B.C. Cycling Coalition renews call for 1.5 metre passing requirement for drivers

·3 min read
The B.C. Cycling Coalition wants the province to enact a law that would require drivers to give cyclists at least 1.5 metres of cycling space, but some critics say many of the province's roads are too narrow or busy. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC - image credit)
The B.C. Cycling Coalition wants the province to enact a law that would require drivers to give cyclists at least 1.5 metres of cycling space, but some critics say many of the province's roads are too narrow or busy. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC - image credit)

The B.C. Cycling Coalition is renewing its call for the province to enact a law that would make it mandatory for drivers to give cyclists at least 1.5 metres of passing space.

The coalition first called for the change in 2016, shortly after Ontario issued a similar law. Colin Stein, the coalition's executive director, says the law would help reduce the number of collisions caused by motorists passing cyclists without leaving enough room.

"We just think that with greater promotion, first of all, of how to pass safely, but then also enacting a law, that those instances will go down and you'll see less injuries and crashes on the road," Stein said.

On average, about 16 cyclists are injured each year, because a driver hasn't given them enough space, Stein says. A less quantifiable number, he says, is the number of people who refuse to cycle or cycle less because they don't feel safe.

Stein admits the law would be difficult to enforce, but he thinks it would create more public awareness about how to safely pass cyclists on the road and that the law could be enforced, if there are witnesses to, or video of, a crash.

Some roads too narrow or busy: lawyer

Currently in B.C., the Motor Vehicle Act encourages drivers to keep at least one metre of space when passing a cyclist, but it's just a recommendation.

In a written statement, the Ministry of Public Safety said it's not actively pursuing a minimum passing law at the moment.

The Ministry of Transportation said its active transportation strategy enacted in 2019 "includes an initiative to expand motorist education programs to include information on sharing the road, safe passing and yielding."

Vancouver lawyer Kyla Lee, who specializes in traffic cases, says the province's current laws are more than adequate to give cyclists the space they need.

"Under Section 144 of the Motor Vehicle Act, a driver is required to drive with reasonable consideration to all of the users of the road and that includes cyclists," Lee said.

Mandating a specific amount of space wouldn't be feasible, Lee says, because some roads are too narrow or busy.

Reducing ambiguity

The cycling coalition's counter-argument is if there isn't enough room to pass safely, drivers shouldn't pass at all.

Stein says drivers can use the counter-traffic lane to pass when safe.

Lee points out that the Motor Vehicle Act also includes specific rules for cyclists, like keeping as far right as possible. She worries that a minimum-passing-space law would diminish those rules.

But Stein says implementing a passing law with a specific distance would remove any ambiguity about what constitutes a safe passing distance.

"It's not unreasonable for people to provide a clear distance and to set an actual number, whether it's one metre or 1.5," he said.

Other jurisdictions

Stein says the law has been successful in building confidence among cyclists when it's been put in place in other jurisdictions, like Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.

In 2019, the City of Calgary enacted a passing law that made it mandatory for drivers to give cyclists at least one metre of space, and now Edmonton is looking at a similar law.

A staff member with Calgary's transportation planning department says the city has mostly focused on education so far, and the majority of the feedback has been neutral or positive.

The department says that nearly half of cyclists who responded to a city survey issued a year later said they felt safer on the road because of the law.

Stein says the need for a minimum-passing-distance law is greater than ever because of the increasing number of cyclists on the road and the province's goals to increase active transportation.

While separated bike lanes remain the coalition's main priority, Stein says the reality is that most cyclists in B.C. have to share roads with cars and other vehicles.