The Motor Vehicle Act Needs an Update

Update RequiredImagine how difficult the job must be to keep the 494 chapters of the provincial statutes of British Columbia in order. The legislation that they contain must be added to in order to reflect what we need today, amended as circumstances change and the courts rule on their use and finally repealed as they no longer reflect our wants and needs. Small wonder that some things slip through the cracks.

Our Motor Vehicle Act is regularly amended, most often to add new rules, but occasionally to repair the old ones. Some things languish on the sidelines though and I thought that it might be interesting to take a look at some of them.

Where do you stop your vehicle? If a stop sign is involved (186), it's at the marked stop line when one is present. However, when you face a red light you must stop before the marked crosswalk (129).

Changes to cycling infrastructure have introduced us to the bike box. It's installed between the crosswalk and the stop line and permits cyclists to move in ahead of vehicles at signalized intersections. Drivers are supposed to stop at the stop line to keep the bike box open for cyclists.

Disobeying a stop sign results in 3 penalty points on conviction, but running a red light only results in 2 penalty points (schedule).

Which of the two of these situations is the more dangerous? Even if running a red light is no more dangerous than failing to stop at a stop sign, I cannot think of a reason that it would be less likely to result in a collision.

Are you turning right at an intersection? If so, you must turn into the curb lane (165). Unless you are turning left onto a one way street there is no clear requirement to enter the first available lane.

ICBC recognizes that to do otherwise when turning left is unsafe. Should you choose to not turn left into the first available lane while on a road test you will be penalized for your choice.

In general, when you are driving on a road that is marked with a yellow line to separate traffic moving in opposite directions you are required to stay to the right (155). There are exemptions for some situations, such as passing, turning to leave the highway or avoiding an obstruction in the road (156).

However, the only exception for the double solid yellow line is turning to leave the highway. Strictly speaking, you could be stuck behind an obstruction for a very long time if you cannot pass by on the right.

With the advent of the new intersection safety cameras (ISC) that measure speed as well as report red light violations, the ability of the vehicle's registered owner to nominate the driver responsible for the violation was removed.

The driver responsible for traveling at 149 km/h in a posted 50 km/h zone in 2020 certainly deserves penalty points and a vehicle impound to go along with the fine but that doesn't happen. Perhaps ICBC should be adding significantly to the insurance premium following an ISC conviction of this magnitude.

No doubt there are other examples that you can name and hopefully our legislators get around to making the necessary amendments sooner rather than later.

Also a driver must signal a lane change (151), but a driver does not have to signal a turn unless traffic may be affected (170).

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Indeed, it's kind of absurd that if you're driving along an empty multi-lane highway in the middle of nowhere, you're still required to signal your intentions. Signals are only relevant to other road users, so if there aren't any ... why signal a lane change?

In reply to by CompetentDrivingBC

Because if you don't, your lane departure warning system will get involved...

In reply to by DriveSmartBC

... I haven't yet owned one of those vehicles that thinks it's smarter than me.

I've always known whether I'm on an empty highway or not. These modern vehicles? Not so much, I reckon.

In reply to by CompetentDrivingBC

If you make something a habit you don't have to think about it when it is required. To me it is no different than checking the mirrors. Hasn't been a car behind me for kilometers so why bother checking.

While the concept of the Bike Box seems tailor made to alleviate confusion and promote safety at controlled intersections, I suggest that instead, the Bike Box will promote annoyance that could very well rise to the level that numbers of drivers who interpret The Bike Box as simple permission to jump the line will not hesitate to roll down their window and verbally assault the "offender". I know that under the right circumstances I would feel mightily put upon by the colossal nerve of the cyclist to casually shove me from first place to second. (Fortunately, I haven't come across any Bike Boxes, so my equanimity hasn't yet been tested.)

I noticed the mention of a need to stay right of a yellow line. Interestingly, the color yellow is not defined anywhere in the MVA with respect to lane lines. In practice, we know the yellow line is the directional dividing line but it is actually the line type, general rules around keeping right on a laned roadway, and R-14 signage that keeps us on the straight and narrow.

If I'm not mistaken, I thing it's in the Traffic Act, or some such thing. That would be Federal law, so not found in the MVA necessarily.

Plus which, there will also be something requiring Canada and the US to use the same colours of lines and signs and so on pretty much ). And of course yellow has always been used on signs as a warning colour, so it was only logical to eventually use it to warn of opposing traffic.

Inevitably, states and provinces each move at their own pace when it comes to rule changes - such as using a yellow centre line on a two-way highway, instead of a white one like most other countries.

Vanishing Point was filmed in the US Southwest in the summer of 1970, and it's interesting to see in many shots that transition is underway as they paint all the centrelines yellow. Note: this website does not recommend driving like this. Eh?


I can assure you that there simply is no such law at either the federal or provincial level. Road transportation is firmly a provincial endeavour except for limited sections of highway run by the feds in Provincial parks and a few other exceptions.

The history of why yellow became popular for the center line does indeed come down to contrast and visibility, but the reason for its use is governed by the engineering documents and manuals maintained by the North American Transportation Engineering community, bolstered by efforts of the US federal government and the massive interstate program.

Unlike the US with its federally produced MUTCD, the Canadian Federal government does not produce road design manuals. Most provinces and cities have adopted the Transportation Association of Canada's MUTCD and are members of that organization to develop updates. BC is an example of a province that developed its own, while the TAC MUTCD is mandated for Municipal use.

The BC MVA is impressive because it manages to define a center line without mentioning color, but it sure does prove the point that updating it is a massive undertaking.

I can assure you that there simply is no such law at either the federal or provincial level.

