Motorcyclists, "Staggered" Riding and Safe Distances
It is not uncommon for motorcyclists to travel in a ‘staggered‘ formation when riding in groups. Typically one motorcyclist will travel within a few feet of the left of their lane of travel (the “A” position) with the following motorist travelling within a few feet of the right side of their lane of travel (the “C” position). This staggered position is used in part because section 194(4) of the BC Motor Vehicle Act prohibits motorcyclists from operating “their motorcycles side by side in the same direction in the same traffic lane“.
When travelling in groups of two it is important for the rear motorist to leave sufficient space between them and the lead motorist. Failing to do so could be negligent as was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released last week by the BC Supreme Court, Nanaimo Registry.
In last week’s case (Brooks-Martin v. Martin) the Plaintiff was injured in a 2005 collision in Saanich, BC. The Plaintiff was travelling in the “C” position behind a motorcycle operated by her husband who was travelling in the “A” position. Her husband unexpectedly cut in front of her. In trying to avoid a collision with her husband she lost control, fell down onto the road and was injured.
(Accident Reconstruction Software courtesy of SmartDraw)
She sued her husband for damages. Mr. Justice Halfyard found that the Defendant “cut in front of the plaintiff’s motorcycle and created an unreasonable risk to her safety.“. For this reason he was found legally responsible for the Plaintiff’s crash. The Plaintiff, however, was also found partially at fault and had her damages reduced by 30% as a result. In finding the Plaintiff partly at fault Mr. Justice Halfyard made the following observations:
 By reason of s. 194(4) of the Motor Vehicle Act, it is not unlawful for two motorcycle drivers to ride side-by-side in the same traffic lane. I accept that it is permissible and common practice among motorcycle riders to ride in their lane of travel in the A position and C position, and then come to a stop at approximately the same time, side-by-side. But in my view, s. 194(4) does not operate for or against the plaintiff in this case…
 I am satisfied that the plaintiff failed to take reasonable care for her own safety, in several respects. In my opinion, a motorcycle driver who possessed reasonable driving skills and who was exercising reasonable care for her own safety would not have been travelling in the C position only two motorcycle lengths behind a lead motorcycle in the A position, at a speed of 40 kph, when both riders were approaching the back end of a stopped pickup truck and when she was not more than 14.56 metres away from that truck (and when the lead motorcycle driver in the A position was closer to that truck and travelling at least as fast as she was).
 I find that when the defendant Martin steered in front of her, the plaintiff was driving without due care and attention and at a speed that was excessive relative to the road and traffic conditions, in relation to both her husband’s motorcycle and the stopped truck. That conduct was contrary to s. 144(1) of the Motor Vehicle Act and also constituted negligence.
 I find also that, at the time the defendant Martin steered in front of her, the plaintiff was following the defendant Martin’s motorcycle more closely than was reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speeds of the two motorcycles and the presence of the stopped pickup truck ahead of them. That conduct was contrary to s. 162(1) of the Motor Vehicle Act. I find that this conduct also constituted negligence on the part of the plaintiff.
 I am also satisfied that this driving conduct of the plaintiff in breach of the standard of care, was a cause of her losing control of her motorcycle. She put herself into a situation where the defendant Martin (before he swerved) was a potential hazard to her, and the stopped pickup truck was an actual hazard to her safety. If she had been travelling at a slower speed and at a greater distance behind the defendant Martin, and if she had slowed her motorcycle down sooner than she did, the plaintiff could have safely avoided the defendant Martin’s motorcycle and could have safely stopped behind the pickup truck. As it was, the plaintiff’s own negligent driving made it necessary for her to take emergency evasive action, which should not have been necessary. Taking that evasive action caused the plaintiff to lose control of her motorcycle, which resulted in her injury. I find that there was a substantial connection between the negligent driving of the plaintiff, and her injury. In my opinion, the evidence establishes on the balance of probabilities that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent.