British Columbia

Cyclist billed by ICBC vows to fight for vulnerable road users

After getting injured in a crash with a car he says ran a stop sign, cyclist Ben Bolliger was charged $3,700 after ICBC categorized his bike as an uninsured vehicle.

Ben Bolliger was surprised to learn he isn't the only cyclist ICBC is trying to collect money from

The concept of 'vulnerable road user' exists in law in Ontario, but not in B.C. (Robb Douglas/CBC)

Ben Bolliger is on a mission to find out how many cyclists in the province, like him, have been billed by ICBC after being involved in a crash with a car.

Two weeks ago, Bolliger received a letter from the provincial motor vehicle insurer saying he owed over $3,700 for damage to the hood and windshield of the Mercedes Benz that hit him as he pedalled through a Vancouver intersection last July. 

"You were driving an uninsured vehicle at the time of the loss. This means you do not have insurance coverage for this loss and must repay the cost of our insured's claim," reads the letter.

Bolliger said the driver blew through a stop sign. The impact left him with a badly injured right arm which he says he'll never have full use of again. 

ICBC found Bolliger to be 50 per cent at fault for the crash.

After tweeting about his plight, the story received wide media coverage. Then, to Bolliger's surprise, a number of other cyclists started contacting him with similar stories.

"It's not just isolated to me," he said. "What I want to know is exactly how many other vulnerable road users have received these letters and how much money ICBC has collected based on their premise that a cyclist is an uninsured vehicle."

Ben Bolliger holds the pieces of the bike he was riding when he was struck by a car in 2021. (CBC)

The concept of "vulnerable road user" exists in law in Ontario, but not in B.C. The category includes pedestrians, cyclists and road workers, and puts a greater onus on motor vehicle drivers to behave responsibly on the road.

The concept also underpins policy across Europe where countries long ago adopted some versions of strict liability in cases of motor vehicle-cyclists collisions. 

Generally, strict liability assumes the car driver is liable for damages in a crash, unless they can prove otherwise, because a driver brings more risk to the road than someone on a bike.

2 tonne vehicle versus 8 kg bike

"When it comes to the use of roads we are not all equal," said European Cyclists' Federation policy officer Ceri Woolsgrove, speaking from Brussels. 

"There's a difference between a two tonne vehicle with a 200 horsepower engine and, say, an eight kilogram bike with 150 watts of power," he said.

In Europe, 83 per cent of cycling fatalities and 99 per cent of pedestrian deaths are the result of crashes with motorized vehicles, according to Woolsgrove. 

In Canada, 50 cyclists and 266 pedestrians were killed in crashes with cars in 2020, the most recent numbers published by Transport Canada. 

ICBC switched to a no-fault insurance model in May 2021, making it nearly impossible for people to sue for damages if they're injured in a crash involving a vehicle.

Vancouver personal injury lawyer David Hay has been advocating for changes to B.C.'s Motor Vehicle Act to include the concept of vulnerable road users. Until that happens, he said, the car very much remains king on B.C. roads and in B.C. law. 

A cyclist, scooter rider and pedestrian on a downtown Vancouver sidewalk. ICBC has designated the bikes of some cyclists involved in crashes with a car an "uninsured vehicle." (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"We have a system that supports the unaccountability of the motorist. I think from a sheer safety perspective, from a sheer improving driving perspective, that's an abhorrent thing," said Hay.

"I think it's particularly unjust in the case of cyclists and pedestrians, many of whom have no sort of interest in ICBC premiums or ICBC's financial health, because, after all, they're just riding a bike or walking." 

'ICBC black box'

Bolliger is disputing ICBC's finding he was 50 per cent liable for the collision. Adding to the frustration is the fact that he is shut out from seeing ICBC documents that might show how the adjuster arrived at that conclusion.

"It's a total black box," said Bolliger. "ICBC has determined which witnesses they want to acknowledge, which ones they don't, and how they choose. You are assigned fault and there are very limited avenues to contest that." 

"I don't have access to the police report. I attempted to get it from the VPD. They won't give it to me, although they've released it to ICBC. I'm told that my avenue to get a copy is submitting a Freedom of Information request," he said.

In an earlier statement, ICBC said investigators review all evidence before reaching a decision, but that in claims involving conflicting accounts or insufficient evidence, "responsibility for the crash may be split."

Bolliger said he's heard from politicians, cycling groups and citizens expressing support in his dispute with ICBC. A cycling lawyer has also stepped forward to work pro bono on his behalf. 

"I'm not giving up this fight," he said. "Definitely, it has become really clear that this is much bigger than me."

ICBC said it is working on requests for data around how many cyclists have been charged money after being in a crash with a car.

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