US Cycling Report Highlights Safety Issues and Proposes Controversial Solutions

Bicycle accident lawyers in Ontario have been concerned for years about safety issues concerning vulnerable road users, particularly in the province’s large cities. Toronto, for example, has struggled to reduce serious injuries and fatal accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists, even after implementing an ambitious Vision Zero road safety initiative. Cyclist safety has also been a hot-button issue in Ottawa, where several bikers lost their lives in recent years.

In October, the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released data that showed that cyclist safety is an issue south of the border, as well. It found that the number of fatal accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians increased in 2018, even as overall traffic fatalities fell. It also determined that vulnerable road users accounted for 20 per cent of fatalities in 2018, up from just 14 per cent in 2009, and that 2018 was the deadliest year for cyclists in almost three decades. Cyclist fatalities rose to 857, up 6.3 per cent from 2017 and the most since 859 cyclists were killed in 1990. In urban districts, cyclist fatalities have increased 48 per cent since 2009.

The drastic increases can be explained in part by cycling’s growing popularity, especially in large cities. In the United States, 837,000 people rode their bikes to work in 2017, up 43 per cent from 2000. Ontario bicycle accident lawyers are also familiar with this trend: in 2017, CycleTO reported that cycling rates had risen across Toronto’s downtown core, with more than a quarter of commuters relying on bicycles in neighbourhoods like Cabbagetown, Bloor-Spadina, Gerrard-Coxwell, Roncesvalles, and Parkdale. Meanwhile, 41 cyclists were killed or seriously injured in the city.

Perhaps in response to the NHTSA’s startling report, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released in November its first major analysis of cycling safety since 1972. The report acknowledged the need for improved cycling safety and offered recommendations that both pleased and irked cycling advocates.

“If we do not improve roadway infrastructure for bicyclists, bicyclists will die who otherwise would not,” said NTSB chair Robert Sumwalt at a meeting to discuss the board’s findings. “If we do not enhance bicyclist conspicuity, likewise, additional bicyclists will die. If we do not act to mitigate head injury for more bicyclists, additional bicyclists will die.”

The first point echoes calls from bicycle accident lawyers and cycling activists. Improved road infrastructure, including separated bike lanes, traffic calming measures, and reduced speed limits, is central to safety strategies like Vision Zero. Collisions on roads with speed limits of 30-35 mph are 65 per cent more likely to result in death than collisions on roads with speed limits under 25 mph.

The second and third points – helmet use and visibility – have been widely panned by cycling experts. Their inclusion in the NTSB recommendations prompted Bicycling to label the analysis a “largely tone-deaf exercise in victim blaming.”

“Having mindful road design and a culture that respects vulnerable road users like cyclists saves tons more lives than any headgear,” wrote contributor Peter Flax. “A foam cap is not a failsafe protection to people when they are run over by multi-ton vehicles travelling at a high rate of speed.”

No bicycle accident lawyer would recommend leaving your helmet at home or choosing clothing that limited your visibility on the road. Indeed, we believe proper safety equipment is essential to arriving home safely, as is adequate ride preparation and careful adherence to the rules of the road.

But it may also be true that driver behaviour causes more vulnerable road users’ deaths than the actions of cyclists and pedestrians. It is motorists, after all, who are protected by thousands of pounds of steel and glass, and motorists who are able to travel at hundreds of kilometres per hour. A moment of distraction behind the wheel can have devastating, life-changing implications for the driver and everyone he or she shares the roads with; a moment of distraction for a cyclist is far less likely to cause widespread harm. That’s why cycling activists, and some bicycle accident lawyers, believe the most effective strategy to improve vulnerable road user safety, besides significant infrastructure overhauls, is to focus enforcement on motorists: crack down on distracted driving; aggressively punish speeding and aggressive driving; and continue the good work that has led to a significant decrease in impaired driving deaths across North America.

If you’ve been injured in a bicycle accident in Toronto or anywhere else in Ontario, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced team of bicycle accident lawyers has helped severely injured accident victims access financial compensation to fund their recoveries.

Will Davidson LLP is proud to work on a contingency basis, meaning you will not be asked to pay legal fees until your claim has been successfully resolved. Reach out today to learn more about how we can help.

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