Last Saturday a Montreal cyclist was hit with $381 in fines, most of which was because he didn’t have the right reflectors on his bicycle. People were expecting something like this to happen as a result of a new law that came into effect a few days earlier establishing fines of $80 to $100 for every reflector that a cyclist fails to have on his or her bicycle. (This replaces the old $15 fine if reflectors did not conform to provincial regulations.)
The Quebec’s Highway Safety Code requires that cyclists have six reflectors on their bicycles, a front and rear reflector, one in each wheel, and one on each pedal. If you’re missing all six, you could now be hit with fines totaling $600.
When you stop to think about it, it’s easy to find cyclists that are missing all six reflectors. For example, light weight wheels with low spoke count can easily be damaged or detuned by wedging a reflector into the spokes. Moreover, clipless pedals have no place to mount reflectors. On top of this, lots of cyclists prefer to use high output LED lights when it gets dark out rather than ride around all day with inefficient reflectors. In other words, many cyclists, including most who ride high performance bikes, are now sitting ducks for costly fines in Quebec.
If this statement strikes you as slightly alarmist, consider what happened to the cyclist in Montreal. Although it was broad daylight, he was nabbed for not having a rear and front reflector (his bike was equipped with the other 4 mandatory reflectors). What makes this story even more bizarre is that his bike actually had a rear light. But wait, it didn’t count. It wasn’t a reflector as required by the province’s Highway Safety Code.
The cycling advocacy organization Velo Quebec argued strenuously against the new fines, but the provincial government stuck to it guns. Velo Quebec points out that the province now has the absurd situation where motorists are fined $60 for a missing headlight, while cyclists are fined up to $100 for missing one small reflector.
Regulations requiring multiple sets of reflectors probably date back to the ‘old think’ of the 1950s and 60s , when bicycles were seldom viewed as anything more than children’s toys. Whatever the case, they certainly predate the era of the high powered LED lights, which renders inefficient reflector technology obsolete.
Like many cyclists, I use LED lights. Today’s models are very compact, rechargeable, and extremely bright. On at least two occasions when cycling at night, I actually had to select a lower setting for my rear light because motorists were complaining it was too bright. Yes, when it comes to being seen at night, there’s no doubt that LED lights are much, much safer than reflectors. So why does Quebec insist on all these reflectors and hefty fines? It’s obviously not for safety. It’s probably a knee jerk aversion to letting go any type of regulation.
I should add that a few years ago (before the new fines came into effect) I was stopped by police on a bicycle path in Gatineau, Quebec. They immediately challenged me for not having reflectors in my spokes. I tried to explain I had light weight wheels with a low spoke count, and that it wasn’t possible to mount such reflectors. When that didn’t work, I told them I was from Ontario, and that reflectors on the spokes were not required in my province. I’m not a lawyer, and have not done any legal research on the issue, but my argument seemed to work because I didn’t get a ticket. (I note, for example, that Quebec’s law requiring cars be equipped with winter tires during the winter only applies to Quebec vehicles, and not those from Ontario.)
While Ontario cyclists may think that all this tomfoolery is limited to Quebec, it should be pointed out that the situation is only incrementally better here. It’s true that in Ontario cyclists don’t need the same reflectors as in Quebec, including front and rear reflectors when using lights. However, Ontario regulations do require cyclist have a 2.5 x 25 cm (1″ x 10″) strip of reflective material (reflective tape) on their front forks and in the rear (presumably on the seat stays). This means if you’re riding a light weight carbon frame bike, you may have to completely wrap seat stay with reflective tape. Three years ago the fine in Ontario for not having this reflective material went up from $20 to $110.