A Quick Look at Fatally Injured Vulnerable Road Users

Fact Sheet TP 2436E
RS-2010-02
June 2010

Road Safety and Motor Vehicle
Regulation Directorate



BACKGROUND

This fact sheet looks at traffic crashes during 2004-2006 where a vulnerable road user was killed. A vulnerable road user is defined as a pedestrian, a motorcyclist or a bicyclist.

The examination of the crashes in this fact sheet is limited to: crashes between a pedestrian and a road motor vehicle; crashes between a bicyclist and a road motor vehicle; and crashes involving a motorcyclist with or without another vehicle involved.

Road Safety Vision 2010 is Canada’s national road safety plan. It has the goal of improving many aspects of road safety, including reducing the number of fatalities among pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists. Road Safety Vision 2010 uses the years 1996-2001 as a baseline against which to measure progress. In this report, statistics from the years 2004-2006 will sometimes be compared to statistics from the 1996-2001 baseline period for various aspects of crashes involving fatally injured pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists.

METHODOLOGY

The study examines elements from Transport Canada’s national collision database in order to describe various characteristics of traffic crashes involving the death of a pedestrian, a motorcyclist or a bicyclist.

All statistics refer to the 2004-2006 time frame unless otherwise noted. Statistics are based on average annual figures to offset any year-to-year extremes. Where statistics from 1996-2001 are referenced, the data has also been averaged in the same way.

It was assumed that proportional distributions of known values for data elements described in this report were representative of those in jurisdictions where the information was not recorded or was reported as unknown.

SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS

Overall

  • Vulnerable road users accounted for 22% of traffic fatalities during 2004-2006.
  • On average, 363 pedestrians, 211 motorcyclists and 60 bicyclists were killed in traffic crashes each year during 2004-2006.

Pedestrians

  • 75% of pedestrian traffic fatalities occurred on urban roads.
  • 34% of fatally injured pedestrians were seniors (aged 65 or older).
  • Only 6% of fatally injured pedestrians were under the age of 16.
  • 60% of pedestrians killed in traffic crashes were trying to cross the road.
  • At least 33% of fatally injured pedestrians were at fault in the crash.
  • 33% of fatally injured pedestrians were struck by a driver who had committed a traffic infraction prior to the crash.
  • Senior pedestrians were the most likely age group to be killed while crossing with the right of way.

Motorcyclists

  • 23% of motorcyclists killed in crashes were aged 25-34 years.
  • Fatalities among motorcyclists aged 45-54 years increased by 109% between 1996-2001 and 2004-2006.
  • 64% of fatally injured motorcyclists had committed a traffic infraction of some kind prior to the crash.
  • 38% of fatally injured motorcyclists had been speeding prior to the crash.
  • 13% of fatally injured motorcyclists had been drinking prior to the crash.

Bicyclists

  • 18% of bicyclists killed in traffic crashes were under the age of 16.
  • 34% of fatally injured bicyclists were struck by a vehicle in darkness.
  • 19% of bicyclists killed in traffic crashes were struck by a heavy truck.

PEDESTRIANS

Pedestrians killed in traffic crashes

Pedestrians made up about 13% of traffic fatalities, with an average of 363 pedestrians killed each year. This average figure amounted to 9% fewer pedestrian deaths per year than during the 1996-2001 period.

Pedestrians at the greatest risk

Although parents may worry about their children’s safety when they are crossing the street, young pedestrians are not the group most affected. While children under the age of sixteen made up about 19% of the Canadian population, they accounted for only 6% of pedestrians killed in traffic collisions.

Senior pedestrians (those aged 65 or older) have the highest risk of being killed in a traffic crash. 35% of pedestrians killed were seniors, even though seniors accounted for only 13% of Canadians. As the population ages, the number of fatalities from this demographic can be expected to increase unless steps are taken to improve pedestrian safety.

As Table 1 shows, traffic deaths dropped by 53% for pedestrians under the age of 16. On the other hand, fatalities among pedestrians aged 20-24 years increased by 20%.

