As summer in the city quickly approaches and the weather improves, we are beginning to see more and more cyclists on our city streets. Cycling is a great form of exercise and is also good for the environment as it helps to ease road congestion, reduce noise pollution and emissions.
Calgary is becoming a more cycle friendly city and has made efforts to provide designated lanes for cyclists. However, there are dangers involved with cycling and cyclists are especially vulnerable in the event of a crash.
WHAT IS THE LAW REGARDING BICYCLE HELMETS?
According to the Vehicle Equipment Regulation found in Alberta’s Traffic Safety Act (“TSA”), no person under the age of 18-years shall operate or ride as a passenger on a bicycle unless that person is properly wearing a safety helmet (section 111(1)).
A safety helmet is required:
- To be certified;
- To be constructed so that it has a hard, smooth outer shell and is capable of absorbing energy on impact;
- To be securely attached to a strap that is fastened around the chin of the person wearing the safety helmet; and
- To be free of damage or modification that would reduce its effectiveness.
If these safety features are not met, the cyclist may be subject to a fine.
Despite the fact that the law does not require cyclists who are 18-years of age or older to wear a helmet, it is strongly encouraged that helmets be worn by cyclists of all ages to prevent brain injuries or severe damage to the skull.
WHAT RULES OF THE ROAD MUST CYCLISTS FOLLOW?
According to the Use of Highways and Rules of Road Regulation (“Regulation”) found in the TSA, cyclists are required to operate their cycle just as those driving a motor vehicle (section 75), such as obeying traffic control devices and yielding to pedestrians.
Section 77 of the Regulation requires a cyclist to operate their bicycle as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway, except when making a left hand turn.
Section 78 of the Regulation requires cyclists to ride in single file, except when overtaking and passing another bicycle.
Section 113 of the Vehicle Equipment Regulation found in the TSA specifically states that no person shall ride a bicycle unless it has a brake. Furthermore, this section lists the required equipment that every bicycle must have for riding at nighttime, including:
- At least one headlamp (but not more than 2 headlamps);
- At least one red tail lamp; and
- At least one red reflector mounted on the rear of the bicycle.
WHAT IS THE ONUS OF PROOF IN BICYCLE ACCIDENT CASES?
In a civil action (a lawsuit between private parties), the plaintiff (the individual who brings a case against another in a court of law) has the onus of proving that the defendant was negligent on a balance of probabilities (i.e. that it is more likely than not that the defendant was negligent).
However, according to section 186(1) in the TSA, in the case of a motor vehicle vs. cyclist accident the usual onus is reversed. In situations where a motor vehicle hits a cyclist or pedestrian, the driver of the motor vehicle is presumed to be negligent unless he/she can prove that the loss/damage did not arise entirely or solely through his/her negligence.
In this type of accident, a cyclist could still bear some of the responsibility for the accident if he/she failed to take reasonable steps to look out for his/her own safety according to section 1 of the Contributory Negligence Act.
Courts in Alberta use the “comparative blameworthiness approach”. This approach requires a judge to examine all of the circumstances of the misconduct of both parties to determine their contributing negligence in causing the collision. The judge will look at the amount to which each party deviated from the normal standard of care and apportion responsibility on a percentage basis (i.e. 50/50). If a cyclist is found to be somewhat careless, his/her damage award will be reduced accordingly. For example, if the cyclist were found to be 25% responsible for the collision and his/her damages were assessed at $100,000, the cyclist would only receive $75,000 in damages.
Courts will consider the following factors when determining contributory negligence:
- In the case of a head injury, was the cyclist wearing a helmet?
- Was the cyclist wearing headphones that impeded his/her ability to hear traffic?
- Was the cyclist following the rules of the road?
- Was the cyclist riding on the sidewalk prior to entering the roadway?
- Did the cyclist take steps to ensure that he/she was visible to motorists considering the time of day and weather conditions?
The case of Bradford v. Snyder is a good example of the Court apportioning liability between two parties to a collision involving a motor vehicle and bicycle. In this case, Bradford was on her bicycle and gave evidence that she came to a rolling stop at a stop sign and did not see Snyder, the driver of a van, approaching. Bradford also admitted that had she stopped properly, the accident could have been avoided. Snyder testified that she looked down at her speedometer for a few seconds and then struck Bradford. The trial judge held that Bradford bore greater responsibility for the accident as she failed to properly stop at the stop sign. Therefore, Bradford was found to be 2/3 at fault for the accident.
The case of Bradford v. Snyder is just one example of a collision involving a bicycle. Of course, a decision in court will ultimately depend upon the circumstances of each case, including the rules of the road, the visibility of the cyclist and the speed of the driver, just to name a few.
If you or a loved one have been injured while riding your bicycle as a result of another party’s negligence, do not hesitate to contact the experienced and award winning personal injury lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie LLP. Please contact our office for a free case evaluation either online or by calling 403-571-0555. We look forward to helping you obtain the compensation you deserve.