Coroner’s recommendations on cycling safety are “reasonable”
By J.-C. Rioux
In my view, the coroner reasonably recommends that it should be mandatory for cyclists to wear helmets. The recommendations respecting commercial trucks are also reasonable. A moment’s inattention is enough for a commercial truck driver to inflict fatal or permanently debilitating injuries on a cyclist.
Cycling in Toronto is dangerous. We have to make a decision about how much carnage we’re willing to accept as part of the societal cost of our love of motor vehicles. We also need to decide as a society how much we want to encourage cycling.
Reasonable societies could disagree about these sorts of things. Perhaps as a society we really do love motor vehicles so much that we’re willing to encourage people to use them in spite of all the carnage they cause. If that’s how things stand, then we ought to continue to subsidize the price of car insurance and we ought to continue to spend little or no municipal or provincial money on making cycling safer.
If, on the other hand, we think that we’ve done just about enough to encourage people to use motor vehicles and that cycling ought to be encouraged instead, then we ought to spend some money on bike lanes and we ought to support the coroner’s recommendations.
One individual’s opinion really makes very little difference on a question like this. The decision is a public policy decision. We need to decide what we want to encourage and what we want to discourage. Once we’ve decided what we want to encourage and what we want to discourage, we can arrange incentives accordingly.
If people want more motor vehicles in use and fewer bicycles in use, then requiring cyclists to get licenses is a good idea and spending little or no money on cycling infrastructure is also a good idea. On the other hand, if we don’t like the smog in Toronto, and if we think that the congestion of motor vehicle traffic in the downtown is annoying, and if we think that the human cost (in terms of dead people and injured people) is just too high for us to allow bikes and motor vehicles to continue doing what they presently do, then we ought to make laws and spending decisions that will reduce risks for cyclists.
Of course it’s never easy to determine exactly what we really do want as a society. If you conduct a poll, the answers will depend on the way you ask the questions. Many people could be persuaded to give one opinion on one day and another opinion on another day depending on the questions they were asked and on the experiences they had most recently. However, that’s a problem that isn’t unique to this debate. The problem of trying to figure out what a society really wants is inherent in trying to run a society democratically.
In my view, the important thing is for us to understand, before we act, what the likely consequences of our decisions will be. That way we can make decisions the likely consequences of which we are prepared to accept.
In summary, let me ask you a question: How important do you think it is for us to encourage or discourage the use of bicycles in the Toronto? Answer in your own words. How many people in Ontario do you think agree with your answer?
The laws we ought to pass and the spending decisions we ought to make follow from the answers to these questions and from a little knowledge of human nature. We ought to make laws that provide positive incentives for the behavior we like and negative incentives for the behavior we don’t like.
As a lawyer, I usually don’t tell people what they should or shouldn’t want. However, I can tell you about the sorts of incentives particular proposed laws most likely will or won’t provide. I can also tell you about the sorts of behavior particular proposed laws most likely will or will not encourage.
In summary, my answer is this: If you want to discourage cycling, then spend little or no money on infrastructure and require that cyclists be licensed. If you want to encourage cycling, then build some bike lanes and do what the coroner recommends.