Bicycle lanes are here for the safety of our bicycle riders. Living in a city such as Victoria, British Columbia provides bicycle commuters with lots of opportunities for safe riding due to the many such lanes throughout our city.
Such a lane is a dedicated piece of roadway exclusively for the use of bicycle commuters. Cars and other vehicles are supposed to yield to cyclists when they are using these dedicated lanes.
In one of our cases a cyclist was riding (speeding actually) in the bicycle lane going down a hill, very fast. He was riding his bicycle in the dedicated lane. Despite this, a car turned right, crossed over the dedicated lane right in front of this cyclist and struck the cyclist. The question is this: was the cyclist at fault in any way because he was going so fast? That is, he was going well above the speed limit? Or was it absolutely the car’s fault because it cut into the cyclist’s right-of-way?
Whose fault will the court say it is when a car turns into such a lane and strikes a cyclist? Which vehicle was supposed to yield to the other? Was the motor vehicle supposed to yield to the cyclist or the cyclist to the motor vehicle?
Prior to moving into a bike lane, motor vehicle drivers must first make sure that the lane is safe.
Now, this is not to say that bicycle commuters should not be looking out for their own safety at the same time. Cars hurt. They are also bigger than cyclists and can cause lots of damage to the cyclist.
Although there are dedicated bicycle lanes in our city, bicyclists have to also look out for their own safety. They have to ride defensively. Riding defensively means that they don’t necessarily come blazing down a hill at a raucous speed without regard for the speed limit.
Cars have to be able to see the cyclists if cyclists are going to be safe. That makes sense doesn’t it?
Here is the answer. When there is a bicycle lane on the right side of the roadway, and a car is making a right-hand turn, that car must not turn from the place on the road dedicated to the car itself, but must get over as far right as possible. Getting over as far right as possible means they have to actually enter the bicycle lane. Before entering the bicycle lane they must make sure that it is clear of cyclists.
If a driver turns right directly from the road dedicated to the motor vehicle and crosses over the bicycle lane unsafely, that driver will be liable for damages for striking the cyclist.
Like most things in law, however, that may not be the whole answer. If the cyclist was speeding, the courts will likely find that the cyclist is at least partially liable.
Although bicycle lanes are there to protect us bicycle commuters, we still have to ride defensively and have regard for our own safety.
Motor Vehicle Act of British Columbia states at section 151:
The relevant sections of section 151 of the Motor Vehicle Act of British Columbia are as follows:
A driver who is driving a vehicle on a laned roadway:
(a) must not drive it from one lane to another when a broken line only exists between the lanes, unless the driver has ascertained that movement can be made with safety and will in no way affect the travel of another vehicle,
(b) must not drive it from one lane to another if that action necessitates crossing a solid line,
(c) must not drive it from one lane to another without first signalling his or her intention to do so by hand and arm or approved mechanical device . . .
(e) when approaching an intersection intending to turn right must drive the vehicle in the lane nearest to the right hand side of the roadway.
You can learn more about bicycles lanes and safety here.
In the case of Pacheco (Guardian ad litem) v. Robinson (1993), 75 B.C.L.R. (2d) 273 (C.A.) at para. 15, the court states, "Where the defendant, as here, has totally failed to determine whether a turn can be made safely, the defendant should be held 100 percent at fault for a collision which occurs."
The basic rules in collisions involving motor vehicles and cyclists are summarized in Dobre v. Langley, 2011 BCSC 1315. The following are applicable to a case such as this:
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 a bicycle helmet.
Section 151(e) of the Motor Vehicle Act requires that right turns be made from the lane furthest right. Although case law in these exact circumstances is limited, there are other sources that explain this means a vehicle must signal and enter the bicycle lane prior to turning right where such lanes exist. In this case, it seems that the driver turned right from what would be considered the left lane. For that reason, she would be at fault. However, if witness statements can attribute speed as a factor causing the accident, our cyclist could be found to have been partially negligent and have his damages reduced.
The lesson for the cyclist (and driver) is to drive
defensively at all times.
At the end of the day, it is better not to get hurt in the first place if we can avoid it.
Written by Val Hemminger, lawyer and cyclist.