Cyclists involved in accidents
Cyclists are generally required to obey the rules of the road that apply to vehicles, and the Motor Vehicle Act, RSBC 1996, c. 318 specifies additional rules that apply to cyclists.
The following sets out some of the special rules that apply to cyclists, and then considers certain situations in which accidents involving cyclists sometimes occur.
Cyclist provisions in MVA
The following is an informal summary of some of the rules set out in the Motor Vehicle Act, RSBC 1996, c. 318 that apply to cyclists:
- Cyclists have the same rights and duties as a driver of a vehicle: s. 183(1)
- Do not ride on a sidewalk unless directed to do so by a sign: s. 183(2)(a)
- Do not ride on a crosswalk unless directed to do so by a sign: s. 183(2)(b)
- Ride as near as practicable to the right side of the road (s. 183(2)(c)), but not required to ride on a part of the highway that is not paved: s. 183(3).
- Do not ride two abreast: s. 183(2)(d)
- Do not ride with no hands: s. 183(2)(e)
- Do not give lifts: s. 183(2)(g)
- Do not hold onto a vehicle while riding: s. 183(5)
- If riding in the period from half hour before sunset to half hour after sunrise you are required to have a white headlight (visible from 150m), a red reflector, and a red rear facing light: s. 183(6).
- Brakes must be sharp enough to make the braked wheels skid: s. 183(8).
- A cyclist involved in or contributing to an accident must stay at the scene and provide name and address information to injured persons: s. 183(9)
- Indicate a left turn by extending left arm horizontally leftwards: s. 183(17)(a).
- Indicate right turn by extending right arm horizontally rightwards, or left upper arm horizontally leftwards with the left forearm bent upwards at 90 degrees to the upper left arm: s. 183(17)(b).
- Indicate a stop or decrease in speed by extending the left hand and arm out and downwards s. 183(17)(c).
- Helmets are mandatory: s. 184 (some exceptions apply e.g. pedicabs, religious practices (e.g. turbins): Bicycle Safety Helmet Exemption Regulation, B.C. Reg. 261/96).
Because cyclists are not supposed to ride in a crosswalk unless directed to do so by a sign (Motor Vehicle Act, RSBC 1996, c. 318, s. 183(2)(b)) cyclists are often found partly responsible for accidents that occur when they are riding in a crosswalk.
In Bajkov (Guardian of) v. Canil, 1990 CanLII 1718 (BCCA) the plaintiff was crossing an intersection by riding his bicycle in the crosswalk. The plaintiff was struck by a vehicle which had been travelling in the opposite direction and was turning left across the plaintiff’s path. The trial judge found both the cyclist and the driver of the truck liable for contributing to the accident, but the plaintiff appealed saying that he was not at fault and that he had the right of way. The British Columbia Court of Appeal held that because the plaintiff was riding in the crosswalk on not on the roadway he did not have the right of way:
In those circumstances, in my opinion, the plaintiff was not entitled to rely on the fact that he had the right of way. He would have had the right of way had he still been on the roadway but he was in the crosswalk, a place where he was prohibited from proceeding on his bicycle. In that location, he did not have the right of way upon which he relies and therefore, this is really not a case of the defendant being in a servient position and the plaintiff being able to rely on that fact in contending that he should not also be held to be at fault.
(Bajkov (Guardian of) v. Canil, 1990 CanLII 1718 (BCCA)).
In Archer (Guardian ad litem of) v. Smith, 1994 CanLII 1335 (BCSC) the plaintiff cyclist was riding across a crosswalk when he was struck by a defendant driving a van. Shortly before the accident the plaintiff had been traveling on the sidewalk almost parallel to the defendant’s van (slightly to the rear of the defendant’s right front passenger window). As the plaintiff rode off the sidewalk and through the crosswalk on a green light, the defendant made a right turn into the crosswalk and knocked the plaintiff down. The trial judge held that although the defendant was not driving at an excessive speed, he failed to look to his right to observe either pedestrians or others about to enter the crosswalk. However, the plaintiff cyclist was also riding in a crosswalk contrary to the Motor Vehicle Act. The trial judge concluded it was not possible to establish different degrees of fault and therefore apportioned fault 50-50 between the infant plaintiff and the defendant.
