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  • Writer's pictureDave Shellnutt

All the Rage: Weaponizing Cars

Updated: Jun 17, 2021


2 years ago, in horror I read about two cases of recent road violence. The first, involved cyclist Mike Wilkomirsky. Mike reported to the Star that he was cut off on Bay Street in downtown Toronto. He then approached the car to express his displeasure to the unknown driver. Without warning, the car driver with his huge SUV accelerated and attempted to run Mike down. The driver has yet to be apprehended. He turned his vehicle into a weapon.

Then, I read about a 60-year-old cyclist in North York who was attacked by someone while cycling, apparently with a golf club! What is painfully clear is that he was yet another victim of violence while cycling.

Yesterday, video surfaced of an altercation between a driver and cyclist down the street from the Biking Lawyer LLP office. A road rage incident that spiraled menacingly out of control.

I too had a situation spiral out of control in 2019. After some heated words were exchanged between me and a passing car, a random altercation escalated. Two men exited the car and attacked me. They left me unconscious, near death on the side of the road, and sped away (start video at 24:01). Though I believe the fact that my assailants were behind the wheel of a car had little to do with their decision to assault me, it only further demonstrates how random incidents or altercations can quickly deteriorate and become violent.

This is a cautionary tale to my fellow road users, cyclists to be specific. Violence permeates our society and incidents of road rage and violence on our streets are common. Whether a road rage incident leads to a physical altercation between a cyclist and driver, or the raging driver decides to turn his 1-ton vehicle into a weapon, these incidents happen.

I am a lawyer for injured cyclists and survivors of violence. Increasingly, these two areas of the law have started to merge more and more. I have taken on 8 ongoing cases involving what I call “anti-cyclist violence”. In 4 of these cases, the drivers used their car as a weapon to deliberately target and run down my clients.

In the other cases, the drivers get out of their cars and physically assault my clients. One incident, a construction worker smacked my client with wood pole as he passed along the Danforth bike lane.

What is sometimes common in these situations is a heated verbal exchange following what my clients perceived as a dangerous or negligent driving maneuver: an illegal right turn, passing too close, etc. These situations, like my assault, quickly spiraled out of control to the point where they became extremely dangerous, even life threatening. We are now suing many of these drivers for negligence while driving and assault with a weapon. In the other cases, it's a standard assault suit.

This happens in Toronto, but what can be done?

As shocking as these cases are, I have found that the response by police and the City has been muted and often lacking. In my cases, police have not pursued criminal charges or stiff dangerous driving penalties. Given the number of deaths on our roads, I have felt the need, on behalf of my clients, to repeatedly demand that police and prosecutors administer the strongest penalties and punishments for anti-cyclist violence. Under-charging drivers or suggesting to a cyclist that they could be counter charged by the driver are common responses at the scene.

This must change. Police must see cyclists as particularly vulnerable road users. Drivers who threaten their safety, especially deliberately and violently, must be held responsible and firm penalties must be consistently applied if we hope to deter this violent behaviour going forward. We should also consider new laws.

As we wait for the law to change or be applied appropriately, I urge all my clients, friends, and fellow cyclists to take my assault and those of my clients as a stark warning. Situations can quickly escalate beyond your control. Having commuted daily for several years, I am used to car drivers behaving poorly. I now assume that I will be cut off or hit, thereby cycling defensively.

Perhaps it is now also worth considering whether the person behind the wheel could be predisposed to violence?

I am learning to control my own emotion and anger, because how people respond to my actions is wildly out of my control and can turn deadly. I used to yell at cars and tap on windshields if they cut me off, no more. I am trying to let go of feelings of rage when a car narrowly misses me or purposefully cuts me off. You know the feeling.

You may be right, but you could be dead right.

You never know who is behind that wheel and if my experience and cases have taught me anything, it’s better not to know.

Ride safe friends.

If you have been assaulted or run off the road and the person has sped off you can still get coverage and health benefits. You may also be able to sue the unknown assailant through the Motor Vehicle Accident Fund. Contact Dave if you are a survivor of violence and/or an injured cyclist.

*I recognize that reporting to police is more difficult for some, have a buddy present or let us help you. I also recognize that we need to move towards defunding and abolition of the police. While we pursue those goals it remains necessary for insurance and compensation purposes, in many cases, to involve police.

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