Falling Off Your Bicycle

AuthorCraig Forcese; Nicole LaViolette
Chapter 3
Falling Of‌f Your Bicycle
Every year brings a new rash of headlines about fatal collisions involving bi-
cycles and cars. Cycling, as a sport or a mode of transportation, can be risky.
Those risks are compounded when cyclists, pedestrians, or motorists dis-
regard the highway safety laws discussed in Chapter 2. But even in the best
circumstances, accidents can happen. Not all accidents are, however, equal.
Some may be unavoidable. Others ref‌lect carelessness or even malice. Careless
and malicious “accidents” 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, f‌ines, or
other penalties.
Second, individuals can bring lawsuits before our courts to seek com-
pensation for injuries or damage caused by careless or malicious conduct.
Either way, we are all legally required to ride our bicycles, or drive our
motor vehicles, with utmost care, and if we fail to do so, we may face legal
consequences. This chapter outlines what legal rules apply when you have
an accident while riding your bicycle. It begins by f‌irst trying to outline the
risks involved in riding a bicycle. It then examines interactions between cyc-
lists and motorists that cross the line into criminal conduct, before focusing
on civil liability for various forms of bicycle accidents.
 » every cyclist’s guide to canadian law
this chapter’s takeaways
» Cycling is generally a safe activity, but it does have risks. Riding a bicycle
is certainly not a death wish, but there are very real hazards and dangers
that come with cycling. Cyclists and other road users need to appreciate
those risks, and cooperate in reducing them. Fewer accidents mean 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 of the accident. Understand them, and understand the legal
obligations on you as a cyclist, as well as those on everyone else involved.
» Various forms of lousy driving are criminal offences, and motorists can go
to jail or face f‌ines.
» Various forms of lousy driving violate provincial and territorial highway
safety laws and municipal bylaws, and motorists can go to jail or face f‌ines.
» Various forms of lousy cycling violate provincial and territorial highway
safety laws and municipal bylaws, and cyclists can go to jail or face f‌ines.
» Leaving the scene of an accident is a criminal offence, as well as a viola-
tion 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 violate them. How
much blame goes to a cyclist or driver in a collision between a motor
vehicle and a cyclist is inf‌luenced 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 he or she bears the onus of proving
he or she did not act negligently.
» Motor vehicle or home insurance policies may insure a cyclist injured in a
collision with a motor vehicle — check your policy. But don’t assume that
those policies also cover damage to the bicycle itself — check again.
» 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 reckless disregard
for safety.
falling off your bicycle » 
understanding the risks
We 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 in our view, the best way to avoid falling off your
bike. This, in turn, will keep you far away from our justice system. As we
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 proceed-
ing before the courts.
Cycling is generally a safe activity, especially for those who obey high-
way traff‌ic laws. But riding a bicycle does come with risks, although there
is much disagreement about the extent to which it is a dangerous mode of
getting around. Indeed, it can be hazardous to even discuss the dangers of
cycling. Many of us have had heated exchanges on the topic during bike
club rides, especially if we dared lay some blame on cyclists themselves.
Meanwhile, pointing out to drivers the dangers of some of their prac-
tices can also ignite an altercation. We have both experienced individual
or group rides that were almost brought to an end when aggressive driv-
ers responded to commentary (politely, if loudly shared) on their untoward
driving practices. In one case, a driver passed the group with which Craig
was cycling and then repeatedly slammed on his brakes in front of the rid-
ers. Nicole was almost sideswiped by a truck on a quiet rural road, and after
raising her arm in a questioning gesture, the driver stopped further ahead
and told her that cyclists had no right to be on the road because “they don’t
pay taxes.” Similar confrontations have happened to many other riders —
including Canadian Olympians.1
While the issue attracts debates, we think it is important to highlight
the hazards facing those of us who like to ride our bicycles. Collisions with
motorists, pedestrians and other cyclists, or crashes caused by the dread-
ed off-leash dog or startled horse, are among the most serious risks con-
fronting cyclists. Moreover, every cycling club has members who have been
struck by objects directed from a passing vehicle. Some people have even
shot at cyclists2 (and indeed others have used their bikes in ride-by-shooting
incidents).3 For most cyclists the dangers are less dramatic but nonethe-
less just as hazardous: potholes4, bridge crossings5, expansion joints6, sewer
grates7, streetcar tracks8, and rail crossings9, to name but a few.
Some of our examples above are extreme, and they are not intended
to suggest that the risks of cycling outweigh the well-known social, health
and environmental benef‌its of riding a bicycle. But the bottom line is this:

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