In Niitamo v.Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, 2003 BCSC 608 the plaintiff cyclist (without a helmet) was in a crosswalk when he was struck by a right-turning vehicle. The vehicle did not stop and was never identified. The trial judge noted that the plaintiff was cycling through a crosswalk contrary to the Motor Vehicle Act, but said that the plaintiff was not traveling in a place where it could reasonably be said that a motorist ought to be surprised by his presence. Indeed, a marked crosswalk was precisely the place where a motorist could reasonably expect to encounter another user of the road. The court held that in approaching a marked crosswalk in anticipation of crossing through it a motorist should take special care and maintain a vigilant lookout for those who might be in the crosswalk. The plaintiff was in the well-lit crosswalk and ought to have been seen by a cautious motorist ahead of time. Moreover, as there was no evidence the driver attempted to avoid the accident or stop after it occurred, the evidence suggested the driver was oblivious to the presence of the plaintiff. Accordingly, the trial judge apportioned fault 85% to the unidentified driver and 15% to the plaintiff.
Cyclist on sidewalk
Because cyclists are not supposed to ride on the sidewalk unless directed to do so by a sign (Motor Vehicle Act, RSBC 1996, c. 318, s. 183(2)(a)) cyclists are often found partly responsible for accidents that occur when they are riding on the sidewalk.
In Bradley v. Bath, 2010 BCCA 10 a cyclist was found partly at fault when struck by a vehicle exiting a driveway:
I am of the view that the fault of the parties in this case is equal. The plaintiff’s fault was riding his bicycle on a sidewalk against the flow of traffic and continuing to ride across the path of the exiting vehicle without ensuring his way was clear. The defendant’s fault was his failure to keep a proper lookout when exiting the gas station. I do not believe that one party is more culpable than the other.
(Bradley v. Bath, 2010 BCCA 10 at para. 30).
Failure to ride with a headlight
Section 183(6) of the Motor Vehicle Act, RSBC 1996, c. 318 provides that if riding in the period from half hour before sunset to half hour after sunrise cyclists are required to have a white headlight (visible from 150m), a red reflector, and a red rear facing light. Failure to comply with these requirements will likely result in increased liability being attributed to the cyclist if such failure is found to have contributed to the accident.
Chesley v. Irvine,  B.C.J. 520 (C.A.) (QL) involved a motorcyclist rather than a cyclist but is nevertheless relevant to assessment of fault for cyclists riding without headlights. In that case a motorcyclist rode into a Kamloops intersection in the hours of darkness without a headlight on his motorcycle. The motorcyclist collided with the defendant who was making a left turn at an intersection. The trial judge held the motorcyclist 40% at fault and the left turning driver 60% at fault. The British Columbia Court of Appeal reversed the allocation of fault and found the motorcyclist 60% at fault and the left turning driver 40% at fault. The Court of Appeal said the following regarding the relative responsibility of the plaintiff and the defendant:
[W]hat the defendant was looking for was a vehicle with lights on. That is what she should have been looking for. She did not see that kind of vehicle for the good reason that it was not there. The vehicle that was there had no lights on.
In my opinion, the plaintiff in these circumstances cannot rely on his full dominant position on the highway and the judge was in error in according him that dominant position. Furthermore, the defendant’s vehicle was there to be seen by the plaintiff. Unlike the plaintiff’s motorcycle, the lights of the defendant’s vehicle were on, as was her left turn signal. The plaintiff failed to see it and, consequently, failed to take, so far as can be ascertained, any action to avoid the collision.
In the circumstances of this case I think we are entitled to intervene and reapportion the degrees of fault. I would allow the appeal and find the plaintiff 60% at fault and the defendant 40%.
(Chesley v. Irvine,  B.C.J. 520 (C.A.) (QL)).
In Quade v. Schwartz, 2009 BCCA 73 the plaintiff was riding a bicycle without a headlight or reflector, and wearing all black clothing, collided with defendant’s vehicle which turned left in front of him. The court held that the plaintiff cyclist as the dominant driver had the statutory right of way under s. 174 of the Motor Vehicle Act and was entitled to expect that the defendant would yield to the right of way to him. The plaintiff was found negligent for not having a headlight, although it was found that the defendant driver should have seen the plaintiff cyclist even without a headlight:
[E]ven without a headlight the defendant should have seen the plaintiff and should have yielded the right of way to him. Thus, while the absence of a headlight on the plaintiff’s bicycle may have diminished the importance of his statutory right of way it cannot be said to have displaced it to the extent that is seen in [Chesley v. Irvine,  B.C.J. 520 (C.A.) (QL)].
I would allow the appeal and vary the apportionment of liability by holding both the plaintiff and the defendant equally at fault for the accident.
(Quade v. Schwartz, 2009 BCCA 73 at para. 28 and 30).
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