• Dave Shellnutt

Bike Crashes & Psychological Trauma


On most rides I see the haunting image of a silver sedan in the corner of my eye. It’s not physically there, it’s a flashback from when I was hit by a car.


Flashbacks are common after experiencing trauma, and road traumas are no exception. People on bikes don’t have the same protection as people in cars. Being driven into by someone in a car is violent, unexpected, and often accompanied by serious physical injury.


In addition to physical injuries, most bike crash victims I act for present with post-crash emotional and psychological trauma and road phobias. Even where the physical injuries are relatively minor, the psychological impact of a crash can be complex and profound.


For many of my clients, it takes months to mentally “get back on the bike.” Sadly, some never do.


There is no straight-line recovery for mental health injuries. Even with treatment, symptoms manifest at different times and in different ways.


I recently spoke about my own post-crash mental health hurdles at a Bike Minds event at Curbside Cycle in Toronto. I told the audience that even after I was riding again, I found myself angry, perpetually scared, and unable to find the freedom and joy I’d once had. Cycling, specifically commuting to work by bike, has always been a prominent fixture of my own health and wellness routine. Having my release valve taken away and replaced with a pressure-cooker of stress and anxiety was a major problem.


Thankfully, I have been working through my trauma. Months after being hit by that silver sedan, I was able to recognize my own need for mental health treatment.


I also knew that because I was injured in a bike/car crash, I was entitled to treatment. As a person who has experienced trauma and as a personal injury lawyer for people who have been in bike crashes or experienced other forms of violence, I have certain privileges and insight into what supports are available.


Ontario’s No-Fault Accident Benefits regime is supposed to provide certain levels of funding for cyclists injured in a crash with a car. People on bikes are covered, either through the car driver’s insurance, their own car insurance (if they have it), or through the provincial insurer in cases of hit and runs. I wrote about this all here. Access it!


A year later, I still check in with cyclist, trauma survivor, and incredibly thoughtful psychotherapist, Noah Mugenyi.


To access post-crash mental health supports, you’ll need your family doctor to recommend mental health therapy. Another route is through an assessment by a road phobia and trauma expert like Psychologist Dr. Fahimeh Aghamohseni.


However, in my experience, even if you’re able to jump through these hoops it’s often not enough (*shouting "you should still apply!"*). The private car insurance companies responsible for the administration of Ontario’s No-Fault Accident Benefits regime are woefully ill-equipped to deal with the complexities of crash related mental health injuries.


In a shocking amount of cases, I am fighting with private insurance companies like Intact, Aviva and the Belairdirect to get injured people access to statutorily mandated mental health supports.


I am writing to Doug Ford and relevant Health and Insurance Ministries/government bodies calling on them to launch a mental health review of the Statutory Accident Benefits regime and its administration by private insurers.


With sensible COVID-19 restrictions on physical treatment for injured people, mental health treatment (in many cases done with ease over video) ought to be encouraged for the health and wellness of injured people in Ontario.


Beyond the pandemic, mental health injuries must be re-prioritized by car insurance companies administering Accident Benefits. Treatment of injured people must be sensitive, focused, and compassionate, not profit driven or re-traumatizing – not uncommon realities.


Ontario remains dangerous for vulnerable road users. Crashes happen. A lot. Our system needs to do a better job in the day to day support and administration of Accident Benefits for crash victims.


Cyclists, please be mindful of common post-crash traumas and phobias. You are not alone. You are deserving of support and you are entitled to access it. As always, I am here to help.


Ride safe, friends.


*contact dave@thebikinglawyer.ca for legal advice or more information.

**Special thanks for the excellent second set of eyes and thoughts to Ryan Shissler who has some great cycling related work of his own you should check out: https://youtu.be/W3yre8osBlk


Take a look at Ryan Shissler (@Ryan_Shissler): https://twitter.com/Ryan_Shissler?s=09

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©2019 by The Biking Lawyer.

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