Motorist impunity and the fear of cycling
As the Toronto Star reports, Initial reports of the crash that killed Tom Samson indicated that he had run a red light. The police and prosecutors have now stated they do not believe Samson ran a red light; instead, they believe he had stopped, properly, to make a left turn when a van hit him from behind. The Star reports, quote, "It’s unclear what prompted the change."
The police have a right to make mistakes. They have a right, and indeed an obligation, to amend their conclusions as new evidence emerges. I expect nothing less. Likewise, prosecutors have an obligation to bring only charges they can prove. In some cases, this will mean that offenders avoid charges, but our system works that way.
That does not mean that police have no obligation to conduct a transparent, accountable investigation. Cyclists who follow the repercussions of bicycle crashes know all too well that too many people leap to blame the cyclist whenever a crash happens. We know that too many drivers find it comfortable to blame the cyclist for any accident for which the police do not charge the driver. And we know, too, that if drivers have a sense of impunity, they all too often have good reason.
As a community, we cyclists often disagree about the best infrastructure for cycling. We discuss the virtues of painted versus physically separated lanes, of the advantages and disadvantages of infrastructure designed specifically for bicycles. I believe we can agree on one thing: cycling safety depends on a justice system that holds the operators of motor vehicles accountable for their actions. I believe the first essential step in that process is transparency: open investigations and conclusions.
The police may have valid reasons to hold back details of the crash that took Tom Samson's life for now, but they have a responsibility to make their investigation public as soon as possible. The safety of cyclists, and our confidence in the system that keeps us safe, demands at least that much.