 Table 1: Percent of Pedestrian Fatalities, Percent of Population and Percent Change in Number between 1996-2001 and 2004-2006, According to Age Group
Age Group % of victims in 2004-2006 % of population in 2004-2006 % change in number of victims between 1996-2001 and 2004-2006
0-15 years 6% 19% -53%
16-19 years 6% 5% -31%
20-24 years 8% 7% 20%
25-34 years 10% 14% 2%
35-44 years 11% 16% -10%
45-54 years 14% 15% 19%
55-64 years 10% 11% -8%
65+ years 35% 13% -6%

Pedestrian behaviour before the crash

More than 60% of pedestrians who were killed in traffic crashes were trying to cross a road (with or without the right of way) at the time of the incident. Among senior pedestrians only, the figure was 78%.

Crossing at an intersection with no traffic control, specifically, seemed to be the most hazardous action for pedestrians. This behaviour accounted for more than 25% of pedestrian fatalities (and 33% of senior pedestrian fatalities).

Close to 10% of fatally injured pedestrians were crossing an intersection with the right of way when a vehicle struck them. Another 7% were crossing at a crosswalk.

Drivers are not always to blame when a pedestrian is killed in traffic. Dangerous pedestrian behaviours such as crossing an intersection without the right of way, running into the road, or walking on the travelled part of the road can result in pedestrian deaths.

About 33% of fatally injured pedestrians were doing something that could make the crash at least partly their fault. The most frequent at-fault behaviour, crossing an intersection without the right of way, accounted for about 13% of all pedestrian traffic deaths.

The most common pedestrian actions prior to a fatal crash varied, depending on the age of the pedestrian. For example, fatally injured pedestrians under the age of 16 were more likely than other pedestrians to run into the street prior to the crash. 20% of traffic deaths among child pedestrians were the result of this behaviour. Children were also the most likely to be struck while getting in or out of a vehicle (10% of fatally injured victims).

Fatally injured pedestrians aged 20-24 were more likely than other pedestrians to be struck while walking along the road (21% of victims from this age bracket), walking on the road (13% of victims), or lying on the road (13% of victims).

Table 2 shows what fatally injured pedestrians of all ages and fatally injured senior pedestrians in particular were doing just before the crash.

 Table 2: Percent of Pedestrian Fatalities and Senior Pedestrian Fatalities According to Pedestrian Action, 2004-2006
Pedestrian action % of victims (all ages) % of victims (seniors only)
Crossing intersection with traffic control & Right-Of-Way 10% 14%
Crossing intersection with traffic control no Right-Of-Way 13% 16%
Crossing intersection no traffic control 26% 33%
Crossing at crosswalk 7% 9%
Crossing not at intersection 6% 7%
Walking along road 11% 6%
In safety zone (sidewalk, median) 7% 4%
Walking on road 4% 2%
Coming from behind vehicle/object 3% 3%
Running into road 5% 2%
Getting in/out vehicle 2% 1%
Playing on road 1% 0%
Lying on road 2% 1%
Other 3% 2%
  100% 100%

Circumstances of fatal pedestrian crashes

75% of pedestrian fatalities occurred on urban roads (those with a speed limit of 70 km/h or less), with the remainder occurring on rural roads (with a speed limit 80 km/h or higher). 53% of urban pedestrian fatalities occurred at or near an intersection, compared to 41% of all pedestrian fatalities.

Pedestrians killed on urban roads were, on average, a little older than those killed on rural roads. Urban locations had more fatalities that involved crossing the road. On the other hand, rural locations had more fatalities that involved walking along the road, running into the road, or lying on the road.

The peak time for fatal pedestrian traffic crashes in general was 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. About 22% of all pedestrian deaths occurred during this interval, but the figure varied depending on age. For example, about one in three fatally injured pedestrians under the age of 16 was hit between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. In contrast, one in three fatally injured pedestrians aged 20-24 years was struck between midnight and 3 a.m.

Pedestrians can be hard for drivers to see at the best of times, and low light only makes conditions worse. About 59% of pedestrians killed in traffic crashes were struck during darkness or dim light conditions. Low light was a factor in rural pedestrian crashes more often than in urban crashes.

Drivers and vehicles involved in fatal pedestrian crashes

More than one in three fatally injured pedestrians was struck by a driver who committed at least one driving infraction prior to the crash such as speeding, drinking, failure to yield, ignoring traffic controls, etc.