 ... the Engineering Standards manual for Canada - which is what the Provincial authorities refer to in their own directions for lane markings:

7.2.1 Colors Yellow lines (directional dividing lines) delineate the separation of traffic traveling in opposite directions. Yellow lines are also used to mark the left edge line of divided highways and one way roadways, which includes portions of freeway/expressway ramps. Yellow lines are also used to mark both sides of two-way left turn lanes. White lines (lane lines) are used to delineate the separation of traffic flow in the same direction. White lines (edge lines) are also used to mark the outside edge of the right lane. Colour specifications are detailed in the Standard Specifications for Highway Construction Sec. 321(f).

does specifically set standards. Including, in this case, the use of a yellow centre stripe on a highway with opposing traffic.

If there's a difference between those standards (which were probably strongly influenced by the US traffic rules) then please explain.

The very existence of a yellow centre line, as I understand it, indicates two-way traffic and while it's certainly not mandatory on every street where this is so, when painted on the roadway then it also indicates that there will be controlled intersections (the cross traffic will face a Stop sign, or Yield sign, or a Traffic Signal). Or to put it another way, if you're not facing one of these then you're on the main road.

Can you link or cite the "Engineering Standards Manual for Canada" ? Engineers in BC reference the Canadian MUTCD or BC's own Manual of Standard Traffic Signs and Pavement Markings depending on the road authority the work is for.

Even then, while those manuals will explain the application of yellow lines, that is not the same as them having a legally defined meaning (in BC).

However, the Engineering Standards Manual for Canada doesn't appear to be available online, although the Provincial standards appear - at least to a layman like me - to mimic the standards established Federally.

By way of comparison, isn't it analogous to headlight standards? If a vehicle is imported into BC from the US (or anywhere else, I would assume) then it will have to conform to BC requirements in order for ICBC to insure it. And you can't get the insurance on it unless it's passed a BC Government inspection, these standards (such as a speedometer/odometer in kilometers, and functioning DRL's) being set by CVSE

Separately, how would you expect these different concepts - particularly as would be applied in the judgment of a court of law, as a consequence of a motor vehicle collision - to matter? 

Appologies. I had this written up some time ago on mobile but the phone went to sleep and all was lost. It took me a while to get back to it.

I think I can clarify the distinction I was tring to make more clearly by going through things step-by-step. The standards manual you linked to is the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Canada. This is a guideline document produced not by any government (Federal or Provincial), but a 3rd party membership-based engineering association, the Transportation Association of Canada. In fact, in it's opening paragraph, it says the following (emphisis mine):

"The purpose of this Manual is to provide national standardization for the use of devices for the control of traffic and the provision of information to drivers and other road users. The contents of the Manual have no legislative authority and are not intended to be interpreted as minimum standards by which road authorities are to be judged. Similarly, this Manual is not intended to be used as a basis for establishing civil liability."
The manual was written by transportation professionals taking into consideration the general legislative framework of the various provincial and territorial MVAs (or equivilent) and some jurisdictions have adopted it to guide their engineers and generally create a more uniform road network. Many BC municipalities have, but the province itself has its own. However, it is each province's motor vehicle and transportation legislation that matters at the end of the day. In BC it just so happens that that legislation does not explicitly state the centerline shall be yellow. This also highlights the provincial domain of road design and operation. So, road and highway design is completely a provincial matter as legislated independantly by each province/territory, including roads designated as part of the confusingly named National Highway System. That link spells it out wonderfully plainly (emphisis mine):
"Highways in Canada, including the Trans Canada Highway (TCH) and the National Highway System (NHS), fall within provincial/territorial jurisdiction. The only exceptions are highways through national parks and a portion of the Alaska Highway, which are managed by Parks Canada and Public Works and Government Services Canada, respectively. Provincial/territorial governments are therefore responsible for the planning, design, construction, operation, maintenance and financing of highways within their jurisdiction."
Your example of headlights and vehicle safety standards can also help further make sense of things. Unlike center line color, vehicle import requirements are specifically outlined in legislation in excrutiating detail. This is mainly via a federal act, the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and it's Regulations. Through the text, tables and figures, and by adopting several technical documents from various international organizations, the legislation covers all the various requirements for bringing a vehicle to Canada (eg. section 108 for headlamps). At the provincial level, provinces can add to the federal requirements through their own MVAs. BC's MVA both repeatedly references the federal Motor Vehicle Safety Act (see BC MVA Regs 402(2) as an example of how that looks) and adds additional provincial requirements. See the BC MVA Regs Division 4 for all the headlamp goodness as an example.
You mentioned CVSE. Their role in all of this is often misundertsood. Anything in the main Motor Vehicle Act can only be changed by a vote in the BC legislature (some conditions apply). The ministries flex their real power in the MVA regulations. CVSE would have a policy team that would work with the elected government (in addition to representitives from ICBC, RoadsafetyBC, The BC MoTI, etc.). The main Motor Vehicle Act outlines exactly who has the authority to create regulations for each division, section, or clause as needed. It gives limitations to the types and powers of regulations that can be created, including further delegation to organizations like ICBC. For road design and vehicle standards, this generally falls to the Lieutenant Governor in Council who acts on behalf of the relevant minister (futher delegated to the staff in the policy departments previously mentioned). For regulations specific to operating highways, that authority is given mainly via MVA Section 209, while for vehicle safety features, it is MVA Section 212.
So, the distinction is whether something is an explicitly legislated requirement or not. I am no lawyer, but generally the courts will need to base a judgement on legislation. If there was a collision due to a crossover, they would look to the text of the MVA and regulations and make judgements based on the road's line types, signage, laning etc.(things mentioned explicitly in the legislation) as opposed to the color of the line. The manual used to design the road would not come in to play. However, if you import a vehicle that does not meet the requirements of the federal Motor Vehicle Safety Act or a provincial MVA, you likely have comitted an offence directly and that offence would be the focus of the case.