By Joel Zanatta
The Cycling Lawyer

For years I have advocated on behalf of cyclists, and fought for cycling rights. To be honest, it’s always been an uphill battle. But lately, that hill has gotten even steeper, as I’ve seen an increase in negative attitudes and aggression against cyclists.

This is a strange phenomenon and one that I just don’t understand. Sure, some cyclists don’t follow the rules. Some ride on sidewalks, some blast past stop signs and through red lights, and some don’t wear helmets. But by far, they’re in the minority. Most cyclists I know and see obey the rules of the road, and do everything they can to stay safe in the face of growing antagonism.

Cycling is a saving grace for many people. It’s green, efficient, fun and healthy. I’m thrilled that more people have embraced cycling during this pandemic.

Yet despite more and more people embracing the sport, I, and my colleagues across the country, are also seeing anger against cyclists increase.

In the past year, a member of The Cycling Lawyer team in Toronto has taken on three cases involving what he describes as “anti-cyclist violence”. In two of these cases, the drivers used their car as a weapon to deliberately target and run down his clients. In the other case, the driver got out of his car and physically assaulted his client.

But it’s not just aggression against cyclists increasing, he’s also seeing more cases of hit and runs. One of his clients suffered serious injuries after a white Mercedes blew through a red light, crashed into him and sped off into the night. In another high-profile case, the hit and run was actually caught on video.

And last year, the entire team at The Cycling Lawyer team was shattered by what happened to Tristan Roby. In July, the 17 year old was riding his bike with a friend in London, Ontario when he was hit by a car. The force of the impact sent Tristan flying ten metres in the air. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, a fractured leg, bruised lungs, a broken jaw and remained in hospital for more than three months. The driver of the car took off. He’s now facing charges.

But the mounting aggression against cyclists isn’t confined to the road. It’s also pervasive in how some cyclists are being treated by the legal system.

One of my clients was riding with a friend in Vancouver when an oncoming motorist made a right turn across the bike lane. His friend went left, barely avoiding the car. My client, who was riding behind, hit his brakes and went over his handlebars. He was “lucky”, as although he broke his wrist, his elbow and three ribs, he avoided a disabling head injury. He also fortunate in that he had three independent witnesses to the accident.

But that doesn’t mean things went well from there. I became his lawyer after BC’s provincial insurance agency denied his claim outright. In its decision, ICBC concluded that despite the witness evidence, the accident was my client’s fault. The reasoning? Because Dan didn’t actually collide with the offending vehicle, and because his friend was (narrowly) able to escape harm, the accident was his fault. As a result, Dan is now facing a long and complicated process to get the justice that he is entitled to.

Another client was riding his bike along a busy Vancouver street and pulled up to a red light. A large, “jacked up” 4×4 pulled up behind him and aggressively sounded its horn. Startled, my client nearly lost his balance. The truck then edged forward and bumped the rear of his bicycle. My client, understandably frustrated and scared, turned around and yelled some choice words. The motorist then exited his vehicle and punched him in the face, breaking my client’s glasses, and cutting his nose and cheek. A good Samaritan called the police. When the police arrived, they deemed the assault an incident of mutual road rage and threatened to charge both the motorist and the cyclist.

About 7500 cyclists are seriously injured every year in Canada. There is no way to determine how many of those are due to motorist negligence or aggression. But I do know many of the victims of these types of accidents are not given the justice or respect to which they’re entitled, because of the current negative attitude towards cyclists. This has to change. Aggressive drivers must be held accountable, and stiff penalties have to be applied by the courts. It’s the only way to deter this kind of behaviour, and ultimately eliminate this kind of hostility.

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