If you have lived in the City of Toronto for any period of time, you have no doubt noticed designated lanes for cyclists springing up on roads all over our city. For the non-cycling motorists, these are those funny narrow lanes directly to your right between the curb lane for motor vehicle traffic and the sidewalk.
Although I have not reviewed any statistics for the prevalence of motor vehicle accidents involving cyclists on roadways with designated lanes for cyclists vs. roadways with no such lanes, my concern is that such lanes have managed to place cyclists directly in right turning motorists’ blind spot more than they would have been without such lanes. I for one was much more comfortable as a driver having adult cyclists directly in front of my vehicle or directly behind my vehicle. I must confess that the enthusiastic use of designated lanes for cyclists in and around the University of Toronto by the university students has forced me to become reacquainted with my right sideview mirror, as I make my way home from work at Bay and Queen to the Bathurst and St. Clair area. It is hard to argue that reminding me that I have a right sideview mirror is a bad thing. However, I have noticed during right turns on red lights that my focus tends to be divided between that right sideview mirror, the roadway ahead and, often, on any pedestrian walkway across the roadway I am turning onto.
There is a provision in the Highway Traffic Act which states that a motorist who strikes a pedestrian or cyclist bears “the onus of proof that the loss or damage did not arise through the negligence or improper conduct” of the motorist. Lawyers refer to this as the “reverse onus”. Thus, if a car driver was to strike a University of Toronto student cycling to or from the campus on a public highway, the driver would face the challenge of trying to demonstrate to the court that he or she had done nothing wrong.
I suppose the motorist’s lawyer might argue that, even though the motorist and the bike rider came into contact, the cyclist was not traveling in the available designated bike lane. Perhaps the motorist’s lawyer might ask the court to decide what the difference is between a pedestrian jaywalking and a cyclist cycling anywhere other than in the designated bike lane. The lawyer could then refer the court to the case law which indicates that jaywalking pedestrians have at times been found to be upwards of 50% at fault after being struck by an inattentive motorist. The lawyer for the motorist might next wrap the argument up in a neat tidy bow for the judge or jury hearing the case and state unequivocally that but for the University of Toronto student’s failure to use the designated bike lane, the accident would not have occurred. Woe is the urban cyclist plight indeed. They are not to be on the sidewalks, in the lanes for motor vehicles and will be forever making right turns and never a left turn for fear of being struck while not in a designated lane for cyclists.
In addition to the above, perhaps the poor University of Toronto student was not wearing a helmet. The motorist’s lawyer could also argue that not only was his client not to blame for the accident but the severity of the University of Toronto student’s injuries would have been far less had he or she been wearing a helmet. If he or she had been wearing a helmet, then in a last ditch attempt to blame the poor University of Toronto student, the motorist’s lawyer could say that the helmet was too small, too big, too old or he or she did not have his or her chin strap done up.
In Evans v. Toronto (City), Ms. Evans had been to a Raptor game at the Air Canada Centre and was cycling home on a city street when an operator of a parked vehicle opened his door into traffic striking Ms. Evans. The street in question had signs on posts indicating a bike route with an arrow. It was dark at the time and Ms. Evans had the light at the front of her bike on. Ultimately, the Court held that Ms. Evans was 25% at fault for the accident stating as follows:
“I find that the Plaintiff was negligent by not wearing a helmet. She may have avoided a concussion. She also failed to check the interior of cars to see if someone was about to exit. She also could have moved to the left.”
In addition to these bike lanes popping up all over the city, I have also noticed bike rental companies popping up around the city. All you need to do to rent a bike from one of these rental companies is to simply swipe your credit card through their machine and voila you are off and riding. I have not, however, seen any helmet rental companies pop up along side the bike rental companies. One would assume that a good number of bike renters would not mind renting a helmet to go along with the bike. Perhaps the powers that be are correct that bike lanes are a reliable safety measure but we cannot simply throw away our helmets and never leave the boundaries of the bike lanes.