Motorcycles can be very dangerous, and as such, they are heavily regulated in British Columbia (B.C.) and across Canada. According to Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC), motorcycles make up 3 percent of insured vehicles, yet they’re involved in 11 percent of road fatalities. Moreover, approximately 1500 people are injured in crashes involving motorcycles each year in B.C., with about 37 riders dying.
The province has responded to the high incidence of motorcycle accidents with a variety of legislative developments throughout the years. Mandatory helmets were first introduced into the legislation in the 1960s, recognizing that helmets are proven to be effective in improving motorcycle safety. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study held that helmet use can prevent fatal injuries 29 percent of the time and are effective in preventing head injuries in 67 percent of crashes.
Despite the mandatory helmet law, which is found in the B.C. Motor Vehicle Act, there have been challenges in enforcing it. One of the most important legal challenges was brought in 1997 by a Sikh Canadian, Avtar Singh Dhillon, who felt that the requirement for motorcyclists and their passengers to wear helmets interfered with his religion, since his faith did not allow him to cover his turban or remove it outside of his home. As a result, Mr. Dhillon filed a human-rights complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Commission.
In the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal decision, Dhillon v. British Columbia, the tribunal ruled that defending the religious rights of Sikhs to honor their tradition of wearing turbans trumped any safety precautions intended by the helmet laws. As a result, Sikhs with a turban have since been allowed to ride their motorcycles without a helmet. Section 221 of the Motor Vehicle Act of B.C. was amended with the creation of the Motorcycle Safety Helmet Exemption Regulation, BC Reg 237/99. The helmet exemption continues to apply to practising Sikhs, who have unshorn hair and wear a turban made of five or more square metres of cloth.
In 2012, the province introduced new laws regarding motorcycle helmets and passengers in response to rising motorcycle fatalities in B.C., which increased by about 57% between 1996 and 2010. In the five years between 2005 and 2010, 203 motorcyclists lost their lives on B.C.'s roads and 5,172 were injured. These new safety regulations were the result of extensive consultations between the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles, the B.C. Coroners Service, ICBC, police and other road safety partners.
One of the most important amendments related to the regulation of helmets for all B.C. motorcyclists (except Sikh’s who meet the requirements) is to comply with specific industry safety standards. Operators and passengers must now wear a helmet that displays one of the following safety certifications: United States Department of Transportation (DOT), Snell M2005, Snell M2010 or United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE).
This legislative change was brought in response to increasing number of riders who were wearing novelty helmet such as beanies, skull caps, or skid lids. This headgear is not as strong as traditional helmets and could expose this rider to serious injury or death. For example, even at a slow speed, serious consequences could result in a motorcyclist collision, as beanies only have, on average, a 1 cm thick piece of fiberglass in their protective layer. The fine for motorcyclists who are not wearing proper helmets is $138.
Another key change in the legislation was a revamping of the provincial licensing system for motorcyclists. A graduated licensing program was implemented for new riders that may that include temporary restrictions on the bike’s power.
Further, new rider safety regulations were introduced with mandated certain seating requirements for passengers, including children, to place their feet on the foot pegs or floorboards. If your kids can’t reach the rear pegs, then they can’t ride. Technically this would also apply to any adults who want to ride on the back seat. The fine for not meeting the new seating requirements can range from $109 to $121. Riders who violate seating requirements run the risk of having their motorcycle impounded.
In an effort in increase the visibility for law enforcement, the font size of motorcycle licence plates has increased by 0.95 centimetres (3/8 of an inch) since May 2011. The fine for improper display of a licence plate or an illegible licence plate has now been set at $230.
The legislative changes that occurred in 2012 were rolled out with a concerted awareness campaign, created jointly by the Office of Motor Vehicles and ICBC, to ensure automobile drivers were aware of how to drive safe when encountering motorcycles.
It is difficult to gauge whether these legislative changes have affected the number of motorcycle accidents or overall road safety in B.C. The number of injuries and fatalities has remained relatively stagnant, however, these figures must also account for the increase number of motorcycles on the road each year.
A coalition of motorcycling lobbyist groups have been working to change the current law which prevents vehicles from passing other vehicles on the shoulder of the road or squeezing between two lanes of traffic. In lobbying the B.C. legislature, the argument has been made that the law as it stands puts motorcyclists in greater danger because in stop-and-go traffic, motorcyclists are more likely to be hit by cars. According to a recent article in the Times Colonist, the ministry has no plans to introduce legislation permitting it, though “lane filtering” (also known as “lane splitting or “lane sharing”) will soon be permitted in California and was desired by 86 percent of those who voted on the issue.
If you are a motorcycle driver or passenger who rides on B.C. roads, you should keep yourself informed about the legislative developments which pertain to you.
Contact Us at Bronson Jones & Co LLP
If you have been injured in a motorcycle accident, contact the personal injury lawyers at Bronson Jones & Co LLP. We have two locations in each of Vancouver and Burnaby and offices in Langley, New Westminster, Chilliwack, Coquitlam, Maple Ridge and Abbotsford. Our accident lawyers provide a free initial consultation. Calls us at 1-855-852-5100.