Taking a Look at Cycling Laws

Sadly, a 71 year old pedestrian has died after being struck by a cyclist in Stanley Park on October 3 near the totem poles at Brockton Point.
Apparently the man was crossing the roadway when a 57 year old rider collided with him. Reportedly, the cyclist remained at the scene and cooperated fully with police. The pedestrian suffered a fatal head injury when his head hit the pavement.


This mishap has, understandably, rekindled the call by some people to demand that the government (either municipal or provincial) set up a mandatory bike licensing regime. Proponents of such a scheme feel that licensing would help ensure that cyclists know the rules of the road and could better be held accountable for breaking those rules. However laudible those goals, we wonder how effective a licencing regime would be. People who would require bikes to carry license plates with the goal of helping identify cyclists who flaunt the rules may not realize that identifying the bike is one thing; identifying the rider is another.

Under the Motor Vehicle Act, offences are committed by “persons who are driving”. The goal of the legislation is largely to regulate the actions of drivers, as opposed to owners. While there are MVA provisions that deem “owners” of vehicles responsible for disobeying speed limits  or traffic control devices in circumstances where “prescribed monitoring devices”, i.e. government installed cameras are present, the legislation sets out that only “drivers” not “owners” can receive penalty points and corresponding potential driving prohibitions for committing traffic offences. In our view, this certainly seems fair as it would be unfair, for example,  to hold responsible a mother who, in good faith, lends her car to her son who runs a stop sign.

To those who would push for a bike licensing regime, we ask the following: how would licensing actually stop unlawful behavior? Clearly there are thousands of licenced drivers who speed and run lights. The answer is in better enforcement.

Section 183 of the Motor Vehicle Act imposes the same rights and duties on cyclists as on drivers of motor vehicles. This section prohibits, among other things, cyclists from riding on sidewalks; riding in crosswalks; riding in the middle of the lane unless travelling at the posted speed; riding abreast of another cyclist; riding hands free; riding out of the seat; carrying another person; and riding where signs prohibit riding.  This section imposes the same obligations on cyclists as on drivers: for example, the obligation under s. 68 to remain at the scene of an accident; to render all reasonable assistance; and to identify himself/herself to any ther parties involved.

In considering whether imposing a bicycle licencing scheme, we should look at the cost vs. the benfit of such regulation. In our view, the most cost effective measure would be to have police seriously address cyclists who break the law. How difficult or costly would it be to have police, on bike or on foot, enforce the already existing Motor Vehicle Act laws that pertain to cyclists. if police can set up “speed traps” and radom roadside stops to check for impaired drivers, it should not be too difficult to set up similar policing details along heavily used pedestrian steets such as the Stanley Park Seawall or Denman Street.