About 7% of all pedestrians killed in traffic collisions were hit by a speeding driver. The number of pedestrian deaths caused by speeding drivers rose by about 14% between 1996-2001 and 2004-2006.

About 9% of fatally injured pedestrians were hit by a drinking driver. The number of pedestrian deaths caused by drinking drivers dropped by almost 23% between 1996-2001 and 2004-2006.

Almost 11% of pedestrians killed in traffic collisions were struck by a driver who failed to yield the right of way. However, seniors were the most likely age group to be killed in this situation, accounting for about 54% of fatally injured victims.

More than half of pedestrians fatally injured in a traffic crash (52%) were hit by a car, with another 31% being hit by a light truck, van, or sport utility vehicle. 13% of pedestrian fatalities were the result of a heavy truck collision.

Children were more likely than pedestrians of other ages to be hit by a bus (this includes urban transit buses, inter-city buses, and school buses). About 11% of fatally injured child pedestrians were hit by a bus, while the average for all ages combined was about 3%.

Fatal Pedestrian crashes involving seniors

Older pedestrians may have reduced sight, hearing or motor skills. This may affect their ability to get around safely. Older pedestrians may be slower to perceive and react to traffic. They often need more time to cross the street than other pedestrians. Conflicts over who has the right-of-way at an intersection (i.e. the pedestrian or the vehicle) are also a significant risk factor. About 16% of fatally injured senior pedestrians were struck by a driver who failed to yield the right-of-way. Busy urban streets are especially dangerous for this age bracket. 88% of fatally injured senior pedestrians were killed in urban locations.

MOTORCYCLISTS

Motorcyclists killed in traffic crashes

Motorcycles combine high travelling speed with minimal rider protection. So it’s not surprising that motorcycle crashes often have serious outcomes for the riders.

Motorcyclists made up about 7% of road user fatalities, with an average of 211 motorcyclists killed each year. This was a 41% increase from deaths among this road user group during the 1996-2001 period. The significant growth in motorcyclist fatalities was in sharp contrast to the decline in fatalities for other types of road users.

Motorcyclists at greatest risk

Motorcyclists aged 25-34 years led the way in traffic deaths, accounting for 23% of riders killed in crashes. But motorcyclists aged 45-54 were close behind, accounting for 21% of fatalities.

Between 1996-2001 and 2004-2006, fatalities increased among all age groups of motorcyclists except those under the age of 20.

The increase was especially noteworthy for 45- to 54-year-olds, because they account for a significant number of victims. Motorcyclist traffic deaths among this group more than doubled, even though the number of licensed motorcyclists from this age group grew by only about 40%.

Motorcyclists aged 55-64 years also saw a big increase in fatalities, but overall they accounted for a much smaller percentage of deaths than younger riders.

Table 3 shows motorcyclist fatalities by age group, as well as the change in the number of victims and the number of licensed motorcyclists between 1996-2001 and 2004-2006.

 Table 3: Percent of Motorcyclist Fatalities and Percent Change in Number of Fatalities and Licensed Motorcyclists According to Age Group, 1996-2001 to 2004-2006
Age Group % of victims in 2004-2006 % change in number of victims between 1996-2001 and 2004-2006 % change in licensed motorcyclists between 1996-2001 and 2004-2006
0-15 years 1% -48% --
16-19 years 7% -8% -25%
20-24 years 17% 7% -22%
25-34 years 23% 28% -30%
35-44 years 19% 40% -12%
45-54 years 21% 109% 42%
55-64 years 9% 228% 135%
65+ years 3% 67% 61%

Circumstances of fatal motorcyclist crashes

55% of motorcyclist traffic deaths occurred on rural roads (defined as roads with a speed limit 80 km/h or higher). In comparison, about 64% of total road fatalities occurred on rural roads.

Between 1996-2001 and 2004-2006, motorcyclist fatalities on rural roads increased by 49% while motorcyclist fatalities on urban roads increased by 22%.

On average, fatally injured motorcyclists involved in rural crashes were older than those involved in urban crashes. 41% of victims in rural crashes were 45 years or older, while only 28% of victims in urban crashes were 45 years or older.

