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Cyclist at Fault For Attempting To Pass Bus Re-Entering Flow of Traffic on the Right

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Courtenay Registry, dismissing a cyclist’s negligence action against a bus operator.

In today’s case (Coles v. British Columbia Transit Corporation) the Defendant was operating a bus and pulled over to let passengers on or off.  At the same time the Plaintiff was operating a bicycle in the Defendant’s lane of travel.  The Defendant put on her left signal indicating she was going to emerge back into the flow of traffic.  The Plaintiff mistakenly believed the signal indicated the bus operator was going to make a lane change and attempted to pass the bus on the right hand side.  This attempt failed and “he collided with the rear of the bus, came off his bicycle, landed on the ground, and broke his elbow.“.

The Plaintiff’s lawsuit was dismissed with the Court finding the bus driver did nothing negligent and fault rested with the cyclist.  In reaching this decision Mr. Justice Baird provided the following reasons:

[14]         Almost all of us, I would wager, have had the experience of driving behind transit buses in urban settings. Ms. Graham’s activation of her rear left signal lamp constituted the universally recognised and accepted announcement to oncoming traffic, including cyclists, that the business of letting passengers off and on was done, and that forthwith the bus would be re-entering the flow of traffic. In such circumstances oncoming vehicles are obliged to yield and allow the bus to proceed, and everyone knows or ought to know this.

[15]         A cyclist has all the same rights and duties as a driver of a motor vehicle: see s. 183(1) of the Motor Vehicle Act. Section 158 provides:

Passing on right

158 (1) The driver of a vehicle must not cause or permit the vehicle to overtake and pass on the right of another vehicle, except

(a) when the vehicle overtaken is making a left turn or its driver has signalled his or her intention to make a left turn,

(b) when on a laned roadway there is one or more than one unobstructed lane on the side of the roadway on which the driver is permitted to drive, or

(c) on a one way street or a highway on which traffic is restricted to one direction of movement, where the roadway is free from obstructions and is of sufficient width for 2 or more lanes of moving vehicles.

(2) Despite subsection (1), a driver of a vehicle must not cause the vehicle to overtake and pass another vehicle on the right

(a) when the movement cannot be made safely, or

(b) by driving the vehicle off the roadway.”

[16]         It is clear that the plaintiff breached this section by attempting to overtake Ms. Graham’s bus on the right. None of the three listed exceptions applied, and even if they did, it was clearly unsafe for the plaintiff to make the attempt in all of the circumstances. He was also guilty of following the bus too closely contrary to the prohibition set out in s. 162 of the Motor Vehicle Act:

Following too closely

162   (1)A driver of a vehicle must not cause or permit the vehicle to follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of the vehicles and the amount and nature of traffic on and the condition of the highway.

[17]         The plaintiff also breached s. 169.1 of the Motor Vehicle Act by failing to yield the right of way to Ms. Graham’s bus. This section reads:

Yielding to bus

169.1 (1) Subject to subsection (2) [which has no application to the present case], the driver of a vehicle on a highway, on overtaking a bus that is stopped, standing or parked, must yield the right of way to the bus if

(a) the bus displays a sign or other signal device requiring the driver of the vehicle to yield to the bus, and

(b) the bus driver has signalled an intention to move into the travelled portion of the highway.

[18]         Finally, and overall, the plaintiff’s conduct was a clear instance of cycling on a public highway without due care and attention: see Motor Vehicle Act s. 183(14)(a).

[19]         In summary, Ms. Graham clearly transmitted the obligation to yield by activating her hazard lights, and then signalled her intention to resume movement in the travelled portion of the right lane of Ryan Road by activating her rear left signal lamp. The plaintiff saw and understood this signal. He was bound by a statutory obligation and a common law duty of care to yield the right of way. He failed to do so. Instead he attempted to overtake the bus on its right side within the same lane. This was not only flagrantly illegal, but also a most foolhardy and reckless thing for him to have done. The resulting collision was entirely his fault. He has only himself to blame for his injuries.

[20]         This conclusion is not affected by the possibility, alleged by the plaintiff, that Ms. Graham may have steered the bus slightly to the right within her own lane while he was alongside it. He should not have been there in the first place, and Ms. Graham did not know or have any reason to think that he was. There are many perfectly acceptable reasons why a motorist might change course within the same lane while proceeding on a highway. If Ms. Graham did this, and I am by no means certain that she did, the plaintiff has failed to establish that it was negligent: see, in analogous circumstances, Ormiston v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, 2014 BCCA 276, especially at paras. 17-21.

[21]         For the sake of completeness, I should mention that the plaintiff called an independent witness, Reginald Yokom, who testified that he saw an incident on Ryan Road involving a bus and a bicycle. His evidence was vague as to date, time and details, it conflicted in material particulars with the plaintiff’s version of events, and on the whole I am not satisfied that they were talking about the same accident. In any event, even if I applied what he observed to the plaintiff’s case, it would not alter my conclusions as aforesaid.

bc injury law, Coles v. British Columbia Transit Corporation, Mr. Justice Baird, passing on the right