Opinion

Crown's lack of courage leaves cyclists at risk 0

I was left with a profound sense of disappointment, indignation and helplessness upon reading the recent article "Driver not at fault" (Packet & Times,Jan. 6). And before outlining my reasons, I think it important to say that it is not my intention to throw fuel on the flames of the perennial debate between motorists and cyclists. Rather, this is simply addressing the matter of a dead cyclist, an inexplicable lack of courage shown by the Crown in pursuing the reasons for this tragedy and the thoughtless remarks and justifications contributed by Grant Gibbons, owner of the truck and employer of the driver involved in the accident.

I should also disclose that I have a bias when discussing safety for cyclists who, while following the rules of the road and maintaining an awareness of the inherent dangers around them, are the victims of the carelessness of some motorists.

I learned the life lesson that "tonnage rules" when I was on the losing end of what my doctors described as a "near fatal motor vehicle accident." After 10 days in the ICU, a few more weeks in the hospital, four months off work, 18 months of physiotherapy and an aggressive workout regimen, I was able to increase my cycling to an average of 6,000 kilometres a year. But in spite of my best efforts, my body has finally given up. I managed 36 kilometres this year. And while my life as been irrevocably changed, at least I am alive. I wish I could say that about Casey Witteman. Of course now I can be accused of having a bias in my new role of avowed motorist. So I feel absolutely no prejudice or partiality in speaking about cyclist and motorist issues.

The mind boggles with the suspension of logic applied to this case. Mr. Witteman was perfectly within his right to ride his bicycle on Highway 11. And at this point there is no benefit to arguing whether it was a safe or prudent thing to do. The fact remains that it is legal, and it is what Mr. Witteman chose to do.

So if Mr. Witteman was following the rules of the road, but yet struck in the head with a roof truss carried on the back of a truck, and the driver of that truck was obligated by the Highway Traffic Act to allow for sufficient room when passing other vehicles (and note that bicycles are defined as vehicles under the Act), and his failure to allow sufficient room resulted in the collision, then how is it appropriate, sensible, logical or rational not to pursue the matter in court?

A man is dead. He was hit by a truck. What exactly does the Crown require to respect the memory of a man by giving him his day in court, even posthumously? The cynic in me thinks that if the driver had killed or injured a family of motorists stuck on the side of the road with car problems, even though he couldn't see them in time, we would be following the case in the newspaper as it made its way through the legal system.

I, too, was appalled by the lack of support I received from the Crown in my case, having been told by the Crown attorney that it was unlikely they would "win", and so therefore dropped the charges against the driver. I would rather have risked the Crown's win-loss record in the lofty pursuit of justice.

The public remarks made by Grant Gibbons, owner of the trucking firm involved in the accident, tarnish the memory of a dead man and are nothing more than motorist-apologist, backside-covering drivel.

The reality that Gibbons' company "boasts a perfectly clean driving record" and has never even been charged with "rolling through a stop sign" doesn't mitigate the fact that Mr. Witteman is dead and Gibbons' employee was driving the truck that killed him.

Further, Gibbons' opinions are not substitutes for the law. Gibbons believes that cyclists should not be allowed on Highway 11. The law says otherwise. Gibbons asserts that bicycles should be prohibited on that highway because "it's just too dangerous." Again, the law says otherwise.

In fact, according to the Highway Traffic Act, it was the driver of the truck who was responsible for avoiding the collision, since Mr. Witteman was riding exactly where the law says he can ride.

It is unfortunate that the driver's view of the cyclist was obstructed by a motorhome, preventing the necessary time to avoid the collision. This in itself implies fault.

Adding to the evidence, Gibbons claims that the driver could have "changed lanes" to avoid Mr. Witteman but "he'd have taken out two cars." A difficult choice to be sure, but a choice nonetheless. And choices do have consequences. I have no doubt, as Gibbons suggests, that the driver "was devastated by the accident and took several weeks off as a result of the emotional impact." But his decision to share this information with the public is a slap in the face to Casey's memory and also to his friends and family who will spend the rest of their lives without Casey -- not just a few weeks of "emotional impact."

In a province which encourages its citizens to "go green", and further encourages its municipalities to develop active transportation systems -- and this, of course, includes an increased reliance on the bicycle to get from here to there -- the legal system has in this case done nothing to backstop the province's professed objectives. How do we encourage more cyclists if we fail to provide legal protection to the existing ones?

The Highway Traffic Act bestows rights and responsibilities to motorists and cyclists alike. And yes, I have seen many kamikaze cyclists, and many irresponsible motorists. But together they are in the minority.

We must work together in an environment of mutual respect in order to make the roads safer for all of us. The Crown has missed an opportunity to show true leadership in support of such an approach.

And surely, if any good were to come from this tragedy, Mr. Witteman, as a person and as a cyclist, deserves more than to be ignored.

Craig Metcalf Orillia


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