel to some destination and be satisfied that they can park their cycle in a safe location where it will not be stolen or damaged. Thus secure lockers for cycles is an extremely important item. Currently there are very few secure cycle lock-ups in the City.
Cycling convenience also means that we need to address the large percentage of the public who would rather drive in a safe and comfortable automobile rather than face the difficulty of pedalling, of being exposed to rain and similar inconveniences. Some segments of the population are physically challenged by riding a cycle. There are many impatient cycling activists who believe that the best approach is to force drivers to ride cycles by making it more inconvenience and difficult to drive motor vehicles. This approach can often alienate those who might be on the cusp of exploring cycling but become angered by the restriction of their freedom to chose as they please. A better approach is to make cycling more enjoyable such that drivers of motor vehicles will want to buy and ride cycles.
Our ultimate objective is to replace motor vehicles with active transportation, not just for pleasure but for those business trips, or shopping or transporting cargo. As such many of us do not see a connection between pleasure and business. Yet there is an important connection. Pleasure trips are those that provide the initial incentive to try cycling. Once the habit is developed cyclists can come to understand that cycling does not need to be confined to pleasant trips to a park, but real work, at a cheap price, can be accomplished. So maintaining opportunities for pleasure trips can lead to the ultimate goal of replacing the automobile.
Creating and maintaining facilities for pleasurable cycling must include the understanding that “variety is the spice of life”. This means that even pleasurable trips can become monotonous and boring if there are only a limited number of paths/trails on which to ride. Although the Thames Valley Parkway (TVP) in London is a great facility, those who ride it frequently can become bored with following the same route, day in and day out. I have heard this expression from some riders in our group who have bowed out of riding on the TVP and prefer to take to the highways surrounding London. While I too am enticed by this possibility I also recognize the increased danger that cyclists are exposed to once they begin riding along the edge of an 80 km/h highway with minimal separation from high speed traffic. But there are options available. There are hidden and/or forgotten trails that can take cyclists outside of London if only someone would provide a minimal amount of capital to make this happen.
For example, an old rail line used to travel between north-west London and Grand Bend. This land was sold and transferred mainly to farm properties. But the old rail bed still remains. It would not take much capital to reactivate this line into a cycling trail.
In another example, the London-Port Stanley rail line runs north/south between London and St Thomas. This could also be transformed into a cycling path. This provides an interesting option as a trail already exists in St Thomas that heads about 5 km/h westward near Fingal Line. This is another old railway bed that extends all the way to Essex County. It passes through many smaller towns such as Shedden, Dutton, Rodney, Ridgetown, etc. It would be an economic boost to these small communities if cyclists visited their shops and restaurants. It would also provide a very long trail for cyclists to enter at designated trail heads where they please.
The creation of cycling trails that exit the boundaries of the City of London are not a large incentive to City officials who may be interested in keeping cyclists tied to the City boundaries. Yet such trails can also reduce the number of serious and fatal collisions that occur on nearby highways. By providing more opportunities for cyclists to travel on pleasure trips this creates the interest in cycling and this is needed to get the public interested in using their cycles for other reasons.
This article was originally published on the Gorski Consulting website on November 20, 2022. For an unexplained reason, shortly after it was published, it disappeared from the Gorski Consulting website. My internet provider could not explain why this happened. Fortunately a fairly-well developed draft of the article remained and this enabled me to add portions of the lost article to the draft from what I could remember. So the present article is somewhat similar to the originally-posted article. This occurrence is a reminder that the internet is a strange creation where many “bad duds” are constantly doing bad things, preventing honest exchange of ideas and information.
The Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP) Judicial Inquiry has now completed the witness phase of its proceedings. Over 15,400 pages of testimony was logged from dozens of witnesses. The second phase is promised to be much shorter as it will provide summaries and opinions from the small number of Inquiry participants.
The Inquiry was requested by Hamilton’s politicians in the spring of 2019 after it was discovered that a technical report authored by Tradewind Scientific, reporting an inferior level of skid resistance on the RHVP, had become lost, or was deliberately buried. Some delays to the proceedings of the Inquiry were attributed to the Covid pandemic. The credit for uncovering the missing Tradewind report has to go to a number of professional journalists, but mostly to the Hamilton Spectator Newspaper. And there have been several other scandals.
