08 December 2016

What Is A Cyclist's Life Worth? $700 (CDN)? Six Months' Probation?

Yesterday, there appeared in The Globe And Mail an excellent editorial by Toronto-based writer Naomi Buck.  She started with what sounded (to most of her neighbors to the south, anyway) like good news:  a woman who drove a van that struck a pedestrian who was standing on a Toronto sidewalk was convicted of "careless driving".  For that, she got a fine of $1000 and six months' probation.

Had the driver done such a thing here in the States, it's unlikely that she would have been burdened with such a hefty fine or lengthy sentence.  To her credit, she took it upon herself to appear in court:  something that, under Ontario law, is not required of someone so charged.  In most such cases, according to Ms. Buck, the defendant chooses not to appear, leaving the victims' loved ones to read their heartbreaking words to a legal agent rather than the one who took their friend's, sibling's, spouse's, parent's or child's life.   

Had the driver--one Elizabeth Taylor--had her charge upgraded to "dangerous driving", she could have received a ten-year prison sentence if the incident causes bodily harm, and 14 years if it results in death.  However, Patrick Brown, a lawyer who has handled hundreds of cases in which pedestrians or cyclists were killed or critically injured, it's very difficult, at least in an Ontario court, to make a case for "dangerous" driving unless it was a hit-and-run incident or alcohol was involved.

From the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency archives.

Still, Ms. Taylor incurred more severe penalties than most drivers who run down cyclists or pedestrians, according to Mr. Brown.  "I actually think most pedestrian cases get dropped entirely," he said.  Three recent cases he litigated involving cyclist fatalities resulted in the drivers being charged with "careless driving" or lesser offenses, and in being fined $700, $600 and $85(!) respectively.

Even those penalties, however, are more than most drivers in the US can expect if they run down cyclists or pedestrians.  Still, the families and friends of cyclists and pedestrians killed by motorists in Toronto have to bear the same burdens as their peers in Montreal, Vancouver, Boston, New York, San Francisco, London, Paris and any number of other cities in this world one can name. 

Their feelings were aptly expressed by the 8-year-old son of Erica Stark, the pedestrian killed by the van Elizabeth Taylor drove.  "I'm mad at the driver," he wrote in a victim impact statement, which his father read in court.

"In a few years, he'll probably be mad at the justice system," Naomi Buck speculates.  "Who could blame him?"


  1. Grim, indeed. And then there's always someone to put the onus on the victims, usually when they're no longer around to speak on their own behalf. Here's a article about a case near me:


    1. Mike--Of course there is always someone to put the onus on the victims when they can't speak for themselves. Why do some people seem to make a particular point of doing that to cyclists killed in encounters with cars?

    2. Nearly as sad as that article are the plethora of comments following it. The comments seem to fill a continuing need to blame cyclists. While I don't often read comments on articles involving cars hitting pedestrians or cyclists, I thought this one might elicit a higher level of discussion. Locally, I was offended by comments on an article in which a Fort Worth Council member proposed dropping speed limits on residential streets to 25mph. Some seemed to think that all kids do on residential streets is play on them.

    3. Steve--You can practically predict the kind of comments you'll see after an article about a motorist running down a cyclist or pedestrian. How is it that cyclists are blamed, even when the motorist was impaired by substances or was texting or distracted in some other way?