Motorcycling is for the most part a seasonal activity, with most of the fatalities (87%) occurring between May and October. The peak month was August, which accounted for almost 19% of the year’s fatal injuries. 42% of motorcyclist fatalities occurred on a weekend (Saturday or Sunday).

Time of day was a risk factor for motorcyclist fatalities, with almost one in four (24%) occurring between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Another 20% happened between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.

About 29% of motorcyclist fatalities occurred in dim light or darkness compared to 46% of all road user fatalities combined.

Driving infractions by fatally injured motorcyclists

About 64% of motorcyclists killed in traffic crashes had committed some type of traffic infraction prior to the crash such as speeding, disobeying traffic controls, or failing to yield the right of way. In contrast, only 43% of fatally injured drivers who were not motorcyclists had committed an infraction.

For example, about 38% of motorcycle drivers had been speeding at the time of the crash. This was a slightly lower figure than in 1996-2001. The most likely age group to be speeding was motorcyclists aged 20-24 years (55% of victims in this age bracket had been going too fast). Fatally injured motorcyclists aged 45 years or older were less likely to have been speeding than those under 45.

The incidence of drinking and riding went down. 13% of fatally injured motorcycle operators had been drinking prior to the crash, compared to 25% during 1996-2001. Fatally injured motorcyclists aged 35-44 years were the most likely to have been drinking prior to the crash (23% of victims in this age group).

BICYCLISTS

Bicyclists killed in traffic crashes

Bicyclists accounted for about 2% of traffic fatalities, with an average of 60 bicyclists being killed each year in collisions with motor vehicles. This amounted to 2% fewer bicyclist deaths per year than during the 1996-2001 period.

The most dramatic improvement occurred among bicyclists under the age of 16. Traffic deaths for bicyclists in this age group dropped by 50% between 1996-2001 and 2004-2006.

Even with the decrease, persons under 16 accounted for the largest proportion of fatally injured bicyclists, as Table 4 shows.

 Table 4: Percent of Bicyclist Fatalities and Percent Change in Number According to Age Group, between 1996-2001 and 2004-2006
Age Group % of victims in 2004-2006 % change in number of victims between 1996-2001 and 2004-2006
0-15 years 18% -50%
16-19 years 12% 0%
20-24 years 8% 44%
25-34 years 9% -47%
35-44 years 16% 22%
45-54 years 13% 68%
55-64 years 10% 40%
65+ years 14% 6%

Most of the cyclists killed during this period were male (81%). Furthermore, 15% of all bicyclists fatally injured in traffic collisions were boys under the age of 16 years. Other large victim groups were males aged 35-44 years (12% of cyclists killed) and males aged 45-54 years (12% of cyclists killed).

Circumstances of fatal bicycle crashes

64% of bicyclist fatalities from traffic crashes occurred on urban roads (those with a speed limit up to 70 km/h). The remainder occurred on rural roads (with a speed limit 80 km/h or higher).

On urban roads, cyclists aged 45-54 years were the most frequent victims, accounting for 17% of bicyclist traffic deaths. On rural roads, however, cyclists under the age of 16 ranked highest, making up 27% of victims.

Afternoons and evenings were the peak times for crashes. 26% of fatally injured bicyclists were struck by a vehicle between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Another 23% of fatally injured victims were struck between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Poor light conditions are a major risk factor in fatal cyclist crashes. Even though the number of deaths during daylight hours went down, bicyclist traffic deaths after dark increased by 36%. 34% of bicyclist fatalities occurred in darkness compared to only 26% during 1996-2001.

Bicyclists aged 16-19 were the most likely to be struck and killed while riding in the dark. Such conditions applied to 53% of victims in this age group. Cyclists riding at night can protect themselves by installing lights on the front and back of the bicycle, wearing reflective clothing and a helmet, and riding with caution.

Heavy trucks and fatal bicyclist crashes

Almost one in five bicyclists killed in a traffic collision was struck by a heavy truck. Heavy trucks have more blind spots and less manoeuvrability than other types of vehicles. At the same time, cyclists are small, hard to see, and sometimes unpredictable in movement. The combination of factors can lead to serious crashes between large trucks and bicyclists.

For the full report, visit the CCMTA website.