Canada: Cycling Accidents Without Insurance, Who Pays?

Last Updated: December 21 2016
Article by James R. Howie and Adam Wagman

Have you ever been sitting in your vehicle during a traffic jam, bumper to bumper, with no way to escape the street-turned-parking lot? If so, you probably looked on with envy as cyclists passed you by. You may have even joined the ranks of cyclists yourself!

Recognizing that this increasingly popular form of transportation is environmentally friendly, a great way to exercise, and something that helps limit the growth of car traffic, many cities have installed bike lanes and other cycling infrastructure to make it easier and safer to ride.

Even with these developments, cyclists are not immune from collisions with vehicles, pedestrians and other cyclists. If you are involved in an accident while on your bicycle that results in property damage or injuries to you or another person, what happens when you need to draw upon insurance?

Collisions Involving a Bicycle and a Motor Vehicle

A cyclist who has the misfortune of being involved in an accident with a motor vehicle will almost certainly end up much worse off than the driver of the motor vehicle – the soft tissue that makes up the human body riding the bike is no match for the steel frame of a vehicle in which a driver is safely buckled.

It is important that you take down the driver's license, plate and insurance information and, if possible, take photos of the accident scene. If your injuries don't allow you to do so, ask a witness to record that information. Exchange email addresses with the witness so that you can collect additional information, such as photos or statements, when you are able. The more information that you can record at the accident scene, the better.

Unlike motor vehicle drivers, cyclists aren't required to be licensed or to have insurance when driving on the road. If you have your own motor vehicle insurance policy, however, Ontario's no-fault benefits system requires you to file your claim with your own insurance company, even when your car isn't involved in a motor vehicle accident, and regardless of who is responsible for the collision. Even if you don't have your own policy, as a cyclist you can still make a claim for no-fault benefits to the insurance company that provides coverage for the car involved in the collision. That's why it's so important to get this information before departing from the scene of an accident.

By making a claim under an auto insurance policy, cyclists may be covered for property damages to the bicycle if they were not at fault for the accident. More importantly, they may be covered for medical and rehabilitation costs, income replacement, care needs, and other expenses that are covered under Ontario's Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule (SABS).

In the unfortunate event of a hit-and-run, a cyclist without their own motor vehicle insurance policy may still be able to make a claim for damage to the bicycle under their home insurance policy or under a policy where they are listed as a dependent. But even without any insurance whatsoever, a cyclist can make a claim under Ontario's Motor Vehicle Accident Claim Fund. The Fund will provide coverage for the same no-fault benefits as an insurance company, and if the cyclist is not at fault, a claim can be brought to the Fund for damages, loss of income, and expenses, including the damage to the bike, for up to $200,000.

Collisions Involving Other Cyclists and Pedestrians

If a cyclist is involved in an accident with another cyclist or a pedestrian, the accident would usually not be considered a "motor vehicle accident", and therefore coverage under a motor vehicle insurance policy, access to Statutory Accident Benefits, and access to the Fund would not be available. However, the person at-fault in this accident would still be responsible for any damages that they cause. A homeowner's insurance policy, or other insurance policy, could provide some coverage for the damage caused by their negligence.

Stay Safe

Even though every motor vehicle driver must carry insurance on their vehicle while cyclists can ride insurance-free, it's important to remember that all drivers, riders and pedestrians must still follow the rules of the road in order to keep everyone as safe as possible. And cyclists, who have almost no protection while battling tons of steel on our roadways, must be constantly vigilant. There is little solace knowing the driver of the car was in the wrong while a cyclist lies in a hospital bed, their life forever changed.

As a cyclist, before heading out for your next ride, think about contacting your insurance provider to determine what kind of coverage, if any, you have for accidents involving your bike. Would new or additional coverage give you more peace of mind? Do you need optional benefits under your motor vehicle policy to make sure that you and your family are covered in the event of an accident?

Always practice prudent cycling safety by obeying the rules of the road, wearing bright/reflective materials, using appropriate hand signals, and keeping your eyes on the road and your surroundings.

Finally, if you are involved in an accident – whether you're insured or not – remember to treat it like a motor vehicle accident. Record insurance, license and witness information if possible, and always seek immediate medical treatment. With adrenaline running high after a crash, you may not notice you are seriously injured until later. Ride smart, and ride safe.

We are both avid cyclists and participate in the yearly Ride to Conquer Cancer – a two-day cycling event spanning over 200 kilometres throughout Ontario's picturesque countryside. In our next blog post, we will cover safety tips for motor vehicle drivers who share the road with cyclists, including the basic hand signals used by avid cyclist to communicate with others on the road.

This article was also published by The Lawyers Weekly.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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