Crashes on Your Bicycle

AuthorChristopher Waters
crashes on your bicycle » 51
chapter 3
Crashes on Your
Every year brings new headlines about fatal collisions involving
bicycles and cars. Like other cycling advocates, I prefer to think of
most cycling crashes as preventable and therefore not accidents at
all. The word “accident” can serve to take our focus away from the
need for safe/complete streets, and sanitize and justify road vio-
lence as unavoidable. Having said that, even where there is good
infrastructure, crashes and, yes, sometimes plain old accidents,
can happen. The risks are compounded when cyclists or motor-
ists disregard the highway safety laws discussed in Chapter 2. Not
all crashes or accidents are, however, equal; careless and malicious
crashes attract the attention of the law in two main ways.
First, carelessness or malice can be viewed by our justice system
as criminal conduct and attract charges that could lead to prison,
nes, or other penalties.
Second, individuals can bring lawsuits before our courts to seek
compensation for injuries or damage caused by careless or mali-
cious conduct.
Either way, we are all legally required to ride our bicycles, or
drive our motor vehicles, with care, and if we fail to do so, we may
face legal consequences. This chapter outlines what legal rules
apply when you have a crash while riding your bicycle. It begins by
rst trying to outline the risks involved in riding a bicycle. It then
52 »  ’    
examines interactions between cyclists and motorists that cross the
line into criminal conduct, before focusing on civil liability for vari-
ous forms of bicycle crashes.
this chapter’s takeaways
Cycling is generally a safe activity, but it does have risks. Cyclists
and other road users need to appreciate those risks and cooperate
in reducing them. Fewer crashes mean less human suering, less
property damage, and fewer complicated and costly interactions with
the justice system.
If you are involved in a collision or crash, there are steps you need
to take at the scene. Understand them and understand the legal obli-
gations on you as a cyclist, as well as those on everyone else involved.
» Various forms of lousy driving are criminal oences, and motorists
can go to jail or face nes.
» Various forms of lousy driving violate provincial and territorial
highway safety laws and municipal bylaws, and motorists can go
to jail or face nes.
» Various forms of lousy cycling violate provincial and territorial
highway safety laws and municipal bylaws, and cyclists can go to
jail or face nes.
» Leaving the scene of an accident is a criminal oence, as well as a
violation of provincial highway safety laws, and motorists can go
to jail. These “hit and run” rules also extend to cyclists who leave
the scene of an accident.
In many provinces and territories, obtaining compensation for
injuries caused by an accident may require a lawsuit. Road users owe
each other duties of care and can be liable to one another if they vio-
late them. How much blame goes to a cyclist or driver in a collision
between a motor vehicle and a cyclist is inuenced by their actual
behaviour, including whether they are following the rules of the road.
In some provinces, it is assumed that the driver is at fault, and they
bear the onus of proving they did not act negligently.
Motor vehicle or home insurance policies may insure a cyclist
injured in a collision with a motor vehicle — check the policies. But
crashes on your bicycle » 53
don’t assume that those policies also cover damage to the bicycle
itself. If your bike has been damaged by a driver you should rst look
to the motorist’s auto insurance company as opposed to your own
home insurance.
Cyclists can be held liable for crashing into pedestrians and
other cyclists.
Governments, including municipalities, can be liable to cyclists for
poor road repair, and to a lesser extent, dangerous recreational trails.
Occupiers of rural land or land with private recreational trails can
be liable to cyclists, but often only for conduct that constitutes reck-
less disregard for safety.
understanding the risks
I start this chapter with a discussion of the risks involved in cycling
for one principal reason. Understanding the risks of the activity, and
reducing them to avoid accidents, is the best way to avoid falling
o your bike. This, in turn, will keep you far away from our justice
system. As I hope you will gather from this chapter, keeping you
and your bike in one piece is a better option than being involved in
a criminal or a civil proceeding before the courts.
Cycling is generally a safe activity, especially where there is good
cycling infrastructure. Indeed, studies show that the presence of cyc-
ling infrastructure or “facilities,” especially separated or protected
bike lanes, markedly improves the safety record for cyclists.1 Unfortu-
nately, at least in the short term, many Canadian cities will continue to
have inadequate infrastructure. Commitment to complete streets var-
ies widely in Canada, and municipalities often need to be pressured
to develop and implement sound active transportation and “vision
zero” plans. But safety is not only about infrastructure. Regardless
of where you cycle, obeying highway trac laws is an important way
to stay safe and is something in your direct control. How important?
Disregard of road safety rules appear to be a factor in roughly one
out of three cycling fatalities.2 The Ontario coroner’s report found
that in fatal collisions with motorists, in 62 percent of cases some
kind of contributing driver action could be identied (the top three

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