Who’s at fault: drivers or cyclists for crashes?

Who’s at fault: drivers or cyclists for crashes?

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.

Pot report stumbles on medical access

Pot report stumbles on medical access

The federal task force on marijuana released a thorough report this week that proposes to end Canada’s 93-year prohibition on legal pot production and consumption. Its 80 recommendations touched on the important considerations and concerns for a well-regulated system, and appeared to borrow from the experience of some U.S. states that are several years ahead of us.

But the federal task force failed on one important point: the merger of the medical and recreational marijuana markets.

Former Liberal minister Anne McLellan’s task force devoted an entire chapter to the issue of medical access. It noted that the Canadian Medical Association and the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada do not believe that doctors should write prescriptions for access to marijuana. Their arguments are sound.

  • There’s no conclusive research or evidence about how or if marijuana provides therapeutic benefits. Nor is there any conclusive data about the risks of using marijuana for medicinal purposes.
  • Physicians don’t want to be responsible for prescribing marijuana in the absence of reliable evidence. We want doctors to know what they are prescribing and why.
  • There are already other approved cannabinoid-based medicines on the market.
  • Allowing the medical marijuana market to continue as a separate system might delay or undermine funding for the necessary standard clinical drug development research.

Yet the task force recommended that legalization legislation “maintain a separate medical access framework,” at least at the outset and to re-evaluate it’s necessity in five years.

Similarly, the Canadian federal task force heard strongly from municipalities and law enforcement that medical marijuana licenses have been routinely abused.

The task force should have reviewed the multi-year experiences of states south of the border and come to a different recommendation.

Colorado, the first U.S. state to legalize use of marijuana, merged its medical and recreation markets from the beginning. It simply converted medical marijuana retail outlets into recreational stores.

In the state of Washington, lawmakers fell under the spell of lobbyists for the medical marijuana industry and kept the two markets separate when it initially legalized pot sales for recreational use in 2013. But the state closed all medical marijuana stores in July of this year, merging the two markets.

People in both states using marijuana to manage pain and other medical purposes have better access to legitimate and regulated products as a result of merging the two markets.

It’s well known that unregulated medical marijuana sales across North America were really a cover for recreational consumption. It was a way around prohibition that everyone, from law enforcement to politicians, was willing to accept on a nudge-nudge, wink-wink basis.

In the state of Washington, experts estimated that more than 90 percent of cannabis sold for ostensibly medical purposes was in fact consumed recreationally.

Similarly, the Canadian federal task force heard strongly from municipalities and law enforcement that medical marijuana licenses have been routinely abused.

The report says that “These stakeholders relayed numerous examples of instances where licenses issued under (medical marijuana), notably those to designated producers, were effectively used as a cover for illegal production and diversion to the illicit market.

“We heard about the size and scale of some of these designated producer operations and instances where law enforcement encountered thousands of plants in residential properties. Representatives from municipalities told us about the challenges these grow operations pose to neighbours, landlords and communities because of fires, break-ins and rental properties rendered uninhabitable due to mould or other contaminants.”

If there is sufficient legitimate demand for the low-hallucinogenic, high-analgesic cannabis preferred by medical users, retail stores will provide it. And medical users will have the option of growing their own.

The Wild West medical marijuana market has served its purpose as a bridge to legalization. Now it’s not only unnecessary, but poses professional risks for doctors and public safety risks for law enforcement. It’s time for a new sheriff in town.