The law on hitchhiking in British Columbia is complex and while it is not illegal, it is not endorsed by the Ministry of Transportation. The law on hitchhiking can be found in s.182(3) in BC’s Motor Vehicle Act R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 318(the “Motor Vehicle Act”) which states “ A person must not be on a roadway to solicit a ride, employment or business from an occupant of a vehicle.” Section 182(4) says “Except for a person who solicits a ride in an emergency situation, a person who contravenes this section commits an offence.”
Roadway is defined in s.119(1) of the Motor Vehicle Act: "roadway" means the portion of the highway that is improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular traffic, but does not include the shoulder, and if a highway includes 2 or more separate roadways, the term "roadway" refers to any one roadway separately and not to all of them collectively.” S.182(3) makes no mention of use of a shoulder in regards to hitchhiking. However, s. 182(2) of the Motor Vehicle Act also states “If there is no sidewalk, a pedestrian walking along or on a highway must walk only on the extreme left side of the roadway or the shoulder of the highway, facing traffic approaching from the opposite direction.” While it may be permissible to solicit a ride from the shoulder, it is not legal for a pedestrian to be walking on the shoulder on the right side of the road.
Further restrictions to soliciting a ride from a roadway can be found in the definition of ‘highway.’ A roadway is defined as a portion of a highway in s. 119(1); what constitutes a roadway falls under the definition of a highway. Section 1 of the Motor Vehicle Act defines “highway” as follows:
(a) every highway within the meaning of the Transportation Act,
(b) every road, street, lane or right of way designed or intended for or used by the general public for the passage of vehicles, and
(c) every private place or passageway to which the public, for the purpose of the parking or servicing of vehicles, has access or is invited,
but does not include an industrial road;
Pursuant to s. 1(a), the Transportation Act, S.B.C. 2004, c. 44 s. 1 defines highway as “a public street, road, trail, lane, bridge, trestle, tunnel, ferry landing, ferry approach, any other public way or any other land or improvement that becomes or has become a highway by [an official act of government].” The broad nature of the definition of highway drastically reduces the areas where a hitchhiker might permissibly stand so as to not be considered soliciting while on a roadway.
Additionally, s. 19.07(1)(d) of Motor Vehicle Act Regulations, B.C. Reg. 26/58 declares pedestrians are not permitted to be on schedule 1 highways, making hitchhiking illegal.
There is no specific provincial law against picking up a hitchhiker unless stopping your car is in contravention of s. 187 of the Motor Vehicle Act which prohibits stopping on a roadway or “park[ing] a vehicle so as to obstruct the free passage of traffic on the highway.” Where hitchhiking is illegal or cannot be conducted in a safe manner, the Ministry of Transportation has clearly posted signs indicating pickup is prohibited. These signs must be obeyed as per s. 125 of the MVA which states “every driver of a vehicle and every pedestrian must obey the instructions of an applicable traffic control device.” The definition of ‘traffic control device’ can be found in s. 119(1) and includes all signs erected by the authority of the minister responsible for the administration of the Transportation Act.
What about individual municipalities?
Many individual municipalities have their own bylaws concerning soliciting a ride from a roadway or highway. Some of these bylaws are:
- Abbotsford – Street and Traffic Bylaw No. 1536, 2006, s. 15.1(c)
- Chilliwack – Highway and Traffic Bylaw No. 4686, 2019, s. 87.3
- Delta – Bylaw No. 6922 s. 9.10
- Kamloops – Traffic Bylaw No. 23-30, 1981, s. 407
- Langley – Highway and Traffic Bylaw, No. 4758, 2010, s. 209
- New Westminster – Street and Traffic Bylaw No. 7664, 2015 s. 6.10.2
- North Vancouver – Street and Traffic Bylaw, No. 6234, 1991, s. 817(1)(e)
- Port Moody – Street, Traffic and Public Places Bylaw No. 1528, 1981, s.7.3
- Prince George – Parking and Traffic Bylaw No. 6056, 1993, s. 51.3 (consolidation)
- Surrey -A By-law to regulate traffic, parking and the use of highways, boulevards, sidewalks and public land in the City of Surrey No. 13007 s. 65(5)
- Vancouver - Street and Traffic By-Law no. 2849, s. 15
What is the punishment?
Section 2 of the Offence Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 338 (the “Offence Act”) provides that offences under British Columbia enactments are punishable on summary conviction. Section 4 of the Offence Act is titled “General penalty” and provides that unless noted otherwise “a person who is convicted of an offence is liable to a fine of not more than $2,000 or to imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or to both.”
Section 132(2)(d) of the Offence Act provides that fines for contraventions of enactments can be established by regulation. The Violation Ticket Administration and Fines Regulation, B.C. Reg 89/97 specifies the penalties for many Motor Vehicle Act offences, but not for s. 182(3). Contraventions under the Motor Vehicle Act not specifically enumerated in BC Reg 89/97 Schedule 3 are ticketed at $109.
Penalties for picking up a hitchhiker are dependent on which section of the act may have been contravened. Fines for applicable sections are the following:
- s. 125, fail to obey traffic control device - $121
- s. 187(1), fail to park off roadway - $109
- s. 187(2), obstructing traffic by parking - $81
Additional fines may apply depending on the municipality.
Is there any case law?
There are no reported cases which cite s. 182(3) of the Motor Vehicle Act, but there are a few cases which cite s. 182(2) in apportionment of liability claims when a defendant was not on the shoulder on the correct side of the roadway, such as in the case Eggleston v. Watson, 2010 BCSC 890.
The term ‘hitchhiking’ has not been judicially defined in British Columbia. Roadway has been judicially defined once in R. v. Maddess 2008 BCSC 1329:
“The term “roadway” does not include the shoulder of the roadway. The term “boulevard” includes the area between the shoulder of a roadway and the adjacent property line ... these definitions are capable of standing together and creating a coherent scheme.”
This is in line with the legislation in s. 119(1) of the Motor Vehicle Act which excludes the shoulder as part of a roadway.
- Motor Vehicle Act, RSBC 1996, c. 318 - BC Laws
- Motor Vehicle Act Regulations B.C. Reg. 26/58 - BC Laws
- Offence Act, RSBC 1996, c. 338 - BC Laws
- Violation Ticket Administration and Fines Regulation, B.C. Reg 89/97 - BC Laws
- Transportation Act, SBC 2004, c. 44 - BC Laws
- Eggleston v. Watson, 2010 BCSC 890 - CanLII.org
- R. v. Maddess (2008), 2008 BCSC 1329 - CanLII.org
- https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/pedestrians/hitchhiking-illegal-bc - DriveSmartBC
- https://www.legaltree.ca/node/671 - Legaltree.ca
- Annotated British Columbia Motor Vehicle Act
- Sanagan’s Encyclopedia of Words and Phrases, Legal Maxims
- Canadian Abridgment Words and phrases
- Barron’s Canadian Law Dictionary
- Canadian Legal Words and Phrases