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.