Cyclists first, says city official

By Charles Komanoff

The Regional Coroner of Toronto has recommended changing Canada's Highway Traffic Act to give cyclists precedence over drivers. (Story from Toronto Star)

In a report reviewing 38 cycling deaths over an 11-year period, the coroner, Dr. William Lucas, also recommended "side guards" for large trucks and buses to prevent cyclists from being crushed under rear wheels.

"Operators of motor vehicles need to understand the vulnerability of cyclists and have respect for them," Lucas said. "It isn't just the cyclists' problem and responsibility. It's a shared responsibility," he said.

Municipal and provincial officials commissioned the report following demands by Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists (ARC), a Toronto group formed in August 1996 after trucks killed two cyclists and police arrested protesting cyclists. (ARC press release)

Noting that current law "does little to clarify how bicycles interact with other vehicles on the road," the Lucas report concluded that "The concept of motorized vehicles yielding to non-motorized vehicles... seems to be a common sense rule which should be accepted by all road users. Entrenching this principle ... [would] likely significantly reduce risk of injury and death."

The report offered only limited support for bicycle helmets, noting studies showing limited reduction in deaths or injuries and finding that compulsory helmet laws might discourage cycling. "Helmets are an asset, not a panacea. The helmet does nothing to prevent a collision," the Lucas report added.

Stronger support was offered for "side guards," which are mandated on large vehicles in several European countries. The devices prevent cyclists from being pulled under the passing rear wheels of such vehicles.

The Lucas report is Canada's first epidemiological study of cycling casualties. In the U.S., the National Transportation Safety Board and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have ignored demands for similar studies. The Canadian report's emphasis on motorist responsibility to reduce danger to bicycle riders is a big departure from the usual cyclist-blaming philosophy. (Toronto Star)