In Quebec, there’s a single line buried in a proposed bill that could keep motorcycles off the road all winter.
The line is in Bill 165, which proposes some amendments to the highway safety code. It was tabled Dec. 8 in the Quebec National Assembly, and it reads: Mieux définir les véhicules visés par l’obligation d’avoir des pneus d’hiver. Translated this means, “better define the vehicles covered by the mandatory use of winter tires.”
The current law states that all passenger vehicles, including motorcycles, are only allowed on the road in Quebec from December 15 to March 15 if they’re fitted with winter tires. Early last year, during a public consultation on proposed changes to the existing highway code, Quebec’s provincial police force, the Sûreté du Quebéc, recommended that motorcycles be exempted from the mandatory winter tire law.
You’d think that this sounds good if the snow thaws and you want to gear up for some cool riding, but no — the submitted proposal clearly specified that motorcycles should be prohibited from public roads when the winter tire law is in effect, regardless of what type of tires they use. And now, the most recent tabled proposal recommends that the period be extended by two weeks, beginning on December 1.
The original proposal, as presented by the police, read: “Following the recent arrival on the market by certain manufacturers of winter tires for motorcycles, which feature the pictogram required by the regulation regarding the use of tires designed specifically for winter driving, motorcyclists are consequently authorised to circulate during the winter period.”
Fair enough, but a couple of paragraphs later, it continued: “In order to regulate such a practice, we are of the opinion that motorcycles and mopeds must be exempted from the application of section 440.1 (the winter tire law – Ed.)… In addition, it would be necessary to add a provision (to the safety code – Ed.) to prohibit their use between December 15 and March 15.”
“Better define the vehicles covered by the mandatory use of winter tires.” This cleverly-worded clause that’s now in the proposed bill is designed specifically to pass under the radar of motorcyclists. It does not mention motorcycles, nor state what “better define” means, however the only proposed amendment regarding the winter tire law, aside from the new starting date, is the one regarding motorcycles. So why not just go ahead and say so? Probably to avoid any backlash before the law is put into effect.
Riders are already buying those winter tires, made by Anlas, and they’re not doing so to ride when the roads are covered with snow. They are just doing it so they can ride their bikes within the law on those rare days when the roads are clear and the temperature creeps into the low double digits between December and March.
Riders who spend the extra dollars to install tires specifically designed for cold temperatures are probably experienced, are more likely to use some judgment when riding, and have developed some measure of self-preservation. They have no real intention of challenging Mother Nature to a snowy duel. All they want, as do I, is to enjoy a brief ride when the weather permits.
This proposed change to the safety code, which will most likely become law, will effectively ban motorcycles in Quebec from December 1 to March 15. There are exceptions, such as if you’re travelling from out of province (and Quebec residents can ask for a written exemption that is designed to allow travel out of the province), but otherwise, your bike will have to stay off public roads during the tire-law period, winter tires or not.
This proposal only reaffirms what I believed when the winter tire law was originally introduced in 2008 and included motorcycles: the ultimate goal is to discourage their use in a province that already restricts their use on public roads during the riding season.
But it’s not all bad news: among the newly-tabled proposals is one that will really help new riders. The Sûreté du Quebéc had proposed abolishing the controversial accompanied-rider law, which forces newly licensed riders to find an appropriately licensed rider to accompany them on the road during an 11-month probationary period, or face a hefty fine and possible confiscation of their motorcycle. In practice, this deprives them of much-needed experience in their first season of riding. The bill that went to the National Assembly for review proposes to replace this law with a midnight to 5:00 am curfew.
It seems to me like these two proposals are a negotiated trade-off between the parties involved: The Quebec transport minister will allow newly-licensed motorcyclists to ride unaccompanied during the 11-month probationary period, but in exchange all riders will have to put their bikes away from December 1 to March 15.
Is this a fair trade-off? No, because as a licensed, tax-paying rider, I want to ride my bike whenever I choose to do so, and when the conditions are safe. But here in Quebec, where new riders have essentially been prevented from riding for at least their first season, perhaps the trade-off is a better deal. They need the experience during those critical first months to help them pass the road test required for a full, unrestricted licence, otherwise failing leads to more probationary time. My experience as a licensed riding instructor tells me that fixing this misguided law will most probably lead to more new riders on the road.