In early 2013 the City of Hamilton was rocked by news that 29 employees of its Public Works department were fired following an investigation of their illegal practices. There were allegations that these activities reached as far up in the department as supervisors and superintendents. The City’s Manager at the time, Chris Murray, said police would be contacted but no further information became available about further developments. A Hamilton Spectator Newspaper article written in January of 2013 indicated:
“The city is investigating allegations that not only the front-line public works employees, but also supervisors and superintendents, were involved in the dishonesty, including the selling of city asphalt. City manager Chris Murray, who attended Bratina’s speech, said the situation is already starting to trigger questions of whether similar offences are occurring in other departments. He said it’s logical to think that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire. The fact that something like this happens creates concern right across the organization.”
Thus this scandal would have been an opportunity for the City of Hamilton to conduct further investigations about the operations of its Public Works Department, possibly directing how the actions of all employees should follow proper procedures. It is not clear what further actions were taken.
In another scandal in 2019 the Hamilton Spectator Newspaper wrote about the City of Hamilton’s failure to inspect sign structures along the RHVP. They reported that the City had no inspection reports between the years 2012 to 2017. In a Spectator article published on August 16, 2019 the following was stated:
“While the city has said it does not believe the public was at risk due to the delayed sign structure repairs, one civil engineering professor reached by The Spectator called the listed deficiencies concerning.
“By exceeding the recommended time to repair, Hamilton increased the risk of serious harm to the public and to motorists,” said Ahmed Shalaby, municipal infrastructure chair at the University of Manitoba, who reviewed the 2012 and 2017 inspection summaries.
“Any of these (problems), left unrepaired, could eventually lead to failure of a sign structure or components.”
It’s rare for a big metal sign structure to fall down – but it has happened.”
As an example of what could happen, on April 27, 2021 a large overhead sign fell onto the surface of the QEW at Nocola Testa Boulevard. The sign came down on an SUV, killing its driver. The sign was knocked over by excavations at a construction site. It indicates the dangers that exist if an overhead sign were to fall onto a highway and how important it is to conduct inspections of sign anchorages. Again little information is available about what was done to examine the actions of Hamilton’s Public Works department.
In another scandal, billions of litres of sewage was found to have leaked over a period of four-and–half years into Hamilton’s Chedoke Creek and this leak was not disclosed for over a year. The Spectator reported:
“The Spectator revealed city council knew about the full duration and volume of the spill from an overflow holding tank into the creek, which flows into Cootes Paradise, since January 2019 but decided to keep the information secret.
After citizens complained about a stench in July 2018, the city told the public a spill had occurred and put up signs, but the full details were kept under wraps until The Spectator reported on leaked confidential reports.
Councillors have said they opted for secrecy to protect the taxpayers from potential regulatory fines and litigation amid an ongoing provincial investigation into the spill, which has been attributed in part to a gate on a holding tank that was left partially open for four-and-a-half years.
Staff and outside legal counsel advised council against publicizing the estimated 24-billion-litre volume and more-than-four-year span, as well as releasing consulting reports.
The rationale was that doing so could expose the city to financial risk amid a Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks investigation with potential fines of as high as $6 million.“
There is a fine line between the claim of protecting a municipality from litigation and hiding those politicians and City staff from accountability to the public they ought to serve.
The Spectator also reported that one of the City’s councillors, Lloyd Ferguson, wanted an investigation into who leaked the documents that led to the revelation of the spill. The Spectator noted:
“City officials previously refused to confirm that councillors directed senior staff to track down the source of the leaked documents. People have speculated whether the leaker was a member of council or city staffer with access to the confidential reports. Regardless, the fact that the information was hidden by council sparked a gigantic public outcry over the lack of transparency.”
The City’s mayor, Fred Eisenberger, also supported the decision to keep documents and the spill secret. As reported by the Spectator:
“Eisenberger says he stands by the decision to keep detailed information about the spill confidential until the environment ministry’s investigation is complete based on expert legal advice and the obligation to protect taxpayers from potential penalties and lawsuits.”
Not surprisingly Hamilton’s risk management office and external legal counsel have been involved in advising the City’s staff and politicians to maintain secrecy. This was also made clear in the testimony provided by witnesses at the RHVP Inquiry.
RHVP Inquiry – Going Forward
Very few of those outside of the RHVP Inquiry participants would have the opportunity to examine all the evidence in detail. Not only are there over 15400 pages of testimony, there are also numerous exhibits, including a number of long reports that would need to be reviewed. For example, of the 218 exhibits, the first 10 are identified below along with their length in pages.
