Cyclist Fatality Trends in Canada
Helmet Effect Undetectable in Fatality Trends
An examination of data covering the period 1975 - 2002 from Transport Canada [1,2], a federal government agency, shows that Canada is replicating the experiences of Australia and the US, where no effect of increased helmet use among cyclists can be detected from prevailing fatality trends. As with other studies, our analysis uses pedestrians as a control group since pedestrians are vulnerable road users and are likely to benefit equally with cyclists from general safety campaigns, such as those involving roadside breath-testing of
motorists and speed surveillance using radar equipment.
Figure 1 shows fatalities for Canadian cyclists and pedestrians.
During the period 1975 - 1987, pedestrian fatalities averaged 757 per annum and cyclists 128 per annum.
During the following period 1988 - 2002, fatalities dropped to an average of 450 per annum
for pedestrians and 78 per annum for cyclists. In comparing the period averages pedestrian deaths decreased by 42% but cyclist deaths decreased at a slower rate of 39%. During the second period helmet use among the cycling population in Canada grew from virtually zero to well over 30% by 1995, and with a continuing upward trend owing to government promotion and
legislation, helmet use was likely in the range of 40% to 50% by 1997 . A 1994/5 survey by Statistics
Canada, the government data gathering agency, indicated bicycle helmet use at 62% among
child cyclists 12 years old and younger, and 19% among the remainder of cyclists .
* A 1999 survey in British Columbia showed helmet use at 70%. [4a] Also during the second period,
six provincial governments imposed mandatory helmet legislation on their respective populations - Ontario (1995, children 18 years and under), British Columbia (1996, all cyclists), Nova Scotia (1997, all cyclists), New Brunswick (1996, all cyclists), Prince Edward Island (2003, all cyclists) and Alberta (2002, children 18 years and under). By 2002, close to 50% of Canada's population were subject to mandatory bicycle helmet laws.
* In 1996, Canada's population was 30 million. According to the survey,
approx 60% of the 5 million children who were 12 years and younger were cyclists, and approximately 30% of
the rest of the population had ridden a bicycle in the 3 months preceding the survey.
In 1975, Canada's population was 23 million
Figure 2 Trends (pedestrians/cyclists scaled to 5.65:1 ratio)
Figure 2 above shows the prevailing fatality trends are virtually identical.
It is apparent that mass helmet use is not contributing to the reduction in cyclist
fatalities, at least not in any measurable way. The results suggest that traffic
authorities should refocus to put their efforts into other proven measures. Programs
aimed at motorist behaviour over the past 20 or so years have been effective
in reducing fatalities among all road user groups, including pedestrians and
cyclists. Pressure on aggressive drivers to change their habits should continue.
However, targetting the behaviour of only one of the parties would be short
sighted. Cyclist-specific measures are also needed. There are two important factors
in cycling fatalities which currently get insufficient attention - cyclist behaviour
and night lighting equipment. The vast majority of
cycling accidents involve cyclist error or inappropriate practices. That includes
collisions with motor vehicles . Educational efforts to improve cyclists' skills
should be accorded a high priority. School age children are the obvious target group.
Responsible behaviour patterns need to be adopted at an early age.
The corollary is stricter enforcement of bicycle night lighting laws. Over
90% of bicycles involved in night time fatalities have inadequate lighting .
Violaters increase their risks of being fatality statistics by a factor of four .
Data from Ontario show 20% to 30% of fatalities occur at dusk or during the hours of
Road Safety Statistics, Transport Canada
2. Canadian Motor Vehicle Traffic Collisions Statistics, 1975 to 1996, Transport Canada
3. Ontario Coalition for Better Cycling, Ottawa, Ontario,
Cyclist and Helmet Use Survey, October 1994
4. Statistics Canada, Factors Associated with Bicycle Helmet Use, 1997, Health Reports,
vol. 9 no. 2, Autumn Edition
4a. Bicycle Helmet Use in British Columbia: effects of the helmet use law, April 2000, Foss Robert D., and
Beirness Douglas J., University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center
5. Forester, John,
Bicycle Transportation, 1994, MIT Press
6. Thom R., Clayton A., and Omar H., Winnipeg's Bicycle Accident Experience, paper
presented to the Institute of Transportation Engineers Annual Conference June 1990
7. Rowe, Rowe and Bota, Bicyclist and Environmental Factors Associated with Fatal
Bicycle-Related Trauma in Ontario, Canadian Medical Association Journal, January 1, 1995
8. Ontario Road Safety Annual Reports, 1990 to 1996
9. Regional Coroner for Toronto's
Report on Cycling Fatalities in Toronto 1986 - 1996, Recommendations for Reducing Cycling Injuries
and Deaths, July 1, 1998.
[First compiled January 1999. Revised June 2004]
See US FATALITY TRENDS
for a similar analysis of US trends.