New Brunswick

Road safety for cyclists shouldn't end at Ellen's Law, group says

Cycling groups say their calls for changes to the Motor Vehicle Act to make roads safer for people on bikes seem to fall on deaf government ears.

Updating Motor Vehicle Act to make cycling safer isn't an immediate priority, minister says

People walked the streets of Saint John with signs in support of Ellen's Law. (Philip Drost/CBC News)

Cycling groups say their calls for changes to the Motor Vehicle Act to make roads safer for people on bikes seem to fall on deaf government ears.

It's been almost two years since Ellen's Law came into effect in New Brunswick. It's named for Ellen Watters, a competitive cyclist who died after she was struck by a car in the Sussex area.

The law says drivers have to put a metre of space between their cars and someone on a bicycle.

Brian Gillis of Saint John Cycling said getting the province to adopt the law was a victory, but the effort wasn't supposed to end there.

Cycling groups proposed at least five amendments pertaining to Ellen's Law that would:

  • Ask motorists to give a 1.5-metre-wide berth on roads with a speed limit higher than 50 kilometres an hour.
  • Require motorists to respect the one-metre buffer rule even if the cyclist is in a bike lane.
  • Specify that the one metre begins at the widest point of the vehicle, including extremities, and ends at the most left-hand point of the cyclist.
  • Specify that motorists are allowed to veer into the next lane, when it's safe to do so, when providing the one-metre space.
  • Accept that a collision between a cyclist and a motor vehicle is prima facie evidence that the driver is at fault until that's proven wrong.  

The group also suggested 30 alterations to subsections of the act to make the rules more clear.

Ellen's Law was adopted in New Brunswick after Ellen Watters, a beloved cyclist, died after she was struck by a car. (Facebook)

He said his group brought a list of specific recommendations to Public Safety Minister Carl Urquhart.

"It went nowhere basically," Gillis told Information Morning Saint John.

He said the minister does not seem to be making the cyclists' recommendations a priority.

"We're hoping to get more cyclists on the road [so] we can reduce our our carbon footprint by doing that," Gillis said.

"But you can't get there unless you have a decent set of rules that are going to keep people safe and help promote the equal use of the roadways."

The law is named after Ellen Watters, a cyclist who died after she was struck by a car. It says drivers have to put a metre of space between their car and someone on a bicycle. Wayne Arrowsmith is the advocacy director with Velo NB. Brian Gillis is with Saint John Cycling. 9:09

Urquhart declined an interview but in an emailed statement, spokesperson Alexandra Davis said the minister and his staff met with cycling groups on Feb. 10 to "thank them for their work and to discuss their ideas."

Davis said the minister explained the Department of Public Safety "needs to focus on platform commitments during the spring months," but that he and his staff could consider their law reform ideas late this year or early next year.

Urquhart also agreed to meet with the groups again in June.

Gillis admitted there has been some difficulty enforcing Ellen's Law, but he said getting the law established has helped educate people about road safety and sharing the road.

"As the jingle goes, we're all traffic so we're expected to operate our vehicles — be it a bicycle or a motor vehicle —with some compassion for everyone else on the road."

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