- Overview Report – 66 pages
- Hamilton Governance & Structure – 50 pages
- RHVP Construction – 82 pages
- RHVP Design & Geometry – 17 pages
- Ontario MOT Friction Testing – 200 pages
- RHVP Safety Studies 2008-2012 – 48 pages
- Cima Report 2013 – 153 pages
- Cima Report 2015 – 204 pages
- Pavement Evaluations 2017-2018 – 103 pages
- Events Leading to Discovery of Tradewind Report – 370 pages
These first 10 exhibits contain 1293 pages. It is impractical to expect anyone to examine the rest of the 208 exhibits if they contain a similar amount of detail. At some point there needs to be a reliable and unbiased entity that can condense all of these details into a more manageable summary.
One has to be aware that those who wish to hide information from the public can use unexpected methods to accomplish their task. The most direct way is to simply refuse to release the specific information. However a more indirect way is to flood the atmosphere with an enormous amount of detail, effectively hiding the relevant information within this very large forest of irrelevance. Because the review of such massive stores of information is daunting most entities would give up before finding the relevant information that is needed. This method of hiding information becomes more effective in the modern age when very large amounts of data is stored and capable of being released. It is hoped that this is not the process being engaged in the RHVP Inquiry, however it remains to be seen how and if the very large amounts of detail will be condensed to make it practically available to the general public.
What is going on with injury and fatality causation in Ontario? Has there been a recent deterioration of road safety? How do we know?
In the U.S. the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported earlier this year that traffic fatalities likely increased by 10.5 percent in 2021 versus 2020, which is a 16-year high. Some of the categories in which fatalities increased the most are shown in the following text taken from the NHTSA report.
“ …traffic fatalities in the following categories showed relatively large increases in 2021, as compared to 2020:
- Fatalities in multi-vehicle crashes up 16%
- Fatalities on urban roads up 16%
- Fatalities among drivers 65 and older up 14%
- Pedestrian fatalities up 13%
- Fatalities in crashes involving at least one large truck up 13%
- Daytime fatalities up 11%
- Motorcyclist fatalities up 9%
- Bicyclist fatalities up 5%
- Fatalities in speeding-related crashes up 5%
- Fatalities in police-reported, alcohol-involvement crashes up 5% “
In reaction to this data the U.S. Transportation Secretary stated “We face a crisis on America’s roadways…”. Those are large words.
Historically Ontario has not been isolated from the U.S., we share similar cultures, economies, vehicles and roadway systems. Are similarly dramatic deteriorations also occurring in Ontario? What data exists to determine one way or another?
Ontario’s Road Safety Annual Report (ORSAR) has been published by the Ontario government for decades and it should provide an accurate account of the road safety situation in the Province. Checking the Ontario Transportation Ministry website shows that the latest complete version of the ORSAR is for the year 2019. Only preliminary statistics are currently available for the years 2020 and 2021. Here are some general facts in those reports.
Fatal Collisions: 2018=556, 2019=545, 2020=505, 2021=499
Persons Killed: 2018=602, 2019=584, 2020=535, 2021=541
Personal Injury Collisions: 2018=36,331, 2019=33,602, 2020=23,184, 2021=22,573
Persons Injured: 2018=50,973, 2019=47,027, 2020=31,538, 2021=30,715
Based upon the above facts it would seem that Ontario is immune to the traffic catastrophes of the U.S. – but are we?
An article (July 3, 2022) by Robert Williams of the Kitchener Record newspaper described how the documentation of collisions in the Waterloo area has become “complicated”. In part he reported:
“With the addition of the Waterloo Accident Support Services International – who now takes care of nonmajor collisions – the way police count collisions is changing. For example, in two-car collisions where both parties fill out a report, police used to count those reports as two separate collisions. Now, those reports are tracked, merged and counted as one.
Due to the changes in its data management processes, Const. Andre Johnson said the 2020 overall numbers cannot be easily compared to the prior years.”
How many other municipalities have changed their way of collision reporting? Does the above mean that the data in recent ORSARs is not easily comparable to other years?
An interesting revelation is how the Ontario Provincial Police work with Ontario’s news media to announce various collision data. For example, on May 14, 2020, the OPP released collision data which was reported by major news outlets in the London area including the London Free Press, CTV News London and CFPL Radio 980 News (Global News). The London Free Press article was entitled “Middlesex OPP Target Unsafe Drivers as Region Ranks Third in Ontario for Road Fatalities”. This article publicized the OPP assertion, from the previous 10 year’s worth of data, that Middlesex County was third highest in the Province of Ontario with respect to fatalities, surpassed only by “Toronto area and Burlington”.
