The trial for the driver who hit me finally ended on March 3, 2015, after a year of postponements and false starts. Although I am extremely disappointed with the outcome of the trial, I can finally share my story in four parts:
The Collision • The Injuries • The Fallout • The Trial • Vision Zero
A few notes:
- The trial was between the driver and the City of Toronto because the driver was disputing her ticket. While I was the victim in the collision, in this trial, I was merely a witness.
- Despite feeling disappointed and angry with the outcome of the trial, I am extremely lucky that I healed relatively quickly from my injuries and I don’t suffer from chronic pain or have sustained any permanent injuries.
- I’ve included a few photos of my injuries – scroll past them quickly if you are prone to queasiness.
- I am not a lawyer so I may have used some terms when talking about the trial incorrectly.
Collision date: Sunday, August 25 (overcast but bright)
I was riding along Avenue Road northbound where Avenue ends, follows Lonsdale for a short while and then turns north to become Oriole Parkway. This is where the driver hit me and struck me from behind on my left side. I was following the flow of traffic (as indicated by white lane markers curving and bending to the left) cycling in the right lane. The driver, turned off the main road onto Lonsdale, a side street.
I was struck by her side view mirror, which hit my back. After the initial impact, the left side of my body and my helmet hit the right side of the car and I slid across the asphalt. She kept on driving after hitting me and didn’t stop her car for another half a block.
I was lucky to have many pedestrians come to help me, although many of them were shocked to see the amount of blood bleeding from my elbow and stood there stunned while I asked someone to call 911. Eventually, Lindsay who became the unbiased witness during the trial, called 911 for me.
After people helped me unclip my feet from my bike and got me off the road, the driver finally came to talk to me. She apologized but I was so angry all I could do was yell at her.
When I furiously asked, “Why didn’t you see me?” her response was, “I THOUGHT YOU WERE TURNING WITH ME.”
Fire, EMS and police arrived and after a few minutes of being assessed in an ambulance, seeing that the driver admitted fault and issuing a ticket was cut and dry, the police officer allowed me to be transported to a hospital. He later came to the hospital, went over the ticket he issued the driver and gave me his info so I could send him my statement of the collision via email.
As I mentioned, despite being side-swiped by a car, I was lucky to not sustain any serious chronic injuries.
I was driven down to Toronto Western General, so that I could be closer to home. I was assessed by a doctor and my wounds were dressed by a nurse, which were:
- abrasions to shoulder
- big abrasions and bruising to upper calf & knee
- deep abrasions and major bruising on elbow
- headache along the front right side of my head (but this wasn’t really checked out since I had my memory in tact)
A day later:
- bruising appeared on my lower eye socket bone and upper cheek
- bruising along left thigh, left upper-arm, back and shoulders
- left wrist and middle and ring fingers were sore
- muscle soreness along the whole left side of my body
My helmet sustained a crack on the left side that starts at the bottom and extends almost all the way to the top of the helmet. Despite all this, my bike only sustained handlebar tape damage!
I became really sensitive about vehicles coming from behind me and driving close to me, not just when I was on my bike but when I was a pedestrian as well. I was lucky, however, because my sister was visiting so I forced myself on my bike and had my sister accompany me on all my rides. I also had a Cupcake Ride scheduled a week after the collision, which forced me to get back on my bike as well. Riding with another person or in a group helped me get over my fear of being worried about cars coming from behind me.
Riding solo, however, is a different story and to this day I am not as confident about riding alone (even though I do it all the time) and prefer riding with other people.
On a strange note, for about a year following the collision, if a Toyota Camry was coming up from behind me at I’m assuming the same speed as the Camry that hit me, I could identify the car as a Camry without seeing the car. The sound of the engine RPMs were burned onto my subconscious.
As predicted by the officer who issued the careless driving ticket, the driver hired a paralegal and disputed her ticket. Myself, the officer and my unbiased witness who called 911 for me were all subpoenaed to appear in court.
Between January 2014 and March 2015, I attended court eight times (seven out of the eight dates were mandatory for me and if I didn’t attend, the charges would have been dropped like a speeding ticket when the officer issuing the ticket doesn’t make an appearance). In addition to the tricks and obstacles the paralegal used to try to delay the trial, this trial was mired with bureaucratic slip ups that happened on almost every court date:
- A request for a Cantonese translator by the driver (who didn’t really need one because she would speak to her paralegal without a translator all the time) wasn’t filed
- On a different trial date, the requested translator arrived 30 minutes late
- The requested evidence was not sent over to the paralegal in time because of software changes within the police force which resulted in a postponement
- Courtrooms weren’t booked properly to accommodate the time required to hear from all witnesses
- The officer was not notified of the last court date
While the City prosecutor who worked on this trial was amazing, tough, extremely eloquent and smart, I felt the judge was biased and was more than a little chummy with the driver’s paralegal.
This was evident during the last court date, when the judge starting questioning the City prosecutor’s evidence and reasons for supporting the ‘careless driving’ charge. She raised four reasons to support the charge, which included ‘making an unsafe turn’ and ‘driving out of a marked lane’. The judge argued that none of the four reasons were specifically listed in the ‘careless driving act’ therefore could not be used to charge the driver. In fact, he mentioned that there were no specific includes that were listed in the act.
My heart sank as the judge shockingly argued that ‘momentary inattention’ did not amount to careless driving.
What stunned me the most, however, was when the defence’s paralegal stated that he had been a ‘cop for 20 years and it really bugged (him) when officers would automatically issue careless driving tickets to drivers when a collision resulted in a fatality of a pedestrian or cyclist.’ I sat there dismayed as the judge enthusiastically agreed with him, repeating his ‘momentary inattention’ spiel.
Despite having an unbiased witness who took the time to come to court and testify against the driver, in the end the judge threw out the charges based on semantics. His interpretation of the careless driving act didn’t fit the arguments that the City prosecutor presented and so he didn’t even call the driver up to the stand to testify.
The driver left the court room without having to pay the $490 fine; a driving record free of the 6 demerit points that came with the fine; and most importantly (according to her) insurance fees that would not increase.
I have a feeling that if traffic collisions that result in injured pedestrians or other road users were treated as a criminal offence, rather than just a traffic offence, the outcome for my trial might have been very different.
Human life and health are paramount and take priority over mobility and other objectives of the road traffic system ~Vision Zero principle
But even if the laws for traffic offences don’t change, there are other ways we can change the hierarchy of road users and the difference in privilege each group is afforded on the streets and within the judicial system. I think Vision Zero can change the overall attitudes towards driving, walking and cycling on city streets.
What is Vision Zero? It is an initiative that has been adopted by Sweden, Norway and three American cities (New York, Boston and Portland). Through road user awareness, changes to law enforcement and a change in accountability and a sense of responsibility, the city or country that has adopted this initiative would see a decrease in fatalities and serious injuries on the streets of the city (or country). The ultimate goal of Vision Zero is to have zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries.
In Toronto, in 2013, death by car hit an all time high. In 2014, 51 people died in traffic collisions (I can’t seem to find specific 2014 statistics, even though the media reported a high number children dying from collisions with cars last year).
Councillor Jaye Robinson, the chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, wants Toronto to implement the Vision Zero initiative (links to PDF). She recommends council to have City staff create a plan by the end of 2015 and this initiative goes to council for consideration on March 31, 2015.
If reducing traffic deaths and street safety is important to you, please contact your councillor and ask them to support this Road Safety Plan for Toronto and vote ‘yes’ for Vision Zero.
Motorist entitlement is so entrenched in Toronto, it will take a big initiative like Vision Zero to change things, but I think change is possible. Please help me spread the word about Vision Zero!