Three Feet Rule in Ontario. Do we need it ?

Recently Cheri DiNovo an MPP for Parkdale has brought forward a private members bill requiring motorists to give three feet of space to cyclists.  A similar law has been passed in 16 States south of the border.  What will be seen is how Minister Kathleen Wynne and the government reacts to the proposed law.

Is this a good law for Ontario?

Yes it is.  If every driver obeyed this basic concept of giving space to cyclists, there would be a sharp reduction in the number of cyclists killed and injured on our roads. Statistics indicate that the majority of cyclist’s injuries and deaths are caused at the time a vehicle passes.  There are very few who could possibly argue that if the law was obeyed, the number of accidents would be reduced.

The next question is do we need more laws?  Yes, if they make sense and they save lives.  Why do we have 227 sections of laws under the Highway Traffic Act along with hundreds of pages of regulations?  Because the average car weighs two tons; because the amount of trauma and death caused by auto accidents is staggering; because common sense does not always prevail on our roads.

This law is not aimed at the erratic, rule-breaking cyclists who ignore the need for space.  We already have laws for them.

This law is not for the careless, speeding or dangerous driver, who selfishly disobeys the rules of the road at the perils of others.  We already have laws for them.

No, this law is for everyone who wants our roads to be safe for all users.  It is a reminder to all of us that by giving three feet of space you are dramatically reducing the chances of an accident, injury and at times a fatality.  If you can not find three feet of space, be patient until it comes.  Common sense? Yes, but even common sense needs to be mandated to ensure lives are saved.  Leaving matters open for personal judgment on what is “sufficient” space can lead to grave consequences when “bad judgment” (albeit innocent) is employed.

What can three feet mean? In the summer of 1998 Dugald Christie hopped on his bike in Vancouver Harbour and began to ride toward Ottawa.  A lawyer by trade, Dugald was on route to Ottawa to burn his robes in front of the Supreme Court of Canada.  Dugald had worn those robes for thirty years.  He had realized during those years that the poorest of his clients and the disabled “were better off to lick their wounds and walk away from the court process.”  Dugald’s ride was one of protest and awareness. A heroic journey by a heroic man.

Before arriving in Ottawa, Dugald had traveled across BC, through the prairies and into Ontario.  In his book “A Journey into Justice”, Dugald commented on his arrival into Ontario:

“Most disconcerting of all were reports I received from cyclists traveling West that highway shoulders in Ontario were hopelessly inadequate.”

Dugald made a further haunting statement in his book:

“Then there was the way Ontario drivers treat bicycles.  It was apparently quite acceptable to completely ignore the existence of bicyclists.”

Dugald had succeeded in getting to Ottawa.  He burned his robes, his point was made.  He went back to BC and set up pro bono legal clinics across the province. He was continuing to work to expand clinics for the poor across the West.

On June 31, 2006, Dugald’s journey came to an end in Huron Shores, Ontario.  An end that perhaps he had foreshadowed years earlier on his epic ride to Ottawa.  Dugald was struck down by a car, dragged along the highway, and killed.  The driver was initially charged, but the police withdrew the charges.  After a lengthy civil process, Dugald’s family obtained some sense of justice in 2009 when the civil proceedings I commenced were successful. However, no amount of compensation or civil justice could ever restore the loss of this loving father and truly remarkable man.

Three feet would have.

Patrick Brown


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