Transportation

Tragic Death of Police Constable an Occasion to Focus on Seatbelt Safety

By Ted Mitchell
Published December 12, 2013

This past Monday was the funeral of Constable John Zivcic, the Toronto police officer who crashed his cruiser into a tree on November 30.

There has been a lot of press coverage of this event, but it has generally missed expanding on one key point: the officer died because he was ejected from the car. An ejection generally means the driver was not using a seatbelt, so we may assume, until proven otherwise, that this officer died an entirely preventable death because he didn't use his seat belt.

There must have been extenuating circumstances - maybe a rush to apprehend someone breaking the law. Bad luck or the error of other drivers might have contributed. We don't yet know the details, but in a way they don't matter.

Seat Belts and Safety

Overall seat belt use in Canada is 93 percent. But in fatalities, that figure falls to around 65 percent. Put differently, the 7 percent of drivers who don't wear seat belts make up 40 percent of traffic fatalities.

There are two reasons for this: A bad driving choice such as not wearing a seat belt predicts other bad driving choices like aggression or impairment, which causes the crash in the first place; and getting into a crash without a seat belt on makes you more likely to die.

Seat belts save about 1,000 Canadian lives every year, while air bags save about 50 out of 2,200 total deaths each year in 2010.

Opportunity to Highlight Seatbelt Safety

In all of the press coverage of Zivcic's death, hardly anyone asked about seat belt use. The closest I've found is Matt Galloway of CBC Metro Morning, who alluded to the question but did not push it, and it was met with a non-answer from the officer being interviewed.

Similarly, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair also dropped the ball when asked about it. "He would not comment on whether Zivcic was wearing his seatbelt at the time of the crash."

It seems like both the fallen officer and his family are wonderful people. They donated his organs to save other lives.

Another way to save lives is to seize this teachable moment. We need to move beyond the MADD focus on drunk driving. The reality is that alcohol causes less than 40 percent of traffic fatalities (and about 60 percent of those are over twice the legal limit and incapable of any kind of smart decision making).

That leaves over 60 percent of deaths due to other human errors such as speed, aggression, drowsiness, distraction, age, and medically-related impairment. And not using seat belts.

It is time to report on underlying causes of crashes instead of just 'drive-by' journalism that shows a gory crash picture. Seat belt use, alcohol, aggression, cell phones, and safety equipment such as snow tires in winter need to be in the press report.

Maybe then people would start to get it, and we could bump motor vehicle fatalities out of the top spot for everyone from childhood to middle age. If you buy into the concept of preventable death, this is low-hanging fruit.

Ted Mitchell is a Hamilton resident, emergency physician and sometimes agitator who recently completed a BEng at McMaster University. He is fascinated by aspects of our culture that are harmful, but avoid serious public discussion.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 10:42:04

It always troubled me that nothing I read in the media attributed the crash to any particular cause (i.e. struck by a truck), or his death to any particular cause. I'm surprised you heard the fact he was ejected somewhere given the media has been unusually secretive.

Thank you for the informative blog post!

As an aside: The media's limited coverage of this incident is why we need more independent reports like Joey Coleman, who will get us the real facts. We should all support him.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2013 at 11:03:02

Funny how, if this were a cyclists we would hear about every possible reason they were doing anything unsafe - helmet, lights, and the ever-absurd ipod argument that ignores the car stereo present in every motor vehicle.

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By Idiocy (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2013 at 23:57:53 in reply to Comment 95855

LOL at your argument. Think about what you're saying there. In one instance music is playing from speakers, in the other you have your ear completely covered or obstructed. You usually make pretty good arguments, but not in this case.

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By LOL@LOL (anonymous) | Posted December 18, 2013 at 09:30:27 in reply to Comment 96068

LOL at your argument. Think about what you're saying there. In one instance you can't hear because of loud music, in the other you can't hear because of loud music. You usually make pretty crappy arguments, and also in this case.

