Cycling Law and Safety in Nova Scotia

By Brian Hebert

I just arrived at the office after my morning commute. I must say it felt good to cycle past the long line of traffic that had formed on the MacDonald Bridge over the calm sparkling waters of the Halifax Harbour. I’ve noticed more cyclists on the bridge’s bike lane this summer – commuters taking advantage of the beautiful weather, the gorgeous views of Halifax Harbour and the opportunity to stay fit in the process. Cycling would be ideal if all of our routes were like the bike lane – physically isolated from bridge traffic. Instead for the most part we have to share the road with the cars, trucks and busses that continuously zip past us.

Too many cyclists are injured and killed each year on our streets and highways. Most incidents result from failure to follow the rules of the road – either on the part of the motor vehicle driver or the cyclist.  Often a lack of common sense and courtesy is which we Maritimers usually employ. Many others are injured or killed because someone didn’t understand or follow the rules of the road.

While we wait for safer infrastructure, which is the best way to prevent cycling injuries, here is a refresher on the rules of the road for cyclists and motorists.


Motor Vehicle Act

The activities of cyclists, pedestrians and motorists on our streets, highways and sidewalks are governed by the Motor Vehicle Act of Nova Scotia. The Motor Vehicle Act was recently overhauled to make it more relevant to today’s use of the roadways. The Act now explicitly addresses cyclist and bicycle lanes and even those who ride personal transporter devices like Segways.

One key provision of the Act is s. 85 which makes cyclists subject to the same rules of the road as automobile drivers EXCEPT those provisions of the Act which cannot possibly apply to cyclists. Which provisions cannot apply to cyclists is a matter of reason and common sense and is, with few exceptions, not otherwise spelled out in the Act. Things like operating a bicycle on a public highway while intoxicated, driving carelessly and imprudently and other general rules would apply equally to a cyclist. Cyclists are not required to have auto insurance.

There are specific provisions in the Act relating to cycling which are worth reviewing.

Specific Rules for Motorists Relating to Cyclists

  • Motorists are not permitted to drive in a bike lane. Section 131A makes it unlawful for a motorist to drive in a marked bike lane unless (a) it is necessary to go around a vehicle or cyclist who has signalled to turn left; (b) it is necessary to complete a lawful manoeuvre; or (c) it is impractical to drive without moving into the bike lane. A motorist that drives in a bike land must yield the right of way to a pedestrian.
  • Motorists must not pass a cyclist who is riding on the right hand side of the lane unless there is sufficient space and the driver leaves one meter between vehicle and the cyclist. Section 171B(1). A driver may cross the centre line to pass a cyclist even though such a manoeuvre would otherwise be prohibited by section 115(2).

Specific Rules for Cyclists

  • Cyclists must wear a helmet. Section 170A also requires parents to ensure that their children under 16 wear helmets too. A bicycle can be seized and held for up to 30 days by police if cyclist is caught riding without a helmet.
  • Cyclists are allowed to pass on the right hand side of a line of traffic. While s. 114(1)(a) of the Act prohibits motor vehicles from overtaking and passing another vehicle on the right hand side of the other vehicle, s. 85(2) makes passing to the right lawful for a cyclists, as long as it is safe to do so.
  • Only a cyclist can be on the bicycle unless it has multiple seats. Section 169(1) prohibits riding on the crossbar or handlebars.
  • Cyclists cannot hitch onto a motor vehicle. Section 169(2) prohibits clinging to or attaching to a moving vehicle.
  • Cyclists cannot ride hands-free or feet-free or perform any tricks on the highway. Section 171(1).
  • Cyclists cannot ride on a sidewalk. Section 171(2). This rule does not apply to children riding a tricycle.
  • Cyclists must ride in the bike lane if there is one. Section 171(3).
  • Cyclists must cycle on the far right hand side of the road way. Section 171(4) prohibits this unless the cyclist is turning left, passing a vehicle to the left, going through a roundabout or has to avoid objects in the right hand lane.
  • Cyclists must travel in the same direction as traffic. Section 171(5).
  • Cyclists must travel in single file except when passing. Section 175(6).

Common Sense and Courtesy

As you can see, many of the rules have exceptions or involve an element of judgement. Once again common sense, courtesy and driving defensively play an important role in road safety.

What to Do When an Accident Happens

In the event of cycling accident, the Motor Vehicle Act does not explicitly require cyclists to remain at the scene or provide information to the others involved, however the general rules applicable to motorists would likely apply to a cyclist by virtue of s. 85. Here are some legally required and common sense steps to take when involved in a cycling accident:

  • Gather information the name, address and phone number of all the people involved in the accident. Obtain licence plate numbers and driver licence numbers. Get the insurance company name and address and the insurance policy number for all motor vehicles involved.
  • Only communicate the basics. Don’t say too much before getting legal advice. You are required to give your name to the other drivers but that is all. You may give your name and contact information to then police or medical service providers. Anything you say about how the incident happened could be used against you later.
  • Call the police immediately. Police officers will help even out the field in the event that one of the parties is at a disadvantage. Police will also write a detailed report that is to the exact specification of the Registrar of Motor Vehicles which will be invaluable to the claims process. Police also have more authority to ensure all parties involved are forthcoming with information in the event an involved party offers resistance to provision of information.
  • Document injuries and take photographic notes as accurately as possible. If you are involved in an accident and have sustained injuries that require medical treatment, ensure to document all medical and rehabilitation treatments including all work hours missed and other personal hardships you will experience as a result of the accident.
  • Contact a lawyer. Insurance companies are for profit businesses and will settle claims for the least amount they can get away with. While you can represent yourself, we believe that clients with an experienced personal injury lawyer get better results.

Were You the At-Fault Party?

In Nova Scotia, all parties involved in an accident involving a motor vehicle, regardless of their role in the accident, are eligible for certain benefits under Section B of the applicable auto insurance policy. These are referred to as Section B Benefits or No-Fault Benefits and include reimbursement for medical expenses and rehabilitation costs as well as up to $250 per week for income replacement. Section B Benefits will be available under the cyclist’s own automobile policy or through the policy of the driver of the motor vehicle if the cyclist has no auto insurance.

Contact an Experienced Lawyer

In Nova Scotia, motor vehicle, bicycle accidents and similar personal injury cases are subject to a limitation period from the time when the matter of the information arises. It is imperative for people involved in an accident to seek legal advice as soon as possible to ensure that they stand the best chance of receiving fair compensation for their injuries.

At McKiggan Hebert we believe that you should receive all the compensation due for your losses. If you are a victim or have lost a loved one to a motor vehicle accident, call us on (902) 423-2050 or send us an email through our online contact form.

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