What caused a collision is not the same as what caused a fatality. The factor(s) that cause a person’s death are never revealed in collision reporting in Ontario. This secrecy causes a lack of understanding in the general population of what changes need to be made to improve road traffic safety.

The inefficiency of documentation and distribution of collision data in the Province of Ontario is revealing when compared to what is done in the U.S.

Just five months after the end of 2021 the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is able to provide an estimate of the numbers of traffic deaths in the county that has a population almost 10 times the size of Canada. Yet the Province of Ontario still stumbles along with attempts to reveal final data from the year 2019.

An important notice from NHTSA is that fatalities increased substantially in 2021 as noted in their newly released documentation:

“NHTSA projects that an estimated 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes last year, a 10.5% increase from the 38,824 fatalities in 2020. The projection is the highest number of fatalities since 2005 and the largest annual percentage increase in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s history.

Preliminary data reported by the Federal Highway Administration show that vehicle miles traveled in 2021 increased by about 325 billion miles, or about 11.2%, as compared to 2020.”

Why are these increases occurring despite the fact that many new safety features are coming into the modern vehicle fleet? Are they related to higher usage of the road system? Can the increases be blamed on the Covid pandemic? Are other factors at play?

In Ontario there is no current information about basic road safety trends. Even those data that are revealed in Ontario’s Road Safety Annual Report (ORSAR) provide no useful information about what causes injuries and deaths. ORSAR data is based on police reports written up mostly by officers who have limited time, training and understanding to explore the complexity that exists in typical collision causes. But more importantly, there is no expertise in understanding what has caused an injury or death, and when certain results should involve further investigation. And the Ontario Ministry of Transportation has no real interest in documenting causes of injury and death.

In many instances relatively minor collisions result in fatalities yet there is not special interest in understanding why these occur. In Ontario the focus of police investigations is in laying charges against motor vehicle drivers, not in documenting how and why someone was injured or died. The police logic is that identifying injury mechanisms is not police work. This means that identifying ways to improve road user safety becomes inefficient.

Trends in collision causes have existed for decades without much official awareness. Loss-of-control events on two-lane highways that result in rollovers, tree/pole impacts or erroneously-described “head-on” impacts all have similar sources that are never discussed. Fatal, rear-end impacts on high-speed expressways are similarly ignored in terms of their possible related sources. This results in the existence of many unsafe, uncorrected conditions that continue to exist over many years.

Ultimately what is needed is high-quality, unbiased data. If this must come solely from police reports then improvements need to be made in the quality of that data including safe-guards against typical police-reporting bias. In this modern age where costs of producing photos and video are minute, collision data should be supplemented with these very cheap methods of providing objective support for what has been officially accepted into a large-scale database. When reliable data is created and analysed, and the findings are distributed in a timely fashion, an efficient system of detecting newly-emerging, road-safety trends becomes a useful tool for all of society’s benefit.