Cyclists and the Law: An Uncertain Path

Spring is here, and the best of the cycling season is just around the corner.  Before you pump up the tires, strap on your helmet and take off on your first bike ride, there are a few things other than increasing your heart rate that you might want to think about.

Do you know the rules of the road?  Really know the rules of the road?  Most of us think of the obvious ones:  wear a helmet, don’t ride on the sidewalks, go with traffic, not against it.   Section 183 of the Motor Vehicle Act, however, explicitly tells us that cyclists have the same rights and duties as drivers. Outside of the Motor Vehicle Act, there is no act in British Columbia that deals exclusively with the rights and responsibilities of cyclists.

What does this mean for cyclists?  Well, it means that the same rules that apply to motorists generally apply to cyclists. So for example, cyclists have to obey traffic lights and stop signs. It means that cyclists must yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. It also means that cyclists must not unsafely tailgate other cyclists or cars.

In addition to the general provisions that are applicable to drivers and cyclists alike, the Act also includes a number of rights and responsibilities specific to cyclists.  These include the obligation to ride as close as practicable to the right side of the road, to ride with at least one hand on the handlebars, and to not ride side by side.

In practice, the application of the Motor Vehicle Act to cyclists creates great uncertainty. As its name suggests, this Act was not written primarily with the operation of bicycles in mind. Indeed, there are some sections of the Act that are not easily applied to bicyclists, and nowhere does it address some scenarios that may be encountered by cyclists, but not motorists.

Because there are gaps in the legislation concerning cyclists, the Courts have had to step in to fill those gaps. For example, passing on the right is permitted where it is safe to do so, and where there is a clear lane to drive in on the right. But what about the situation where the road only has two lanes going in different directions, and the cars going in the same direction as the cyclist are stopped or moving very slowly – can the cyclist pass the stopped cars on the right? The answer may surprise you.

In the BC Court of Appeal case of Jang et al v. Fisher [1990] B.C.J. No. 2560, the Court ruled that in the circumstances of that case an additional lane existed for a cyclist between cars parked on the right, and moving cars on the left enabling the cyclist to pass cars on the right. If the reasoning in Jang was applied to other situations, cyclists may be able to pass on the right when there is enough space to form a “laneway” safe enough for passing; however, at this time, it remains unclear when cyclists are permitted to pass on the right.

Further uncertainty for cyclists has been created by cities as they construct bicycle lanes and paths. The Motor Vehicle Act does not deal with bicycle lanes and paths in any detail, thereby leaving it unclear as to how the Act would apply on a bicycle lane or path.  For example, as cyclists are required to ride to the right and are not permitted to ride side by side, when can one cyclist pass another?  Another area of uncertainty involves right of ways where bicycle lanes or paths coincide with intersections or exits from the roadway.

As if there wasn’t enough uncertainty to begin with, bicyclists should also take note that compliance with the signs posted for motorists may not put them in the right. Courts in British Columbia have held that cyclists must take reasonable care for their own safety. This means that a cyclist could be found liable in an accident where they are traveling at an unsafe speed, even if the speed at which they were traveling is less than the posted speed limit.

As there is currently great uncertainty for cyclists in British Columbia regarding their rights and responsibilities, further legislation or court cases will be required to bring clarity to the rights and responsibilities of cyclists. To minimize their risk, cyclists should take caution to ensure they are cycling safely.

So with cycling season is just around the corner, do you really know the rules of the road?  Probably not – at this time, it appears that no one truly knows the rules.

This blog is produced by Waterstone Law Group LLP. This blog is intended for information purposes only and is not offered as legal advice for a specific claim. Subscription to or use of this site does not establish a solicitor – client relationship between the user and Waterstone Law Group LLP or any of the individual contributors. For advice relating to your personal injury claim, please contact us to arrange for a free consultation.

Comments are closed.