People in cars are scary

March 19, 2018

As a cyclist, even though Whitehorse’s automobile traffic is far from busy compared to a bigger city I still try to stay away from main roads because of how scary distracted drivers can be.

When at a stop light, I’ve seen people staring down at a phone in their hand, a phone on top of their steering wheel, a phone in their lap or even dogs (and babies!) in their laps; each completely oblivious to the world around them. I’ve also watched drivers pass by staring at their phone and slowly weaving back and forth across their lane. It’s frightening. They really have no idea about who and what surrounds them, say like vulnerable, un-protected people on bikes.

I’ve been commuting on a bicycle since the early 90s. During this period I’ve been hit by a vehicle six times - once as a kid in Whitby, Ontario, once in Whistler, B.C., three times in Belleville, Ontario and once here in Whitehorse, Yukon - with the episode in Whistler being the worst.

That Whistler incident crumpled my bike and sent me to the hospital with head, neck and leg injuries, followed up by a few months of physio. The rest were just abrasions with minor damage, but no matter, the fact is I still got hurt.

Last summer when on a group road ride, we were run off the road by an inattentive driver in a semi-truck veering towards us. One of my friends chased down the truck at a stop sign and questioned the driver. Guess what? Yep, he was distracted by a phone. Seriously. In a semi-truck.

I’m starting to think we cyclists shouldn’t be on the road anymore until technology companies, automobile manufacturers and law enforcement has dealt with this ever-worsening situation.

Distracted driving really has spun out of control and it’s not just the opinion of some random guy on a bike (that'd be me). I did some analysis of the national collision database and came up with this chart:

Canadian motor vehicle traffic collision statistics by road user class

Notice the increase of serious injuries over time? Smartphones started becoming popular in 2007. Hmmm.

Based on my own experience, only a small fraction of bicycle crashes causing injury and caused by a collision with a vehicle are ever recorded by the police or that person even goes to the hospital. I say this because of all the times I’ve been hit, I’ve reported the incident to the police just once.

Cars R Coffins badge

I used to think that the Cars-R-Coffins message referred to the person driving the car; they were destined to be in a coffin sooner rather than later due to lack of exercise. Nowadays, I feel like that reference to the coffin is for me and other cyclists.

The drivers are the one who are going to put us in our coffins, not the other way around.

As a cyclist, I can choose to wear high visibility clothing, run daytime lights, ride a brightly coloured bike and follow the rules of the road, but is that enough when people are driving around so distracted?

Will drivers even be looking at what’s on the road in the first place to notice who’s ahead of or beside them?

Something needs to change. And quickly.

In the meantime, I'll do my best to stick to bike paths, closed courses and stitching together rides on less popular roads. It won't be as easy to get in the big mileage, but I have to think defensively in my approach.