Provincial Court Judge Peter Doherty handed down a fair decision in the case of Timothy Prad of Bowser, the motorist who struck and killed a bicyclist, Paul Bally of Fanny Bay, on the Old Island Highway about a year ago.
The judge found the motorist honestly thought he had hit a deer and had not left the scene to avoid arrest.
But in the court of public opinion, deciding whether cyclists or motorists generally bear more responsibility when the two collide would more likely result in a hung jury.
People who regularly ride bicycles believe motorists have the greater responsibility because they’re driving multi-ton vehicles at higher rates of speed. And there will be an equal number of motorists who blame cyclists who often act as if the rules of the road don’t apply to them.
Either side could count multiple research studies to support their point of view, which is why I like the 2012 report on cycling deaths in Ontario by the province’s chief coroner. The study reviewed the circumstances of 129 deaths resulting from collisions between cyclists and motor vehicles.
The report states, “In 71 percent of deaths (91 of 129), some modifiable action on the part of the cyclist was identified which contributed to the fatal collision. The three most common contributory cyclist actions identified were inattention (30 cases; 23 percent), failure to yield right of way (24 cases; 19 percent) and disregarding traffic signals (10 cases; 8 percent).”
The report also states, “In 62 percent of cases (64 of 104) in which the cyclist collided with a vehicle (defined as a motor vehicle, streetcar or train), one or more modifiable actions on the part of the driver were identified which were felt to have contributed to the death … The three most common contributory driver actions were speeding (31; 30 percent), driver inattention (29; 28 percent) and failure to yield (20; 19 percent).”
Those percentages don’t appear to add up because the chief coroner found that in almost half of the cases both the cyclist and the driver contributed to the accident.
In other words, the chief coroner found that 100 percent of the fatalities were preventable if both drivers and cyclists had exhibited more due care and attention.
Every day that I travel around the Comox Valley, I see cyclists blow through stop signs, often without even slowing down. I see cyclists with ear buds. I encounter cyclists riding abreast of each other on rural roads (a violation of the rules for cyclists under Section 183.2(d) of the Motor Vehicle Act).
I have even seen a cyclist press the stop light button on Comox Avenue at the St. Joe’s General Hospital crosswalk and then ride across while cars piled up in both directions (183.2(b)).
But I’m also a cyclist, who, at the peak of my competitive period, often logged in excess of 150 miles a week on Comox Valley and Campbell River roadways.
A driver on Dove Creek Road once passed within inches of me, causing me to lose my balance and crash. And when I regrettably offered up a one-digit salute, he stopped and, in a fit of road rage, came back to assault me.
On another ride to Victoria, a large RV with super-wide side-view mirrors passed me through a construction zone in Nanaimo where the roadway narrowed. It was surreal. I felt a slap on my back and then I was airborne, out of my pedals, catapulted into a well-located patch of thick foliage.
In both cases there was no behavior I could have modified to avoid those accidents. They were 100 percent driver error, in my opinion.
Cycling is an important component of the Comox Valley lifestyle and a growing tourism attraction. It’s also important to encourage cycling as a physical activity that contributes to healthy lifestyles.
A regional task force comprising representatives from the cycling community, motorists, law enforcement, municipalities and the Ministry of Highways could make recommendations to mitigate the safety concerns of cycling and encourage more people to participate in a healthy and environmentally friendly activity.
Maybe it could also prevent another unnecessary and tragic loss of life.