Toronto cyclist seriously injured in crash supports NDP road safety bill

A Toronto cyclist severely injured in a crash with a pickup truck last fall says Ontario needs harsher penalties for drivers who kill or injure vulnerable road users.

Anthony Smith ended up underneath a pickup truck in Barrie, Ont. last fall

Anthony Smith, severely injured in a crash with a pick up truck last fall, says the Ontario government needs to impose harsher penalties against drivers who kill or injure road users. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

A Toronto cyclist severely injured in a crash with a pickup truck last fall says Ontario needs harsher penalties for drivers who kill or injure vulnerable road users. 

Anthony Smith, who is also a transportation planner, says he supports by a move by NDP MPP Catherine Fife to reintroduce a private member's bill on Tuesday to protect pedestrians and cyclists. The bill would amend the Highway Traffic Act to ensure drivers face stiffer legal consequences for their actions.

Smith was cycling north from the Vaughan area to meet his girlfriend at an event near Midland, Ont., last October when the accident occurred in Barrie. He suffered back and spine injuries.

"Basically, the last thing I remember was the flash of a pickup truck turning in front of me. And the next thing I remember I was lying on the concrete, underneath the pickup truck," Smith told CBC's Metro Morning on Tuesday. You can hear that audio in the clip below.

When Anthony Smith was hit by a pickup tuck in Barrie last year, he was seriously injured. The driver paid a small fine. Smith and other cyclists are at Queen's Park today, hoping to revive Bill 158, a law that would protect vulnerable road users and impose much harsher penalties on drivers who hit cyclists. 7:59

Truck made dangerous turn

"I know from media coverage of the scene that the truck turned in front of me and made an illegal left hand turn from the other lane. Essentially, I crashed right into the passenger side door."

Paramedics rushed Smith to a nearby hospital, then he was moved to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. 

His neck was dislocated and fractured in two places. He suffered severe head contusions and his upper body was black with bruises. Now he has titanium rods and screws in his neck holding together three vertebrae. He stayed in hospital for three weeks.

Smith said he suffered trauma from the crash, which has left him with fear.

"It's changed the way I see cycling, for sure."

'No penalty whatsoever for nearly killing me'

Initially, the driver faced three charges for making an illegal left hand turn, having improperly functioning brakes and obscuring his licence plate, but five months later, in a traffic court in a pretrial hearing, the driver was given a $125 fine.

The first two charges were withdrawn. Smith's lawyer was shocked but not surprised that the driver was not punished.

"He had no penalty whatsoever for nearly killing me."

Anthony Smith stands with other road safety advocates on the ground of the Ontario legislature on Tuesday. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

At Queen's Park, Fife is hoping to change that. 

Bill 158, the Protecting Vulnerable Road Users Act, died on the order paper when the Ontario government prorogued the legislature in March. That bill had been introduced by former NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo in December 2017. So far it has only passed first reading.

'This bill is designed to save lives'

​Fife, who represents Kitchener-Waterloo, said the bill is designed to prevent injuries and deaths among vulnerable road users, which include cyclists, pedestrians, people in wheelchairs, road construction workers and emergency responders.

"This bill is designed to save lives," she said.

She said the bill is about improving accountability.

"At the moment, a driver can seriously injure a pedestrian or a cyclist and often all that will happen is that they will have to mail in a $550 cheque while the victims give their impact statements to an empty courtroom or not at all," she told reporters.

"This is unacceptable in the province of Ontario." ​​
NDP MPP Catherine Fife said she hopes the bill will be incorporated into a government bill that could be passed in the legislature's last sitting before the June provincial election. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Under the bill, a driver guilty of an offence could face a mandatory probation order that would mean having to take a driving instruction course and perform community service. His or her licence would also be suspended while he or she is on probation.

And the driver would have to attend a sentencing hearing where victim impact statements may be presented if survivors or family members are willing. 

Pressure to be put on premier to adopt bill

Earlier in an interview, Fife said the bill aims to shift "the culture of responsibility" back onto the driver.

"We are going to put an immense amount of pressure on Kathleen Wynne to ensure that their words and their conversations about improving the safety of pedestrians and cyclists in Ontario can actually move to action through adoption of this private member's bill."

Fife said she hopes the private member's bill will be incorporated into a government bill that could be passed in the legislature's last sitting before the June provincial election. 

"Essentially, we are in a race against the clock to ensure that, prior to election 2018, vulnerable road users have some protections, have some new rights around their safety and then transparency and accountability around sentencing as well as victim impact statements."

With files from Metro Morning