We often hear drivers voicing frustrations about sharing the roadway with cyclists. After all, drivers in BC are trained, licenced and insured. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the vast majority of cyclists.
Conflicts with other road users such as drivers or pedestrians are bound to happen as cyclists become more prolific. So the question is, if an interaction with a cyclist results in a collision or injuries, who is to blame?
The law is not entirely clear on this. Generally speaking, cyclists are treated as if they were vehicles on the road and have to obey the same rules. However, they also to follow a large number of additional rules exclusive to cycling.
To start, BC’s Motor Vehicle Act states plainly that “a person operating a cycle on a highway has the same rights and duties as a driver of a vehicle.” The definition of a highway generally includes municipal streets.
Cyclists’ additional rules in s. 183 and s. 184 of the MVA:
Generally, a person operating a cycle must:
- not ride on a sidewalk unless authorized by a bylaw or a sign.
- not ride on a crosswalk to cross a road unless authorized by a bylaw or a sign.
- ride as near as practicable to the right-hand side of the roadway
- not ride abreast or side-by-side to another cyclist
- keep at least one hand on the handlebars
- ride on a regular seat of the cycle
- not use the bicycle to carry more people than it is designed and equipped for
- respect signs prohibiting cycling
- not grab a hold of any other vehicles on the road
- wear a helmet
When turning left, a cyclist must:
- turn from a left-turning lane closest to the curbside of the road
- keep within that lane while turning and while completing the turn
- where practicable, move past the centre of the intersection during the turn
At night, cyclists are required to attach:
- a white-light lamp visible to at least 150 meters to the bicycle’s front
- a red reflector of a design approved by ICBC
- a red light to the back
When in an accident, a cyclist must:
- remain at the scene
- render all possible assistance
- provide name and address to anyone sustaining loss or injury
For the purposes of traffic signalling, a cyclist must:
- left turn – extend the left hand and arm horizontally
- right turn – extend the left hand and arm upward in a right angel, or extend the right arm horizontally
- stopping – extend left hand and arm out and downward
How the court decides in cases involving motor vehicles and bicycles
How the court views accidents involving motorized vehicles was summarized in a 2011 decision, Dobre v. Langley:
- Each person has a duty to look out for others and to take reasonable care that their actions do not cause others foreseeable harm.
- Each person has a reciprocal duty to take reasonable steps to look out for their own safety.
- The degree of care the law expects a person to exercise in a given situation is proportionate to the risks the actors knew about or should have known about, considering all of the relevant circumstances. The greater the risks associated with the activities involved, the greater the degree of care required.
- Where a judge finds the careless actions of more than one actor, including the injured party, were causes of a person’s harm, the judge can apportion responsibility between them on a percentage basis that reflects the relative blameworthiness of the parties.
- Even if a judge finds a defendant wholly responsible for the accident’s occurring, they may still reduce the plaintiff’s damages because the plaintiff failed to exercise reasonable care for his or her own safety by taking steps that would have avoided or reduced his or her injuries, such as having failed to wear a seatbelt or bicycle helmet.
- The Motor Vehicle Act lays down specific rules of the road to regulate the use of highways and crosswalks by motor vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians. The provisions of the Motor Vehicle Act reflect older common law rules, modified and expanded to reflect the demands of modern traffic.
- The standard of care expected of a driver is not perfection, but whether they acted as an ordinarily prudent person would act.
How these laws can play out in court
While the responsibilities set out for cyclists are extensive, there are cases where the court assigns fault to the driver despite a cyclist contravening sections of the Motor Vehicle Act. In Davies v. Elston, a driver argued an injured cyclist was partly negligent in causing his own injuries by riding side-by-side with another cyclist on a bike lane. The case involved a truck driver with large mirrors who came too close to a designated bike lane, causing a cyclist to fall over.
The court said it’s not clear whether the law’s intention is to prohibit cyclists from riding in tandem on a bike lane, and ruled that cyclists riding side-by-side on a bike lane does “not impede vehicular traffic or create any danger in respect of interactions with motor vehicles since motor vehicles are not permitted in bike lanes.” The court added that even if riding side-by-side in a bike lane is prohibited, there was enough room on that particular bike lane – about six feet across – that the cyclists could not have contributed to the accident.
The court said that while the driver did not fully cross the line into the bike lane, the driver should have left the cyclists extra room.
The driver further argued that the cyclist placed a hand on his vehicle to steady himself. He argued that this was another contravention of the MVA, which prohibits cyclists from grabbing onto another vehicle. The court found that the cyclist did breach the MVA, but had only put his hand on the motor vehicle to steady himself and to keep a safe distance from the vehicle. This means that even though the cyclist did something illegal, it was not a negligent action and did not contribute to the accident.
In another case, though it occurred in Alberta, a driver was still found one-third at fault despite a number of potential violations made by the cyclist. The courts determined that the injured cyclist made a “rolling stop” at a stop sign, had a hood over her head and possibly had ear buds in her ears when the collision occurred. Additionally, the crash “could have been completely avoided if the cyclist had stopped at the stop sign and properly looked both ways.”
However, the court also determined that the driver of the vehicle had taken her eyes off the road – to check the speedometer – in the seconds before the crash. And even though the driver argued she had right of way, the driver hadn’t demonstrated sufficient reasonable care to avoid a crash.
What if a cyclist hits a pedestrian?
We have yet to identify a clear case where the courts have determined fault in a pedestrian versus cyclist collision. Such a case, however, may be currently making its way through the BC Supreme Court. The case involves a woman who alleges she was struck by a bicycle before falling and hitting a rocky area along the Stanley Park Seawall. She claims the collision resulted in permanent physical disability.
In her claim, the woman has named both the cyclist and the City of Vancouver. The claim was filed in 2015 and continues to proceed through the court process. If the claim is tested in court, the results could prove interesting for future conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists.
The courts have a huge number of factors to consider
It is impossible to determine with certainty how a court may decide a collision involving a vehicle and a cyclist, a pedestrian and a cyclist, or any combination of that. Yes, the courts have summarized the factors that may be examined when deciding such a case, but it takes an experienced BC Driving Lawyer to identify how the law can affect the particulars of each individual case.
No one wants to be in an accident. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a pedestrian who has been struck by a cyclist, a driver who has been involved in an accident with a cyclist, or a cyclist injured in a traffic accident. We can help you determine your best course of action in proceeding with a claim.
Call today at 1-877-685-1818 for a free consultation.