The le­gal strug­gles to pro­tect cy­clists bet­ter

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - VULNERABLE ROAD USERS LAW - by Ch­eryl Madliger

Pa­trick Brown, a crit­i­cal in­jury lawyer in Toronto, is one of the strong­est forces be­hind Bill 158. It’s a pri­vate mem­ber’s bill that would amend On­tario’s High­way Traf­fic Act to es­tab­lish Canada’s first vul­ner­a­ble road users (vru) law. Tougher mea­sures and stricter penal­ties would be brought against mo­torists who hurt or kill pedes­tri­ans or cy­clists through dan­ger­ous driv­ing. Brown – the founder of Bike Law Canada – dis­cusses what you need to know about vru laws.

What’s wrong with cur­rent traf­fic laws as they re­late to cy­clists and pedes­tri­ans? In case af­ter case I’ve re­viewed, there is a re­peated pat­tern. Ei­ther the driver who hurt or killed a cy­clist or pedes­trian is never charged or, if there is a charge, sel­dom is it a crim­i­nal charge. When I looked at the penal­ties, they were ridicu­lously small fines. The driver would of­ten use a court agent, so he or she didn’t even show up to court. You could drive your car, make an il­le­gal ma­noeu­vre, be given a ticket, and you would likely never have a sus­pen­sion and no­body would check if you’re a good driver. You may have killed some­one and you could walk away with a very small fine. We’re talk­ing be­tween $85 and $1,000.

“There’s a mes­sage to the driv­ing pub­lic that we con­sider harm­ing a cy­clist more sig­nif­i­cant than a small fine.”

What’s a vul­ner­a­ble road user law? How does it ad­dress the prob­lems you men­tioned? Be­cause there are cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als on road­ways who aren’t pro­tected inside a car, they’re vul­ner­a­ble. This in­cludes any per­son out­side of a car – cy­clists, pedes­tri­ans and early re­spon­ders on a scene– and lit­tle bumps can be deadly for them. The idea of a vru law is that we need an added de­ter­rence to have peo­ple slow down and take care when they’re near one of these road users. Bill 158, which in my opin­ion is the most com­pre­hen­sive vru law in North Amer­ica, calls for added penal­ties to be im­posed.

Why is it im­por­tant to cy­clists? Small hits can kill us. If you’re not going to drive with care and at­ten­tion near a cy­clist, when and if you do some­thing il­le­gal and you hurt a cy­clist, you’re going to be pe­nal­ized se­verely. With that mes­sage going out, we aren’t going to get things like the brush passes, the right hooks, the left hooks. We’ll get more one-me­tre passes and cars slow­ing down to pass safely. All of a sud­den, there’s a mes­sage to the driv­ing pub­lic that we con­sider harm­ing a cy­clist more sig­nif­i­cant than a small fine. How would a VRU law af­fect a driver who kills a cy­clist? If you hit a vru and you’ve done some­thing il­le­gal – a bad turn, not giv­ing one me­tre, run­ning a stop sign – and you’re con­victed, there is an added penalty. You’ll have to do com­mu­nity-ser­vice hours and take a driv­ing course. If you don’t, your li­cence will stay sus­pended un­til you do. On top of that, you have to show up in court to hear the vic­tim im­pact state­ment. This is about send­ing a mes­sage to every­one to take more care: you’re not get­ting away with a small ticket.

Tell me the ef­fect of a Bill 178 amend­ment get­ting voted down in the Jus­tice Pol­icy Com­mit­tee in De­cem­ber? What does that mean for Bill 158? Bill 158 is a pri­vate mem­ber’s bill brought up by [ndp mpp] Cheri Di­novo. It’s first read­ing was in Septem­ber. Then the Lib­eral govern­ment brought out Bill 174, an om­nibus bill in­clud­ing road safety. A govern­ment bill with road safety in it meant we could pro­pose an amend­ment to it. We in­tro­duced sec­tions of 158 into 174. It was a way of ac­cel­er­at­ing the abil­ity to get this law into place. In De­cem­ber, the com­mit­tee, which was con­trolled by Lib­er­als, voted the amend­ment down for what­ever rea­sons. It was dis­ap­point­ing. Now, un­less the govern­ment sup­ports Bill 158 or brings Bill 158 into one of its own bills, it will die in the spring. Is that it for vru law in On­tario? Even if all this dies, there can still be pub­lic pres­sure for some­one to step up and bring this to On­tario, whether it’s Bill 158 or a new bill. Some­one has to do this. We’re mak­ing the pub­lic aware. Sup­port is grow­ing. Maybe the word will get out. Some­one might ask, “Why don’t we have that in Nova Sco­tia?” or, “Why don’t we have that in Al­berta?” Hope­fully, a vru law passes and you get mo­men­tum in other prov­inces. If On­tario doesn’t think this is a good idea, I’m sure other prov­inces will.

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