Viewpoint : September 2014

Reform of the Highway Safety Code : Cycling on the Agenda

It is important to underline the great relevance of the Discussion Group on Cyclists’ Safety, created by the Minister of Transport, Robert Poëti and made up of representatives from the police force, municipalities, urban transit companies, trucking industry, CAA, coroner, SAAQ, MTQ, public health sector, university community and six cycling groups. Invited to reflect on the safety of cyclists, this group of 45 people will have held five one-day meetings by the end of the fall.

On August 14, the six cycling groups were invited to present their position on the place of the bicycle in the current regulatory context. In addition to an obvious convergence of their positions, the cyclists argued in favour of a Highway Safety Code adapted to the characteristics of biking.

To modernize the HSC, Vélo Québec suggested that the government adopt the “Code de la rue” approach, based on the principle of caution. The philosophy behind this approach (in effect in France and Belgium) is that public roadways are not dedicated exclusively to car travel and that all users have their place, particularly the most vulnerable. The principle of caution means that motorists must, at all times, adopt a cautious, respectful attitude toward other road and highway users.

Currently in the Highway Safety Code, cyclists have the same obligations as motorists, without benefitting from the priority given to pedestrians. We feel that cyclists have more in common with pedestrians than with cars. Accident statistics confirm that, in 99% of cases, serious or fatal road accidents are caused by motorized vehicles (cars, trucks, motorcycles). 

Vélo Québec also made a few concrete recommendations in favour of sustainable mobility: specification of the safe distance to be maintained by cars when passing bikes; sharing of the sidewalk by pedestrians and cyclists when road circulation is dangerous (in a tunnel, for example); elimination of  the demerit points given to cyclists with a driver’s license (even though it is not required for cycling); higher fines and allocation of demerit points to motorists for infractions endangering cyclists’ lives, such as dooring; possibility of slowing down significantly instead of coming to a complete halt at stop signs; authorization to follow the directions of a pedestrian traffic light to cross an intersection etc.

During this meeting, we observed a great openness on the part of participants to the reality of cyclists. This is not surprising given the fact that 54% of Quebecers are cyclists and 2 million people go biking every week. Those in attendance acknowledged that our safety depends not only on adapted regulations, but also on a greater awareness of road sharing among cyclists and motorists. Both enforcement and education play a key role.  The good news is that Quebec seems to be ready to give more priority to active transportation.

Vélo Québec continues to follow this issue closely and will keep you informed of any new developments. Feel free to read our proposals (abridged or integral version) and send us your feedback via email.

Suzanne Lareau
President and CEO