What is the role of road rage when assessing motor vehicle
liability? The British Columbia Supreme Court recently gave its
opinion on the significance of intimidation in motor vehicle
accidents involving cyclists. In Davies v. Elston, 2014
BCSC 2435, the 77-year old plaintiff was thrown from his bike after
a heated confrontation with the Defendant, in which Elston used his
one-ton Ford F350 pickup to chase down and heckle the senior as he
was biking with his son in Richmond.
The Plaintiff was cycling along one of his regular routes with
his son in a designated bike lane, when his son made a comment
about a parked truck's mirror extending into the bike lane. The
Defendant, who owned the truck, was nearby and heard the
comment. He proceeded to get into his truck and followed the
two cyclists in order to confront them. When the Defendant
caught up to the Plaintiff, he was still riding in the bike lane.
The Defendant rolled down his passenger window and began to heckle
the Plaintiff. After a brief exchange, during which the Plaintiff
was leaning on the vehicle for support, the truck drove away and
the Plaintiff unfortunately crashed into the curb, causing serious
The case revolved around how the accident occurred and so, the
court applied the relevant legal test for causation: whether the
plaintiff can prove on a balance of probabilities that but for the
defendant's negligent conduct, the plaintiff's fall from
the bicycle and injuries would not have occurred.
The court found that the Defendant's words were stated
aggressively and were meant to intimidate. The context in which
these were said further indicated the Defendant's intention to
intimidate. The court stated:
To any person in Jim Davies' shoes, Mr.
Elston's conduct would have seemed angry, irrational and
threatening. In the situation Jim Davies found himself, due to Mr.
Elston's conduct ... inches away from serious harm. He was
being pursued by an angry man whose large moving vehicle was the
equivalent of a weapon that could have been turned on him and his
son at any second. Any slip by the driver or the cyclist and Jim
Davies could have found himself under the rear tires of the
The court concluded that Elston's conduct fell below the
standard of care of a reasonable and prudent driver when he drove
alongside the two cyclists and yelled at them. In short, his
behaviour was negligent. His actions of driving so close to the
bike lane made it intimidating, threatening and unsafe for the
cyclists. In addition, he breached the standard of care when he
pulled away quickly, without warning, while the Plaintiff's
hand was resting on the passenger windowsill of the truck.
The court set out the general principles that apply where a
driver is found to have intimidated a cyclist with his or her
No matter how aggravating a cyclist's behaviour
might be... a driver of a motor vehicle can never be justified in
deliberately using a motor vehicle to confront a cyclist who is
riding a bike. Confrontation creates a serious risk of harm to the
cyclist which is way out of proportion to anything the cyclist
might have done. A driver of a motor vehicle is not entitled to
impose a penalty of death or serious bodily harm on a cyclist just
because the cyclist was rude or broke a traffic
It has to be remembered that motor vehicles have
four wheels, automatic brakes, seatbelts, and the driver is nicely
encased in a heavy steel cage and that a person on a bicycle is not
in a situation which is the least bit comparable, even if going the
same speed as a vehicle. A cyclist cannot stop on a dime, is
vulnerable to losing balance, and can be seriously injured or
killed if he or she makes contact with a motor vehicle or falls at
a high speed.
The court then concluded that but for the Defendant's
aggressive and negligent conduct, the Plaintiff would not have
fallen from his bike. The Defendant's negligence was
consequently the cause of the accident and resulting injuries.
As a result of this decision, the court has confirmed that
regardless of a cyclist's behaviour, a driver of a motor
vehicle who behaves in a way that can be construed as aggressive
may be considered to have acted negligently if there is resulting
injury. The decision leaves open the door for finding that even
where there is absolutely no physical contact between the two, the
act of being threatening could be enough to create a causal link
with any subsequent accident that may occur
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