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Driver Found At Fault for Colliding with Cyclist in a Bike Lane

Dedicated bike lanes are now a commonplace in Vancouver. In fact, it has been 10 years since the first dedicated bike lane on Burrard Street Bridge was opened to much controversy after 2 prior unsuccessful attempts.

With cycling becoming a more popular form of transportation, there is more potential for accidents to occur with vehicles. This is especially so with poorly planned and executed dedicated bike lanes which end abruptly or which conflict with right turn only lanes.

As more accidents are occurring between cyclists and motorists, it is surprising that there are no provisions in the Motor Vehicle Act which specifically deal with dedicated bicycle lanes. With no clear laws in place, judges are being tasked with creating the law surrounding dedicated bike lanes such as in Charlton-Miner v. Hedgecock 2020 BCSC 86. which appears to be one of the first to consider this specific fact pattern.

In this case, the injured claimant was cycling in a dedicated bike lane.  To the left of the cyclist was a designated right turn lane. The accident occurred when she was in the process of traveling straight through the intersection and she was struck by a motorist to her left who was in the process of turning right from the designated right turn lane.

ICBC argued that the motorist was not at fault for striking the cyclist for a variety of reasons including that the cyclist should have had a rear view mirror, should have reacted differently and should have left the dedicated bike lane and entered the lanes intended for vehicles to go through the intersection because the bike lane was to the right of a dedicated right hand turn lane. 

The trial judge rejected ICBC’s arguments and found the motorist 100% at fault stating:

[40]         If I were to accept the defendant’s argument, the dedicated bicycle lane should not be used by cyclists who intend to cross the intersection and would instead be used solely by cyclists intending to turn right. However, there are neither signs nor markings in the bicycle lane that would indicate that the bicycle lane has ended for through cyclists. There are no signs or markings that require users of the bicycle lane to turn right. The bicycle lane is separated from the single lane and what subsequently becomes the right turn lane by a solid white line. The bicycle lane contains only one painted sign, which is a picture of a bicycle. The painted bicycle sign is positioned shortly after northbound lane divides into two lanes divided by a broken line. In the absence of any signage indicating that through cyclists should do otherwise, it is reasonable to assume that cyclists are intended to remain within the bicycle lane, regardless of whether they intend to turn right or to continue through.

[41]         Dedicated bicycle lanes provide cyclists with a small portion of the roadway in which to travel to the exclusion of motor vehicles, recognizing that motor vehicles may need to traverse a bicycle lane, whether to enter or exit the roadway, to park adjacent to the curb, or for other reasons. Cyclists can expect that vehicles will not be driving in the dedicated bicycle lanes and will yield to cyclists using those lanes, just as drivers of motor vehicles can expect that cyclists will confine themselves to dedicated bicycle lanes where available.

[42]         At this intersection, a cyclist would have to leave the dedicated bicycle lane, traverse the right turn lane, and then merge into and ‘take’ the through lane, a potentially hazardous manoeuver when the latter two lanes can be expected to contain vehicular traffic travelling much faster than the cyclist.

[43]         I find that the plaintiff was not in breach of any traffic rules or the rules of the road when she stayed in the dedicated bicycle lane and proceeded to cross over the intersection in the direction of the dedicated bicycle lane on Hollywood Road north of Highway 33 because cyclists in the dedicated bicycle lane are not obligated to turn right. The dedicated bicycle lane is both for cyclists who are turning right and those who are continuing through the intersection. The plaintiff was not subject to a heightened duty of care.

[46]         I do not accept that the plaintiff should share any responsibility for the accident. The plaintiff had been travelling in the dedicated bicycle lane for several blocks. It was a bright and sunny day and she was clearly visible. Motorists such as the defendant who were travelling in the same direction as the plaintiff had a prolonged opportunity to observe her in the bicycle lane and the defendant ought to have anticipated that she may continue through the intersection in line with the dedicated bicycle lane.

[47]         Because I have concluded that the plaintiff was ahead of the defendant as they approached the intersection and that they arrived at the intersection at approximately the same time, the defendant was obligated to yield to the plaintiff, no different than if she had been a pedestrian using the adjacent crosswalk. The defendant’s evidence was that he did not see her, even though he had seen her previously. However, it does not matter whether he actually saw her at the time he was commencing his turn. Rather, she was riding her bicycle in the dedicated bicycle lane in accordance with the bylaw and she was there to be seen.

[48]         I do not accept the defendant’s submission that the plaintiff failed to take sufficient precautions for her own safety by not having a rear-view mirror attached to either her bicycle or helmet. Even if she had been aware that the defendant was approaching her from behind in the right turn lane, it was reasonable for her to expect that the defendant would have allowed her to pass before commencing his turn, and it is not apparent on the face of the evidence as to what kind of evasive action the plaintiff could have taken upon the sudden realization that the defendant was not going to allow her to do so.

Tags: bicycle, Bicycle accident, Cyclist

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"Jacqueline A. Small is a personal injury lawyer with over 15 years of experience and a partner with Holness Law Group."

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