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Ontario lawyer and Ironman finisher points out why triathletes and cyclists should be concerned about premier’s behaviour on the road

Ford chatted on a video call while driving in a snowstorm

Photo by: @krisreports

Ontario and Quebec were hit by a massive snowstorm, resulting in a huge snow dump in major urban centres like Hamilton, Toronto, Montreal, London, Quebec City and Ottawa. School was cancelled, and most people stayed at home unless absolutely necessary. The highways were a mess, and cars were stuck pretty much everywhere. If you could even dig out your car, that is.

Earlier today. Premier Doug Ford was spotted driving his car around the greater Toronto area assisting drivers who may have slid off the road, or were stuck.

“Premier Ford’s decision to drive earlier today, apparently for the sole purpose of seeking out ‘drivers’ who needed help may seem to some to be civically-minded and even kind,” says Ian Brisbin, a lawyer with Martin and Hillyer Associates who is an avid cyclist and Ironman triathlete. “However, a strong argument can be made that his choice not only to drive on the most dangerous driving day in recent memory, but on a day on which the Ministry of Transportation advised that Ontarians stay off the roads for our safety, and in order to permit emergency and snow-clearing vehicles clear access, is a symptom of not only his own ‘car-first’ mindset, but an appeal to the same sentiment amongst his supporters.”

In an interview on CP24 with George Lagogianes, Ford was talking about the crappy weather conditions…as he FaceTimed. Many cyclists were irate about this, saying that it was distracted driving. Given that the driving conditions were some of the worst all year, cycling Twitter was frustrated about the premier’s behaviour.

As you can see, it’s not the best look for Ford.

Brisbin understands why cyclists were angry about Ford’s actions.

“Premier Ford electing to do at least one live video interview, not only from his motor vehicle, but while he was actively driving was dangerous, an exercise of poor judgment and was quite possibly illegal,” Brisbin says. “He appeared to be complying with the Highway Traffic Act prohibition against the use of against ‘hand-held’ devices while driving, as the device on which he was participating in a video interview was in ‘hands-free mode.’ That said, s. 78(1) of the Act stipulates that: ‘No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway if the display screen of a television, computer or other device in the motor vehicle is visible to the driver.’ Premier Ford’s use of his electronic device does not fall within any of the legislated exceptions to s. 78(1).”

Especially given that his communications team had just posted about the driving conditions.

For Brisbin, Ford’s actions today serve as a reminder of the challenges out on the roads for cyclists and triathletes.

“Seeing Premier Ford choose to drive contrary to the Highway Traffic Act, undoubtedly without legal consequence, serves to reinforce the perception of actual and potential users of active transportation that they are unwelcome and that ‘roads are for cars.’ Cyclists and other vulnerable road users are entitled to use road infrastructure and to do so secure in the knowledge that they will be safe while doing so. Premier Ford flagrantly broadcasting his choice to drive in conditions and without due care and attention sends a clear message to those he serves: the rules of the road, enacted to protect Ontarians (including cyclists) from death or serious injury on Ontario’s roads simply do not apply equally to all.”

“The combination of inadequate cycling facilities, a political environment unfriendly to active transportation, aggressive drivers defending what they believe to be their ‘turf’ and a lack of enforcement of existing law are serious deterrents to cyclists exercising their right to use the road, and dissuades potential cyclists who wish to ride to fear for their safety to the extent that they don’t,” Brisbin concludes. “This is unacceptable, as cycling is part of a strategy, municipally, provincially and beyond, to meet climate change targets, to contribute to the collective physical and emotional health of Ontarians and to help us build more liveable cities with landscapes which are equitable, vibrant and sustainable.”

A version of this story appeared on the Canadian Cycling Magazine website.