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      WHO'S RESPONSIBLE
      FOR CYCLING FATALITIES?


      Much is being made of the impaired driving charge against the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer in the death of a young Kanata, Ontario cyclist, and rightly so. However this issue overshadows less obvious but more important issues which have bothered cyclists ever since motorist seized the roads from cyclists, and horse and buggies.

      It is doubtful whether the government of Ontario will ever understand the interaction of cyclists and motorists on our roads and take long overdue measures to improve coexistence among all road users. The latest tragic example begs the question - when a cyclist is positioned properly on the road and is hit from behind, why is the motorist not automatically charged with dangerous or reckless driving regardless of the role played by alcohol? Would the OPP officer involved have been charged if he had not been impaired? Likely not, but why not? It is not good enough to say Shane's cycle lighting did not meet the requirements of the Highway Traffic Act. Motorists are supposed to drive safely and, at all times, be able to stop within the limits of their sight in accordance with prevailing conditions. The latter would include darkness, snow, ice, fog, and glare. We should not fool ourselves by calling the result of unsafe driving practices "accidents".

      In 1992, we lost the great Canadian artist and cyclist, Greg Curnoe after he and other cyclists were rear ended by a truck driver. The truck driver claimed he was blinded by the reflection of the sun off a lake. He was charged only after a public outcry from cyclists. Subsequently, the truck driver was found not guilty. In a similar crash late last year, an elderly Arnprior cyclist died after a motorist ran him down from behind just outside of Ottawa. The motorist also claimed he was blinded by the sun. The OPP did not lay charges. In a callous act, the Attorney General of Ontario, Marion Boyd personally endorsed this decision. Just before Christmas 1994, Michael Barry, a member of Canada's Cycling team, and a colleague were hospitalized after being rear-ended by a car on a Toronto street. The Toronto Metro Police has refused to lay charges, citing that the cyclists were riding two abreast, even though this is a legal practice in Ontario.

      Motorists kill more people in Canada than criminals do with guns. A motor car is a loaded gun. There are over 5 million of them in Ontario. The attitude of the police and their Queens Park political bosses seems to be that cyclists are to blame for getting in the line of fire of these four wheeled loaded guns. Ontario Premier Bob Rae even decreed his own bullet-proof protection for cyclists - mandatory helmet legislation - just to make it clear who is responsible for cyclist injuries when hit from behind by a car. Apart from the absurdity of his logic which transfers responsibility to the victim, it seems to have escaped Ontario Premier Bob that a helmet is absolutely useless if you are hit by a car at 80 km/h.

      It's very convenient for us to blame drunk drivers for the deaths of cyclists or to call the deaths "accidents" to free everyone of guilt, but perhaps the ones who should really be held accountable are those sitting in the ivory towers of Queens Park and whose opinions on road safety are gained through the tinted-windows of a chauffeur-driven limousine.

      Avery Burdett

August 1994
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