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Ellen’s Law Officially Passed in New Brunswick

by John Symon

May 06, 2017 (Fredericton, NB) – On May 5, royal assent was given to #EllensLaw in New Brunswick provincial legislature, requiring motorists to give cyclists at least a one-metre (39 inches) safe clearance when passing cyclists.

Ellen Watters  ©  The Cyclery Racing
Cycling advocates gathered at the legislature to celebrate the unanimous passing of the law with support from all parties, commemorating the tragic death of professional cyclist Ellen Watters in late December 2016. Watters was struck from behind by a vehicle during a training ride near her home in Sussex, New Brunswick while visiting her family over the holidays and did not survive. The new law is officially recognized as “An Act Respecting Ellen’s Law.”

Watters rode for Ottawa-based The Cyclery-Opus Team for several years, and recently made the Pro ranks, signing with US-based Colavita/Bianchi for 2017. Her tragic death unleashed an outpouring of sympathy for the popular rider and a renewed push for stronger laws to protect cyclists.

Ellens Law  ©  Saint John Cycling Club
Soon after her death the Saint John Cycling Club posted an Ellen’s Law page on its website, calling for a minimum one-metre passing distance between motorists and cyclists in New Brunswick. There has been a long-standing movement to enact such laws across North America, and its proponents now had a name for this safety measure for cyclists, dubbed “Ellen’s Law.”

There were rallies, tribute rides across New Brunswick and beyond, and “Memories of Ellen” blogs included stories, comments and fond memories from many people whose lives Watters touched. An emotional memorial was held at The Cyclery store in Ottawa on Jan. 2, where friends and family remembered her vibrant life.

Ellen Watters wins Battenkill  ©
Watters distinguished herself in 2016 winning the Tour of the Battenkill and Tour of Somerville in the U.S., as well as claiming bronze in the Criterium at the Canadian Road Championships. She was also a stalwart team player, helping her teammates, as she did for Tara Whitten, who won the overall at the 2016 Cascade Cycling Classic.

Apart from her riding prowess, Watters was well-liked and known for her antics. The Cyclery’s directeur sportif, Chris Reid, described her unique style, engaging smile, optimistic attitude and amazing persona.

Ellen Watters  ©  The Cyclery Racing
“We asked Ellen to join The Cyclery Racing program, as she had a great and unique style, along with talent. I was soon to learn I’d underestimated both her talent and immense personality. She had a huge presence, and her warm and loving persona was a contradiction to the warrior she was in races. Ellen was a role model with an infectious smile, and her tragic loss brought the entire cycling community across Canada together and galvanized support for Ellen’s Law.”

Following the tragedy her mother, Nancy, told Global News that her daughter remarked about not feeling as safe on New Brunswick roads as she did while at a 2016 training camp in Arizona, a state with a three-foot passing law.

The enactment of Ellen’s Law was bittersweet. “Ellen was the dynamite that cleared the path to make it go through,” her mother told CTV. “It makes me feel more confident. I feel committed to cycle.”

Ellen Watters  ©  The Cyclery Racing
The news was also welcomed by the province’s cycling community. “The benefits in safety and health to the public far outweigh the few seconds that it takes for motorists to slow down and move over into the passing lane,” Wayne Arrowsmith, chair of the Velo NB Advocacy Committee told Pedal.

“The successful passage of Ellen’s Law was due to the combined endorsement of cycling clubs, bike shops, towns and cities across NB, and thousands of New Brunswickers signing petitions in support of the legislation. Velo NB and its advocacy committee worked with politicians from all parties to get unanimous support for the legislation.”

Ontario was the first Canadian province to enact a one-metre law in 2015. Quebec enacted a law in the summer of 2016 requiring either 1 or 1.5 metres, depending on the posted speed limit on a particular road. Nova Scotia also has similar laws, and legislation is now pending in B.C. To date, some 30 U.S. states have enacted similar (three-foot) laws.

Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick (l-r) Portland Simonds MLA Trevor Holder, Sussex-Fundy-St. Martin's MLA Bruce Northrup, cycling advocate Cathy Manuel, Premier Brian Gallant, cycling advocate Sheila Cameron, Ms. Watters' parents James Watters and Nancy Grieve–Watters, cycling advocate Wayne Arrowsmith, Fundy-The Isles-Saint John West MLA and government house leader Rick Doucet., MLA/Deputé Chris Collins  ©  courtesy of Chris Collins/Facebook
In mid-February, the New Brunswick legislature tabled this amendment to the Motor Vehicle Act aimed at improving safety for cyclists. Under the proposed New Brunswick amendment, a driver of a motor vehicle shall not pass a bicycle travelling in the same direction unless there is sufficient space to do so safely and the driver leaves at least one metre of open space between the vehicle and the bicycle.

Cycling advocates in BC are asking for similar legislation there. An Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC) website lists giving cyclists at least 1-metre of clearance as an importance safety consideration, but this is just a recommendation rather than law. The same website also urges motorists to use their hand farthest from the door to prevent “dooring” cyclists. Instead of using their door-side (left) arm, if they reach over with their other (right) arm the shift causes drivers to look back naturally and see whether or not there are oncoming cyclists.

Pedal understands that this action, also called “the Dutch reach” because it is law in the Netherlands, may be the next big battle for cycling advocates across North America.

CBC here.
CTV here
ICBC here.
Dutch Reach here.

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