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By idiocy (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2014 at 00:18:38 in reply to Comment 96082

What? How often do car stereos blast music? Mine is always set at a level where I can hear road noise overtop of it. A few blasting their music doesn't mean all do it. Anyone with something in their ear has their sound obstructed, there's no such thing as something in your ear that doesn't impede your hearing, other than a hearing aid.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 11:03:12

And, yet, when a cyclist is run over by a garbage truck or hit by a car, the first thing the press comment on is whether or not they were wearing a helmet ... with the implication being that if the cyclist was not wearing a helmet the death was preventable (which is more less likely to be the case than if a driver is not wearing a seatbelt). The safety advantage of seatbelts is clear, the benefit of helmets for cyclists in preventing death and serious injury is much less clear. Nevertheless, I personally always wear a helmet.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2013-12-12 11:07:54

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2013 at 13:23:48 in reply to Comment 95856

My first thought when I read this article was "why do people compare bike helmets with seat belts?" - so thanks for bringing it up :-)

Overall seat belt use in Canada is 93 percent. But in fatalities, that figure falls to around 65 percent. Put differently, the 7 percent of drivers who don't wear seat belts make up 40 percent of traffic fatalities.

and

Seat belts save about 1,000 Canadian lives every year, while air bags save about 50 out of 2,200 total deaths each year in 2010.

Bicycle helmet statistics do not come anywhere near these numbers. The helmet reality is that they can be helpful in some situations but they are woefully inadequate to protect cyclists in altercations with vehicles. And yet helmet use is harped on in every report of bike/car collisions.

What we really need is to emphasize the huge risks that driving places on people in the cars as well as those around them, and design our transportation networks to reduce the risk of collision in the case that a human makes an error - and greatly improve road user education in order to make the chance of mistakes less likely.

Comment edited by seancb on 2013-12-12 13:24:18

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted December 14, 2013 at 20:16:25

Ted wrote:

"The reality is that alcohol causes less than 40 percent of traffic fatalities... That leaves over 60 percent of deaths due to other human errors such as speed, aggression, drowsiness, distraction, age, and medically-related impairment."

Kevin's comment: This leaves out the #1 cause of traffic fatalities. An absolute majority of traffic deaths are due to car drivers poisoning people with their lethal air pollution. Excellent work examining this was done in Toronto by Toronto's Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David McKeown, and Toronto Public Health.

Is anyone aware of similar use of the Health Canada AQBAT findings to get similar data for Hamilton?

Here are the horrific details for Toronto:

*Car drivers poison and kill 440 people every year in Toronto.

*Car drivers poison and injure 1,700 people every year in Toronto so seriously that they have to be hospitalised.

*Health care costs to treat people in Toronto poisoned by car drivers every year are about $2.2 billion.

Children are most vulnerable to being poisoned by car drivers so that:

*Children in Toronto experience more than 1,200 acute bronchitis episodes per year due to being poisoned by car drivers.

*Children in Toronto experience about 68,000 asthma symptom days every year due to being poisoned by car drivers.

For details, see the official City of Toronto website for:

The full Report: http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2007/...

City Staff Report Summary: http://www.toronto.ca/health/hphe/pdf/ai...

Backgrounder Report: http://www.toronto.ca/health/hphe/pdf/ai...

A quotation from the full Report:

"The current study determined that traffic gives rise to about 440 premature deaths and 1,700 hospitalizations per year in Toronto. While the majority of hospitalizations involve the elderly, traffic-related pollution also has significant adverse effects on children. Children experience more than 1,200 acute bronchitis episodes per year as a result of air pollution from traffic. Children are also likely to experience the majority of asthma symptom days (about 68,000), given that asthma prevalence and asthma hospitalization rates are about twice as high in children as adults.

This study shows that traffic-related pollution affects a very large number of people. Impacts such as the 200,000 restricted activity days per year due to days spent in bed or days when people cut back on usual activities are disruptive, affect quality of life and pose preventable health risk.

This study estimates that mortality-related costs associated with traffic pollution in Toronto are about $2.2 billion."

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2013-12-14 20:23:40

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