Who is at fault when a cyclist passes a vehicle on the right and an accident ensues?

In British Columbia, generally vehicles that pass other vehicles on the right are found partially or entirely at fault for ensuing motor vehicle accidents. There are exceptions to this rule. For example, when a vehicle is turning left, you may pass it on its right. This brings up the interesting case of cyclists. Cyclists are considered vehicles and must obey the rules of the road. However, cyclists also generally ride to the right of motor vehicles outside of regular car lanes.

This leads to many situations where a cyclist could be held at fault for an accident merely for being to the right of a motor vehicle. Despite the law being clear on this, the courts have thankfully decided to take a more nuanced approach:


Here, a cyclist collided with a car that was making a left turn in front of it. The cyclist was not in a marked bike lane but was in a shoulder frequented by cyclists. The defendant argued that the cyclist was at fault. The defendant was making a left turn in front of traffic going the opposite way. The opposite traffic was stopped for congestion, and the plaintiff bicyclist was passing this traffic on its right.

Although there was no distinct bicycle lane, this road was commonly frequented by bicyclists and had warning signs that bicyclist and pedestrians frequented the area. The judge stated:

“Mr. Ilett did not fail to take reasonable care for his own safety. Cyclists frequently rode on the shoulder at the Intersection and many were doing so that day. Mr. Ilett was visible to Ms. Mattina for a significant distance prior to the Intersection. There were no signals requiring northbound traffic on Admirals to stop. Although Mr. Ilett passed the slowly moving and stopped lane of traffic which was on his left while he rode on the shoulder, it was commonplace for cyclists to do so.

As a result, Ms. Buckley is entirely responsible for Mr. Ilett’s injuries.”

This case illustrates the ongoing conflict between cyclists and motorists on the streets of British Columbia. It also illustrates that as the number of cyclists on the roads increases in volume, motorists must take extra precautions to avoid injuring them.

Sharing the road with cyclists: are cyclists obligated to ride on the shoulder?

As bicycling has become a more common way to commute, the number of personal injury actions involving cyclists has increased. Significant confusion about where a cyclist is supposed to ride remains. It is well established that bicycles do not belong on sidewalks, but are they obligated to ride on the shoulder? The shoulder is the area to the right of the fog lines on a highway. It is an area that motor vehicles are not permitted to drive on.

Section 183 of the Motor Vehicle Act provides that cyclists must “ride as near as practicable to the right side of the highway“. The Court of Appeal of British Columbia determined whether the highway included the shoulder:


This case involved a cyclist who was struck by a motor vehicle. The cyclist was in the far right section of the lane but was not using a readily available and paved shoulder. The Court of Appeal decided that the “highway“, for the purpose of interpreting Section 183, did include the shoulder and that cyclists had an obligation to ride on the shoulder where “practicable“.

Despite the above, a cyclist who is struck after choosing not to ride on the shoulder may still have a very strong personal injury case. Firstly, even in the above case, the driver of the motor vehicle was found to be 70% at fault. The fact the cyclist was riding on the road did not alleviate the driver’s duty to look out for cyclists. Additionally, there may be circumstances where it is unsafe to ride on the shoulder and not “practicable“. For example, the shoulder may be covered in gravel, unpaved, or obstructed by snow or other debris. As such, any injured cyclist should always consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer as they may have a better case than they presume.