CTV’s article was entitled “Middlesex Roads Among Deadliest in Ontario” and the article indicated “While the numbers are concerning, they also don’t seem to be improving”. They also provided a misleading comment that “So far in 2020 there have been five fatalities in Middlesex, an increase of 67 per cent over 2019”. Thus there were 3 fatalities in 2019 and 5 in 2020 and this is the grounds for informing the public that there was a massive 67 per cent increase in fatal collisions.
The Global News article was entitled “OPP Report Increase in Fatal Collisions from 2020 Compared to 2019”. It reported that “As of May 4, 71 people have died in fatal collision on OPP roads in 2020, compared to this time last year there were 61 deaths”.
Whether the data high-lighted by news media accurately depicts a worsening safety scenario on OPP patrolled road cannot be known by anyone except the OPP themselves. However some estimate of that accuracy can be gained from examining the 10 year period (2010 through 2019) via the data reported in ORSAR.
For example, the data from Middlesex County is compared in the tables below with several other municipal jurisdictions (Halton, Niagara and Waterloo) that have similar population bases.
Nothing unusual appears to exist in the Middlesex County data that would suggest that its roads “…are among deadliest in Ontario”. It can be observed that Burlington (which is in Halton Region) appears to have lower fatality values than any of the other three jurisdictions yet the OPP claimed that Burlington’s roads were worse than Middlesex. The appearance that Middlesex has slightly higher numbers of fatal collisions and fatalities has not be controlled for the likelihood that Middlesex is a more rural area where fatal collisions are more likely to occur. Travel in the other three jurisdictions could be comprised of more urban travel where fatal collisions and fatalities are less likely.
In another article authored by Jonathan Juha of the London Free Press (“Deaths Spike in London Region Roads This Year, OPP Warn”, September 2, 2020) OPP statistics of fatalities in the London region appeared to be alarming as noted by the following quote: “Middlesex OPP are sounding the alarm with deadly car crashes up nearly 40 per cent from this time last year”. Yet we know the final fatality numbers in Ontario for 2019 and 2020 because those are reported in the ORSARs. ORSAR reported that in 2019 there were 545 fatal collisions and in 2020 there were 505. So the numbers of fatal collisions in Ontario in 2020 were actually down compared to 2019. So the final Ontario data would appear to be completely different from the OPP data. Was there something miraculous taking place in Middlesex County in 2020 that did not occur in the rest of Ontario? We will not know until Ontario releases its full 2020 ORSAR data which will contain the details of the Middlesex County data.
The COVID Effect
A number of news media articles were published during these Covid years which suggested that a dramatic change was taking place in Ontario’s road safety.
In an article by Ryan Rocca, published by Global News on April 15, 2020 Toronto City officials were quoted as saying that Toronto had seen a 200 per cent increase in stunt driving. The article stated further:
“In a news release Wednesday, officials said as traffic volumes have dropped, from March 15 to 31, there was a 35 per cent increase in speeding tickets and an almost 200 per cent jump in stunt driving incidents compared to the same time last year.
“Taking advantage of low traffic volumes by speeding or stunt driving is not only illegal but threatens the lives of those around you and places an unnecessary pressure on our health-care system,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said.”
However, if there were fewer collisions this could free up the time of a number of police officers who could now focus of monitoring traffic and giving out speeding tickets. Could that be an explanation for the higher numbers of stunt driving infractions?
In an article posted by Chris Fox of CP24 News on April 29, 2020 it was reported that there were “…largely empty roads across the GTA” yet police report that there has been “…nearly a 600 per cent rise in stunt driving charges”. And the number of collisions investigated by the OPP in early 2020 was “…down 62 per cent from 2019”.
Yet ORSAR reported that Estimated Vehicle Kilometres Travelled in Ontario were 145,000 (in millions) in 2019 and 146,832 in 2020. So how did the roads become “largely empty” across the GTA if more kilometers were ridden?
And in another article authored by CBC News on October 10, 2019, it was reported that “Police say speed is the leading factor in vehicle fatalities”. So is it not strange that a 600 per cent increase in stunt driving in 2020 should lead to no appreciable increase in traffic fatalities between 2019 and 2020 as indicated in the ORSAR?
Unusual data is being reported by police, news media and the official Ontario Road Safety Annual Report such that many contradictions appear to exist. While the U.S. is reporting alarmingly high collision statistics Ontario is not. The OPP continue to report large increases in fatal collisions and fatalities yet those do not exist in the latest ORSAR data.