So far in 2016, there has been a sharp interest in Ontario’s one metre law, passed last September. This regulation requires the driver of a vehicle to give at least a one meter gap between their vehicle and a cyclist when overtaking. The regulation as stated in the Ontario Act, passing of Bill 31 – Transportation Statute Law Amendment Act, 2015 is:
Ontario Bill 31 – Section 148 (6.1) Every person in charge of a motor vehicle on a highway who is overtaking a person travelling on a bicycle shall, as nearly as may be practicable, leave a distance of not less than one metre between the bicycle and the motor vehicle and shall maintain that distance until safely past the bicycle.
The BC Motor Vehicle Act already has rules for drivers overtaking safely. The problem is the way the regulation is written the rules do not apply when overtaking cycles.
What? How can this be?
It comes down to weaknesses in the Act and its motor vehicle centric biases. To understand this, we need to look at the terms as defined and used in the Act:
The BC Motor Vehicle Act, Chapter 318, defines the terms vehicle, motor vehicle and motorcycle as:
BC MVA – Chapter 318, Part 1 Definitions (1)
“vehicle” means a device in, on or by which a person or thing is or may be transported or drawn on a highway, but does not include a device designed to be moved by human power, a device used exclusively on stationary rails or tracks, mobile equipment or a motor assisted cycle;
“motor vehicle” means a vehicle, not run on rails, that is designed to be self propelled or propelled by electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires, but does not include mobile equipment or a motor assisted cycle;
“motorcycle” means a motor vehicle that runs on 2 or 3 wheels and has a saddle or seat for the driver to sit astride;
Whereas, in Chapter 318, Part 3 of the Act, a cycle is defined as:
BC MVA – Part 3 Definitions 119(1)
“cycle” means a device having any number of wheels that is propelled by human power and on which a person may ride and includes a motor assisted cycle, but does not include a skate board, roller skates or in-line roller skates;
Five things to observe:
- A cycle is not a vehicle.
- A motor vehicle is a kind of vehicle.
- A motorcycle is a kind of motor vehicle.
- A cycle and a vehicle is a device.
- The term device is not defined.
The definition quite deliberately excludes a cycle from being a kind of vehicle. So, why is this concerning? Doesn’t the law cover off the conduct of operator’s of cycles to simply have the same rights and responsibilities of drivers? Yes, it does, and that’s how we understand that cyclists must follow the same rules of the road as motorists, but there are regulations that depend on the term vehicle, but really should include all forms of vehicles, whether motorized or not – i.e. should include cycles, but do not.
Part 3 150(1)(a) and Section 157(1)(a) speak of an operator of a vehicle in relation to another vehicle. These regulations should also include cycle:
Chapter 318, Part 3
Driver on right
150 (1) The driver of a vehicle must confine the course of the vehicle to the right hand half of the roadway if the roadway is of sufficient width and it is practicable to do so, except
(a) when overtaking and passing a vehicle proceeding in the same direction,
This should say vehicle or cycle. There is no other regulation that says what a driver of a vehicle must do this regarding a cycle when driving along on the right hand half of the roadway.
So Chapter 318, Part 3, Section 157 is where the MVA speaks to driver duties when overtaking another vehicle. This is where the regulation could simply add cycle and the notion of 1 metre gap. And why not apply the rule generally? Would you want someone overtaking your car at 90 km/h and have them overtake your car within a metre?
Chapter 318, Part 3
Duty when overtaking
157 (1) Except as provided in section 158, the driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle
(a) must cause the vehicle to pass to the left of the other vehicle at a safe distance, and
(b) must not cause or permit the vehicle to return to the right side of the highway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle.
So, it seems our duty as drivers for safely overtaking someone else is limited to when that someone else is driving a vehicle, but not a cycle. This is certainly not intentional, but more likely sloppy regulation authoring, or perhaps intentional to marginalize the actual rights and safety of the cyclist? I’ll let conspiracy theorists run with that one, but regardless, the MVA is clearly in need of amending.
I’ve said it before, the BC MVA is a poorly written set of regulations. A cycle should have been defined as a type of vehicle, similarly to the way a motor vehicle is defined as a kind of vehicle. This way driver responsibilities relating to operating safely relative to other vehicles would automatically include cycles, and therefore the intended safety of cyclists.
Since a cycle is not a vehicle, a driver of a vehicle has no regulatory obligation to pass a cycle in a safe manner.
It’s time to amend the Motor Vehicle Act
It wouldn’t take much to simply amend the regulation to have a one meter safe passing rule for all types of vehicles and re-define a cycle as a type of vehicle, which it does not do today.
Here are my suggested changes to the BC Motor Vehicle Act that would include the one meter rule:
BC MVA Chapter 318 Part 3 – PROPOSED EXAMPLE AMENDMENT
Duty when overtaking
157 (1) Except as provided in section 158, the
driver operator of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle or cycle
(a) must cause the vehicle to pass to the left of the other vehicle or cycle at a safe distance, and
(b) must not cause or permit the vehicle to return to the right side of the highway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle or cycle, and
(c) must cause the vehicle to maintain a distance of not less than one metre between the vehicle and the other vehicle or cycle being overtaken and shall maintain at least that distance until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle or cycle.
Alternatively, the Act must be changed to either include cycle when referring to a vehicle or redefine the terms to include a cycle as a kind of vehicle, altering the language where the rules need apply only to motor vehicles, or motorcycles. For example, Chapter 318, Section 162(1) is the ‘Following too Closely’ rule. It applies only to following too closely to another vehicle, thus excluding cycles.
Adding a cycle as a kind of vehicle to the definitions would then require the term “driver” to be renamed as “operator”, which would be much clearer as cycles and motorcycles are not ‘driven’, but ridden.
It is past time to fully amend the BC Motor Vehicle Act.
DriveSmart BC – “Passing a Cyclist Safely”
BC Motor Vehicle Act – Chapter 318
Legislative Assembly of Ontario – Bill 31