Cycling infractions: the myth of equality

Suzanne Lareau
September 1, 2019

Just recently, in the heart of summer, we learned that 42 times more tickets were being issued to cyclists in Montréal than in Toronto, or just over 12,000 annually. In 2018, it was the number of cycling infractions that was making news, after they increased more than 400% when the new Code took effect. In light of this data, the uninformed reader might assume that cyclists in Québec, and particularly Montréal, represent a serious risk for citizens and that the authorities have finally decided to crack down.

And yet…

The road safety record for cyclists has been steadily improving over the past decade. Even though more and more Quebecers are getting on their bikes, and despite the increased number of motorists on the roads, the number of cyclists injured or killed is at a historic low, a trend we obviously hope will continue.

However, it is still motor vehicles, particularly trucks, that kill on our roads: in 2018, the number of deaths involving a heavy vehicle increased by 5% compared with 2017. And it is still vulnerable users who pay the price for the lack of road safety: more and more pedestrians, particularly those over age 65, are dying on our roads – a trend that does not prevent 23,000 tickets from being handed out annually to Montréal pedestrians…

This gives us reason to wonder whether the numerous tickets being issued to cyclists is really the best way to improve road safety.

Let’s make it clear from the outset: Vélo Québec has never been opposed to ticketing cyclists for clearly risky behaviour (disregard for red lights, absence of night lights, dangerous passing, etc.). We are constantly working with the SPVM to better orient its actions toward cyclists. The successful results of our collaboration include the “Trade in your ticket” initiative and the introduction of devices for measuring cyclist passing distances. It should also be noted that cyclists in Montréal, the cycling hub of North America, have long been the object of police attention.

However, are we not ripe for a deeper discussion about the priorities and principles that should guide road safety interventions?

To this end, we must bury the myth of equality among different road users, brilliantly deconstructed in this recent Australian article. When the Highway Safety Code was revised in 2018, Vélo Québec stressed that the principle of equity should prevail instead. We feel that forcing a cyclist to come to a full stop at a mandatory stop sign, designed to slow down car traffic, is counter-productive. We therefore continue to demand that cyclists be allowed to treat stop signs as yield signs. This does not mean that cyclists have the right to race through an intersection at top speed, but rather that they yield to the user who arrive at the intersection first and give absolute priority to pedestrians. We are also advocating for Montréal cyclists to be able to make right turns on red lights. RTOR have been prohibited in Montréal in order to protect… pedestrians and cyclists.

We are willing to bet that once the Highway Safety Code is adapted to the reality of cyclists, they will adhere to it and the number of tickets will decrease! The police will then be able to focus on the real cause of road safety problems – people whose behaviour is dangerous to others, regardless of their mode of travel.

Happy back to school!

Suzanne Lareau
President and CEO