Avoid Needless Legal Headaches this Bicycling Season

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By Joy Lewis

Bycicle season

Spring has finally arrived, and many of us can’t wait to spend more time outdoors as the thermometer starts rising.

For those of you who are anxious to awaken your bike from its winter slumber, I would like to share the story of Randi Beers and the $110.00 ticket she received while riding her bike without a bell in Toronto.

On one of the first warm days in April 2010, Randi Beers was riding her bike on Yonge Street near the Eaton Centre when police stopped her during what she described as a “bike bell blitz”.

According to Section 75(5) of the Highway Traffic Act, “Every motor vehicle, motor assisted bicycle and bicycle shall be equipped with an alarm bell, gong or horn, which shall be kept in good working order and sounded whenever it is reasonably necessary to notify pedestrians or others of its approach.”

 

The fine for contravention of this Section is $85.00,Victim Fine Surcharge $20.00 and Court Costs of $5.00 for a whopping total of $110.00.

The officer who wrote the ticket told Ms. Beers that if she appeared in Court and proved she had rectified the bicycle violation by showing she had purchased a bell; she would not have to pay the fine. Thinking it would be easy; she went off to obtain her evidence and was eager to show it during her day in Court.

However, Ms. Beers moved to a new home and forgot to provide the court with her updated address. Her trial was held in absentia and Ms. Beers was convicted without her knowledge.

In fact, she had forgotten about the whole episode until five years later when she received a call from a collection agency notifying her that not only did she now owe $185.00 as a result of this bell violation ticket, but she had acquired two demerit points for defaulting on her fine and her license had been suspended.

Furthermore, she was informed that if she wanted to dispute the ruling, she would be required to do so in person in a Toronto Courtroom. The problem for Ms. Beers was that she was now living in the Northwest Territories.

In the end, Ms. Beers paid the fine and her license was reinstated but she was frustrated as no one at the Court could tell her how the unpaid fine would affect her credit rating.

In fact, the City of Toronto has been clamping down on late traffic ticket payments, hiring collection agencies to track down $200-million in unpaid penalties. Although she now realizes she should have kept the Court informed of her address change, Ms. Beers also thinks that people should be sent their court dates electronically or by phone in order to prevent them from being lost in the mail.

All of this legal red tape could have been avoided if Ms. Beers had read the back of her ticket and followed some general steps within 15 calendar days of receipt of the ticket.

Option 1: Pay the fine either online, in person or by mail and try to forget about it. Ignoring the ticket will result in a conviction;

Option 2: Request a meeting with the Prosecutor to discuss the charges and try to resolve the matter. This can be done by mail by checking off the request to meet on the back of the offence notice and also ensure the court is informed of any change of address so that you can receive a notice of the date and time of the meeting. Ms. Beers, in fact, never advised the Court of her current address and therefore she never received the proper Court documents notifying of her hearing.

Option 3 – If you intend to dispute the ticket and plead not guilty, either you or your representative must attend in person at the Court office shown on your ticket to file a Notice of Intention to Appear.

According to the Ontario Highway Traffic Act, bicycles are considered as vehicles and therefore cyclists can be charged with offences under the Act. For example, Section 130 deals with Carless Driving and can result in a fine of $400 to $2,000 and potentially up to six months of jail time. 

Let’s start off the cycling season on the right pedal. If you have young children who are learning to ride, please consider teaching some cycling safety, including:

  • Give the right-of-way to pedestrians. Dismount and walk your bike to pass them or simply stop riding;
  • Ride respectfully, not like you own the sidewalk;
  • Teach hand signals;
  • Do not ride through a crosswalk;
  • Let people know you are coming by using your horn or bell;
  • Do not assume drivers see you. Stop and make eye contact with them.

The City of Toronto conducted a study in order to better understand the most common types of collisions between motor- vehicles and bicycles in Toronto.  Understanding and predicting traffic dynamics which can potentially lead to a collision can help cyclists avoid n accident. If you are involved in a collision:

  • Report the crash at the scene. Have someone call “911” or call the police non-emergency number as applicable and wait for police to arrive;
  • Ask any witnesses to identify themselves and write down the information in case you need to contact them;
  • If a motor vehicle is involved, record the driver’s name, phone number, insurance policy details, a description of the vehicle and the license plate number.
  • If you are injured, see a doctor. Ask for a letter describing your condition.
  • If your bike needs repair, get a written estimate from a bike shop.
  • If you have insurance, speak to your broker. If not, call the insurance company of the driver(s) involved in the crash..

Do not leave the scene of a collision without talking to the other driver, pedestrian or cyclist involved. ‘Hit and run’ applies to cyclists as well as drivers. If you choose not to report the crash at the scene, you can file a report at the nearest police station within 24 hours. Cyclists do not have go to a Collision Reporting Centre.

By following bicycle laws and keeping your address updated with the Court system, if required, bicycling can continue to be healthy and exciting mode of transportation and activity. I wish you all a safe and enjoyable riding season.

Let’s start off the cycling season on the right pedal. The Downsview Advocate wishes you all a safe and enjoyable riding season!

Are you interested in becoming involved in building Toronto’s cycling network? E-mail us at info@downsviewadvocate.ca with your cycling needs, values, and bicycling experiences. We will forward these to the City of Toronto for their use in planning for future cycling networks.