Should drivers who get too close to cyclists be fined? New rule may come to Alberta

Both the Alberta government and the City of Calgary are considering a rule to mandate drivers give cyclists a one-metre breadth while passing.

Provincial and Calgary politicians consider law change to improve road safety

The City of Calgary is trying to improve cyclist safety. One measure the transportation committee is considering is to enforce a minimum one-metre gap between cars and cyclists. (Robson Fletcher/CBC)

Should drivers be fined if they get too close to a cyclist?

There's work afoot in two different levels of government to make that reality. 

Both the Alberta government and the City of Calgary are considering a rule to mandate drivers give cyclists a one-metre breadth while passing.

There's still lots to be sorted — like if the provincewide rule can be passed while the NDP face the upcoming election, and if the city decides to enforce such a rule either way.

The idea comes in light of a private member's bill in the legislature that has passed first reading.

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It proposes the metre space will become mandatory across Alberta for all drivers going under 60 km/h. If driving over 60 km/h, that space would increase to 1½ metres.

"This is a regulation in many, many different jurisdictions. There's about 27 jurisdictions all over North America that are using the one-metre passing distance," Sherwood Park MLA Annie McKitrick told the Calgary Eyeopener.

Creating a 'safe zone'

She submitted the private member's bill and then advised the City of Calgary on its proposed cycling bylaw.

She was motivated to pick up the cause after a major collision in her community. In August 2018, a truck collided with cyclists, sending five to hospital.

"It's well documented that passing distances create the safe zone for cyclists and also, quite importantly, it provides certainty to motorists as to how they should be passing a cyclist safely," McKitrick said.

The City of Calgary and the Alberta government are looking at mandating that drivers stay one metre away from cyclists while passing, in order to prevent collisions. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Calgary administrators are working on a report about the issue, answering questions councillors have.

If the province implements the change, the cities will have to update bylaws to match. If not, the City of Calgary may decide to add the rule regardless, if permitted by its governing charter.

"As it stands now, I have heard that this has been brought in by other municipalities and that it has increased the safety of the pedestrian, the cyclist and the vehicles," said Coun. Shane Keating, who chairs the committee.

That report goes to the transportation committee later this month.

One of those questions will be whether or not Calgary will apply that same passing standard to cyclist passing cars.

Keating, who says he's neutral on the one-metre rule debate, noted that some cities in Europe allow cyclists to pass cars while they're stopped in traffic. That helps clear congestion, the cities reason.

Another question is who will determine if a vehicle is less than a metre from a cyclist in moving traffic.

Some cases may be more obviously unsafe, he said, like when a car comes within inches. In another case, the vehicle might have started out at a metre and then the cyclist had to come closer in order to avoid an obstacle on the road.

"These are the things where we're going to have the difficulty of interpreting a specific bylaw that says you must pass at one metre," Keating said.

Many cyclists have started wearing body cameras to capture close-calls on the road, McKitrick said, which would provide evidence of violations, should the proposed rule come into effect.

The City of Calgary is studying what might be in a bylaw about the space between a driver and a cyclist, including the distance and whether the bylaw would apply to the cyclist, too. (Jenna Reid/CBC)

The report also is expected to examine if one metre is sufficient, or if a lesser or greater distance would be more appropriate.

The proposed fine is not yet set, Keating said, but would be more than $100 for a violation.

The provincial bill is on track to becoming law, having passed first reading, but in order to do so, it must make it to third reading. That could be tricky, as it's unclear how long the legislature might sit before an election is called. 

It would, in theory, get picked up after the election but often private member's bills can be lost in the priorities of the new term. 

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.


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