Cyclists urged to cut unsafe habits like texting
Reducing dangers a shared responsibility, experts say after Ontario probe announced
The Ontario coroner's upcoming investigation into increased cycling deaths may help cut down on future tragedies, but safety officials say cyclists must also do their share — including not using their cellphones while in transit.
Paying attention to riding and avoiding distractions from cellphones and music players ranks second on the Canada Safety Council's top tips for improving cycling safety — behind wearing a helmet.
"Cyclists need to be both visible and predictable, and also have proper equipment such as a helmet," Raynald Marchand, the council's general manager of programs, told CBC News on Tuesday from his Ottawa office. "There are also certainly a number of cyclists who have the behaviour of texting and talking. We've also seen it with pedestrians."
Marchand was interviewed after Ontario chief coroner Dr. Andrew McCallum announced that a review of cycling deaths would be conducted across the province as a result of public concern over safety.
Noting that 15 to 20 cyclists die annually in Ontario as a result of accidents, the coroner's office said deaths from 2006 to 2010 would be probed and a report would be released in the spring.
While not speaking specifically on the Ontario situation, Marchand said cyclists, pedestrians and motorists all must take safety in their own hands, including following the rules of the road.
But cyclists in particular have a greater risk of potential injury or death, the council says. According to Transport Canada, in 2009 there were 41 cyclist fatalities and 435 serious injuries.
The safety council says this means there is all the more reason for cyclists to wear helmets and select the safest routes, as well as wearing reflective clothing at night — particularly this time of year with the shortened daylight.
Various lobby groups and researchers have their own answers for safe pedalling.
Ontario's doctors, emphasizing that biking is good exercise, have lobbied for the province to invest more in cycling infrastructure, such as purpose-built bike lanes.
Benefits outweigh risks
The benefits of cycling — from a health, environmental and cost point of view — far outweigh the safety risks, studies find.
"Bicycling has the potential to improve fitness, diminish obesity, and reduce noise, air pollution, and greenhouse gases associated with motor vehicle travel," according to a 2009 study by the UBC Centre for Health and Environment Research in Vancouver.
"However, bicyclists have a greater risk of crashes and injuries requiring hospitalization than do motor vehicle occupants."
The study concluded that bicycle infrastructure is related to the risk of injury and the risk of crashing.
- Purpose-built bicycle-only facilities like bicycle lanes and paths have the lowest risk of crashes and injuries.
- Minor roads have lower injury risks than major roads.
- Sidewalks and unpaved off-road trails have the highest risks.
- At intersections, multi-lane roundabouts are more hazardous to cyclists than other types of intersections, unless separated cycle tracks are provided.
- Street lighting, paved surfaces, and low-sloped grades are additional factors that seem to improve cyclist safety.
"Considering that safety is a critical factor when people decide whether to cycle, creating safe facilities for cycling and the communication of safety improvements to the public should encourage more people to ride," the study concludes.
Marchand notes that automakers are also researching how vehicles can more safely share the road with cyclists.
For instance, upcoming technology in cars includes adaptive cruise control and radar that identifies whether a person steps out between two cars.
"This may not stop a collision, but it may reduce the speed at which the collision happens," which would mean the difference between life or death, Marchand says.