Q&A - Back Alleys

Q&A ImageQuestion: For a few months now I have been trying to locate specific information on the rules of the road pertaining to back alleys. Simply trying to get a concrete source on the speed limit of back lanes, especially those running along school zones, has been incredibly difficult.

What are the rules that apply to driving in back alleys?

view typical of residential back alleys

Can a driver assume "right of way" and proceed to ‘plough’ through without regard to the dynamics of a back lane? What accountability measures are in place, if at all?

What if there are children and families making use of the area? If a child that was playing in a back lane is hit, and the driver was driving too quickly to respond or stop, is it the child’s fault for being in the lane?

I was told by an ICBC rep that unless there were police monitoring speed along the back lane, the driver would not be held responsible for hitting a child, or anything else “that is in its right of way”? This seems absolutely illogical to me.

Am I out of line to think that drivers should be held responsible since they ought to be driving in a manner conducive to the dynamics of an alleyway?

Speed in Back Alleys

Speeds in alleys must not exceed 20 km/h:

146(8) A municipality may by bylaw direct that the rate of speed at which a person may drive or operate a motor vehicle in the municipality on a lane not exceeding 8 m in width must not be in excess of 20 km/h.

This can be a bit of a problem for drivers as bylaws may be different from municipality to municipality. The only way to know for sure is to do a bit of research, either on line or by telephone.

I am unaware of any municipality that specifies a maximum speed that is less than 20 km/h.

Right of Way

Right of way is given, never taken. Even if you have the right of way, exercising it when you know it could be risky could result in liability for a collision and a charge under the careless driving provisions of the Motor Vehicle Act:

144 (1) A person must not drive a motor vehicle on a highway

(a) without due care and attention,

(b) without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway, or

(c) at a speed that is excessive relative to the road, traffic, visibility or weather conditions.

Avoiding Pedestrian Collisions

The advice from the ICBC rep surprises me too. It is always the duty of a driver to avoid colliding with a pedestrian:

181 Despite sections 178, 179 and 180, a driver of a vehicle must

(a) exercise due care to avoid colliding with a pedestrian who is on the highway,

(b) give warning by sounding the horn of the vehicle when necessary, and

(c) observe proper precaution on observing a child or apparently confused or incapacitated person on the highway.

A back alley in a residential area is almost a guarantee that you might meet a child there and you should beware accordingly, especially if sight lines (fences, parked vehicles or other view obstructions) are poor.

The word "highway" means virtually any place that a person can travel using a vehicle.

Exiting Back Alleys

There is also a requirement to stop before exiting an alley that many drivers do not follow.

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So far as I recall, there is no 'default' speed in back alleys like the 50km/h Municipal / 80 km/Highway speeds that apply in BC (unless otherwise posted). So you're going to have to look at Bylaws.

In municipalites with Bylaws covering speed it's typical to see a sign that says 'Limit 50 kmh/Lanes 20 km/h' for example. 

So what's the definition of any alley, or lane? I'm surprised actually, to see it defined as something less than 8m wide, as I always thought it was 5m, simply because there are many roads that are less than 8m. Of course, there are some alleys that are more than 5m yet less than 8m!

(As an aside, the only Road Test route in the Lower Mainland that incorporates an alley is in Pt. Grey. It's nuts, put lots of pressure on the local  neighbourhood, but Driver Examiners typically mark a Violation at over 20/kmh. 

Can a driver assume "right of way" and proceed to ‘plough’ through without regard to the dynamics of a back lane? What accountability measures are in place, if at all?

Hell, no. Not from a legal standpoint. Examples above. But the fact is, you aren't ever going to see cops and radar; their interest in policing seems restricted to radar these days.

The smart drivers reverse into their carports or garages, whilst the smart parents use fences to contain their kids ... but is it always practical? 

But speed bumps (the Brits call them 'sleeping policemen') can settle things down a whole lot. Particularly those double bumps such as they use in the West End of Vancouver. Hit the first one too fast and the second one will rattle your teeth!

But back alleys are not a safe place for unsupervised children, and that's up to every parent to realize.

Regardless of the legal speed limit for that “highway” the width, surfacing, visibility, vegetation, commercial / residential set the context for a speed “relative to the road, traffic, visibility or weather conditions" and what is excessive.