Anthony Smith is a Transportation Planner and a member of The Lantern Rouge cycling team.
On a sunny Saturday last October, I set out for a 120-kilometre bicycle ride from just north of Toronto to meet my fiancée and the rest of my cycling team near Midland, Ont. I have been a competitive cyclist since the age of 14, so this was a typical recreational ride for me. To avoid the danger of faster-moving traffic on highways and arterial roads, I had carefully planned a route that was mostly on quiet country roads. But despite my best efforts, I could not have predicted or prevented the tragic crash that was about to occur.
All I remember is that while I was travelling north through Barrie around noon I experienced a flash of terror and then lost consciousness. I woke up lying on the asphalt underneath a vehicle. I distinctly remember the smell of gasoline as a paramedic asked if I could feel my legs.
From the police reports and local media coverage, I have pieced together what happened: A black pickup truck travelling in the opposite direction made an illegal left-hand turn into a plaza just ahead of me. With nowhere to go, I crashed straight into the truck’s passenger-side door and bounced down, underneath the vehicle.
As a result of the crash, my neck was dislocated and I had two fractured vertebrae. My shoulders and hips were severely bruised. My helmet was destroyed in the impact but did a good job protecting my brain. I was rushed to the hospital and had emergency spinal surgery to fuse together my C5, C6 and C7 vertebrae using titanium rods and screws. I spent three weeks in the hospital, and have had more than 100 medical appointments since then. Beyond the physical and emotional toll that this experience has had on me, it has also significantly affected my family and my fiancée, who feared I might never walk again.
Though I have made great progress, life will never be the same. I continue to have constant pain in my neck, shoulders and back, as well as nerve pain in both arms and hands. I am easily startled by loud noises, which trigger a panic response and flashbacks to the crash. Last year I competed in nearly a dozen running, triathlon and cycling races, but I know I will never again compete with the same strength or intensity.
The driver of the pickup truck that hit me was charged at the scene with making an illegal left turn, having bad brakes and hiding his truck’s licence plate. Five months later, I learned from my lawyer that the Crown prosecutor made a deal without ever contacting me. The driver pleaded guilty to hiding his licence plate and received a $125 fine. The other two charges were dropped. There is no chance for me to appeal. The driver will walk away with a minor traffic ticket. I was nearly killed, but the Crown never asked me a single question, and I never had an opportunity to speak at a trial. Were my injuries not considered relevant to the case?
Since my accident, I have learned that hundreds of cyclists and pedestrians are injured by motor vehicles in Ontario every year. In the City of Toronto alone, 151 pedestrians and 49 cyclists were killed or seriously injured last year, according to the Toronto Police. Several people, including my lawyer, Patrick Brown, who specializes in personal injury law, have told me that it is common for drivers who are convicted of careless driving, distracted driving or other dangerous driving charges to receive small fines of perhaps only a few hundred dollars. This is shocking and unacceptable.
When I heard about the paltry penalty meted out to the driver who hit me, I created a petition calling for greater legal protection for vulnerable road users, including cyclists and pedestrians. It received more than 1,000 signatures in 24 hours, and now has more than 5,000. I have also been inundated with stories from fellow victims of road violence – and from friends and families of other victims – who are frustrated to see the trivial punishments that dangerous drivers have received.
In an encouraging move last fall, Ontario brought in stiffer penalties including possible jail time for drivers charged with dangerous driving causing death or serious harm, but there is still room to increase the penalties for many other traffic violations that result in serious harm to vulnerable road users. This is clearly an issue that resonates with a wide number of people, so the province’s political parties need to work together to protect everyone who shares the road.
Riding a bicycle – whether for recreational or practical purposes – is an activity that brings me great joy. Cycling also delivers many benefits to society as a whole, increasing people’s physical fitness and decreasing traffic congestion. Motorists who kill or seriously injure cyclists need to be held accountable for their actions, otherwise I fear the number of tragic crashes will continue to rise.
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