Travelling on a budget was likely behind a request for information that I received about camping beside the highway. The correspondent was curious to know if there are any rules in BC that would stop someone from camping on the side of the highway overnight.
The Motor Vehicle Act
If you can put up with the noise you can save the camping fees! As long as you park properly off of the travelled portion of a provincial highway and it is not prohibited by a sign, there is no reason that you cannot camp overnight as far as the Motor Vehicle Act is concerned.
This must be considered along with municipal and regional rules however.
If you are inside a municipality, camping and parking may be regulated by a bylaw in addition to the rules in the Motor Vehicle Act. Such things as parking a trailer on the street not connected to the towing vehicle, parking in excess of 24 hours, or camping anywhere not in a camping area may be prohibited. The only way to tell is to check with each municipality as bylaws may be different in each one.
In Regional Districts
Some regional districts have chosen to regulate camping as well. The Cowichan Valley Regional District for example, has chosen to prohibit camping anywhere except within designated campgrounds. Again, you will have to check with the regional district that you intend to camp in.
On Private Property
That leaves us with camping on private property. Many of us have parked our RV in the driveway of family or friends while we stayed to visit. Depending on the bylaws municipality or regional district, this may or may not be allowed.
If you park without permission on private property in a municipality, or for more than 72 hours outside of a municipality, you give the property owner permission to have the vehicle removed at your cost.
Forest Service Roads
The other half of the request concerned Forest Service Roads, so I contacted the Ministry of Forests and asked. I received the same answer back, that if you parked so that traffic was not obstructed, there was no reason that you could not camp beside a Forest Service Road unless it was within a regional district and prohibited in a bylaw.
Definition of Camping
Some bylaws choose to define what camping is. If they do not, a common dictionary definition would apply:
Camping means erecting a tent or shelter or arranging bedding, or both, or parking a recreation vehicle or other vehicle for the purpose of remaining overnight.
The MVA prohibits stopping or parking on a boulevard which is defined as the space between the shoulder of 4he road and the adjacent property line. How does this factor into how far off the road one needs to be to be legal?
I have always found this definition of boulevard contentious because the commonly understood definition is that the boulevard is the strip of land between a divided roads (other than a freeway).
I had a chat with an MOTI district supervisor over this one. He said that their "policy" was to leave well enough alone unless someone was causing a problem. Like many things in life, if you don't bother anyone, you tend to be invisible.
However, you are correct. Now you need to ask where does the boulevard exist? Is it between the pavement and the adjacent property line? I have not been able to find any case law to help decide.
From someone who has been car camping on waysides and rest areas in both Canada and the U.S. for over 50 years, I would add that unless a camper was in an area defined as a pull-out, rest area, or wayside, one should NOT be parked just to the side of the road. A sleepy or inattentive driver could easily just drive into them.
I also hope that your article would not encourage people to regularly camp beside the road. This idea could escalate beyond what we might imagine.