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Kelowna  

Driver's side of the story

Robert Ritchie was involved in an accident just one-year-ago, but he was never physically injured. Instead, the Kelowna resident has been reeling from post-traumatic stress disorder.

On Sept. 25 just before noon, Ritchie was driving home from a lunch with a friend when a cyclist cut in front of his vehicle at the intersection of Springfield and Belgo roads.

The cyclist allegedly did not stop at the stop sign and was struck by Ritchie’s vehicle that was unable to avoid the man on his bike.

“I slammed on the brakes and screamed ‘no,’ and the poor fellow hit the windshield,” said Ritchie.

He says he was very concerned for the cyclist, who later died in hospital. No one kept Ritchie apprised of the man’s well-being and he says he had to constantly ask RCMP for updates.

“Information is not very forthcoming on the police side or ICBC,” he said.

It would take almost three months for Ritchie to be cleared of any wrongdoing, a period of time for which Ritchie endured severe trauma, as he wasn’t sure if he would be charged in the man’s death.

The driver’s side of the story in an accident involving a cyclist is not generally reported on. The cycling community often comes together to support those hurt or killed in vehicle related incidents, but for a driver who was not responsible for causing the accident, the support doesn’t always exist.

“It was a lot of stress, I’m suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, I am still getting over this,” he explained. “It takes a big toll. Emotionally, the stuff I had to go through, knowing this fellow had passed away, and dealing with my life.”

The vehicle Ritchie was driving was written off by ICBC and he says because the cyclist didn’t have insurance, he suffered serious financial loss. He also took a month off of work to try to recuperate from the terrible incident, that continually played over and over in his mind.

“I was told by a counsellor that it was a freak accident and that I should be fine, I should get over it.”

But Ritchie isn’t able to get over it, which is why he has decided to speak out.

“I would like drivers and cyclists to take responsibility for their actions while out motoring, especially cyclists. I often see cyclists not obeying rules of the road,” he said. “I see people not wearing helmets. They don’t understand the common sense rules of the road.”

The cyclist involved in Ritchie’s crash was not wearing a helmet and was allegedly eating an apple as he pedalled.

He says he doesn’t see a difference between avid cycle enthusiasts, and those who just might be cruising about on a bicycle.

“You see people who are conscious of their health and well-being, they are wearing helmets and in the bike lane, but they still don’t have a licence or insurance,” he explained. “How do you determine if someone is road worthy?

"There is no licensing for cyclists, there is no insurance. I think having insurance would make the cyclists more responsible, it would mean they have a bigger stake in this if they are held responsible.”

Ritchie hopes that by telling his story, more who share a similar situation will also want to come forward. He says perhaps a group could be created to support those who are emotionally scarred in an accident.

“Out of all of this, ICBC has been the worst offender in this situation. They have traumatized me more than when this fellow died.”

Recently a Castanet columnist posted an article on cycling and road related incidents. Avid cyclist Landon Bradshaw wanted to draw attention to the reaction by the driving community after the Critical Mass ride to honour fallen cyclists, back in July.

He wrote that no one is winning the war of car vs. bike or bike vs. car.

“We’re all losing because we don’t talk. We just assume that we know everything and that so does everyone else. Cycling benefits everyone, directly and indirectly. Motorized vehicles are here to stay, we will always need them in some form or fashion. Let’s keep talking and get more communication going between cyclists and drivers.”

                                                                                  – With files from Rob Balsdon and Jen Zielinski

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