Drivers who kill cyclists need to face charges

Wayne Little's monthly column about starting and maintaining a fit lifestyle.

This summer I went on a memorial ride for a fellow cyclist from Kamloops who was killed while riding home from work. This man was doing his part to stay “green” and fit by riding his bicycle to work and back.

With over 100 cyclists joining in, I knew this made an impact. The driver who hit him apparently thought he was far enough over to the left to get by him and ran over him instead. As far as I know, the driver was not charged with anything. I’m sure his insurance will go up though, ICBC has a business to run.

I’ve been on the same stretch of road that man was killed probably 50 times. In spots, the shoulder is very narrow. There is plenty of room to put four lanes of traffic for vehicles, but only about one foot for cyclists on the right side of the white line. You can wear hi-vis clothing, have flashing lights, ride in a small pack, but none of this will help you if someone driving is simply not paying attention.

I spent some time looking up the laws regarding where a cyclist is supposed to ride in BC. Basically it says that a cyclist should ride as far to the right as safely possible, without riding in the dirt of the shoulder. Motorists have to move as far to the left to get by the cyclist to safely get around them. Which sort of means far enough to the left so they don’t run over the cyclist.

I see articles on the cycling forums all the time – “triathletes killed by motorist”, “cyclist killed”. I’ts so common that it’s scary. The problem with it is that the outcome for the drivers is nothing. Basically, as long as you are not drunk, you don’t leave the scene, and as long as you say you weren’t texting, it’s simply okay. Not a big deal.

If you do a google search you can see the same articles. A 24 year old woman in San Francisco was killed when a truck turned right in front of her while she was riding in the bike lane and killed her, “the truck driver stayed at the scene and was not cited”. In Penticton, a Volkswagen beetle and cyclist collide at an intersection, a woman is killed and her children lost their mother. No charges were laid as there was some confusion on who had the right of way.

Thirty-eight per cent of accidents involving cyclists are the motorists fault. Excuses being “I didn’t see him”, “I didn’t realize how fast he was going”, or “I thought I was far enough over”.

You are 18 times more likely to be killed as a cyclist on the highway in the USA than in Europe. In Holland you can travel the whole country by bicycle on separate routes called “landelijke fietroutes”.    People from Holland use their bicycles to go shopping, commute to work, take their kids to the doctor, visit family, and why wouldn’t you with more than 19,000 kms of bicycle paths and lanes? Considering the government won’t even repave the six foot shoulder of  the highway that we do have now to ride on, I really can’t see that happening anytime soon in Canada though.

The cyclists have noticed, but have you motorists noticed that all around us they have been putting nice smooth pavement right up to the white line? The reason I heard was “it’s cheaper”.

I’m definitely not saying that cyclists are never at fault. I’ve seen them riding with no helmet, riding the wrong way down the highway, riding at night with nothing for visibility, running stop signs or stop lights. And sometimes, accidents simply happen, and the cyclist was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This is what I think should happen when a motorist kills someone riding their bike…  The first thing for punishment is go to that person’s house with the police and knock on the door. Then tell the family that their dad or mom won’t be coming home because “I (insert lame excuse here)”. That might help change things. Second is that person should be charged with vehicular manslaughter.

Until then, if you are a cyclist or plan on taking up cycling, stay as visible as possible, follow the rules of the road, and kiss your family goodbye every time you go for a ride.

Wayne Little

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