Rules of the Road:
Hello! It’s your friendly monthly newsletter once again. Once more, this will be a little long, but I hope you’ll bear with me.
It’s fall and that means a lot of cyclists are hanging up their wheels for the winter but, still, we are continuing our safety talks. This will become more important as leaves start to fall and the roads, sidewalks and pathways become more slippery. We’ll talk about laws, rights, responsibilities, and the differences in bike lanes.
(image courtesy of https://files.ontario.ca/mto-young-cycling-skills-en-2021-09-16.pdf)
Let’s start with laws for Cyclists
By law, all bikes, trikes, and ebikes are vehicles of the road. That means you are expected to follow the rules of the road. There are a few differences but not many.
To start with, you are required to have a working horn or bell as well as at least one brake that is functioning. And by ‘functioning’ the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) means that the brake is “to be tuned so they stop with at least 2.5 cm of space between the lever and the handlebar grip”( https://www.northernontario.travel/cycling/bike-laws-in-ontario-canada-explained). If you’re riding between a half hour before sunset and a half hour after sunrise, you need to have lights front and back, as well as reflective material on your forks and rear stays, white and red, respectively.
Below, I’ve pasted the list of offenses and fines that can be incurred by a cyclist flaunting the laws. (Not that any of us has ever done that, right? 😉 Can’t think of anyone who has ridden through a 4-way stop without doing more than slowing down to look.) Helmets are, of course, mandatory for those under 18. If you’re under 16, it’s the parents who get the fine; if you’re 16-18, the police will fine you for not protecting your head (and personality). And, finally, you must obey all posted traffic signs and lights.
When riding on a road, you, as the slower vehicle, are expected to stay to the right. The only exceptions are when you need to pass someone slower, move around a hazard, or prepare to turn left. If the road is too narrow for safe passing in that lane, stay the course and let the faster vehicle move out and around you. There are some things that should be common sense: don’t ride more than one person on your bike if it’s not made to carry passengers, for instance. Why should this be common sense? Because you lose control of your bike when there is someone else sitting on the handlebars or the back; the balance is thrown off by the other person. Also, obeying all traffic lights, bicycle-designated ones or otherwise.
Finally, if a vehicle is in front of you in the lane, stop behind it. Do not pull up beside a car that has carefully passed you and come to a stop at the intersection before you. Not only is it the height of rudeness, but it’s unsafe as well. You could end up in their blind spot, hit if they suddenly have to move out of the way of an emergency vehicle.
A bicycle is considered a vehicle under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act (HTA). This means that cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities to obey all traffic laws as other road users and they can be charged for disobeying traffic laws. The following are key sections of the HTA relating to cyclists:
(HTA section) Offence Set Fine
HTA 62(17) Improper lighting $85.00
HTA 64(3) Improper brakes $85.00
HTA 75(5) No or defective bell/horn $85.00
HTA 104 Fail to wear proper helmet $60.00
HTA 140(1)(a) (b) (c) Fail to yield to pedestrian $300.00*
HTA 140(6) / 144(29) Cyclist - ride in a crossover or crosswalk $85.00
HTA 142 Fail to signal a turn $85.00*
HTA 144/136 Traffic signals and signs $85.00-$300.00*
HTA 144(10) Fail to obey bicycle traffic control signal $85.00*
HTA 144(18) Fail to stop at a red light $260.00*
HTA 147 Slow moving traffic travel on right side $150.00*
HTA 148(6) Bicycle fail to turn out to right when $85.00
HTA 153 Drive wrong way - one way street $85.00*
HTA 166 Fail to stop two meters behind $85
streetcar doors and yield to passengers
HTA 175(12) Fail to stop for stopped school buses $400.00
HTA 178(1) Attaching to a vehicle $85.00
HTA 178(2) Passengers not allowed on bicycle $85.00
built for one
HTA 218 Cyclist - fail to stop or to identify self $85.00
HTA Reg 630 Riding on expressways $85.00
For complete information on Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act and the laws and
regulations pertaining to cycling, visit ontario.ca/laws
*fines increase when committed in a community safety zone
For drivers, the laws are all the same as usual, with the following addendums:
- Obey the bike lanes (we’ll get into them in a bit)
- You must leave one meter (approximately 3 feet) between you and the cyclist when passing, whenever possible, change lanes
- If a cyclist is in front of you in a lane at an intersection, they must remain in front of you and have the right of way, just like another car
- Failure to do the previous two actions can result in a fine and 2 points
- Always watch for cyclists before crossing a bike lane (to enter a driveway, for instance)
- Oncoming cyclists have the right of way before you turn left
- Watch for hand signals. Cyclists will either do the left-arm-bent-up signal for right or will point with their right arm.
For the love of everything, do not honk at a cyclist. You could startle them badly enough to cause them to lose control and then they may crash right in front of you.
There are about half a dozen types of bike lanes, as I’m sure you’ve noticed.
1. Sharrows This is where the roadway has two chevrons above a bicycle. In this instance, car and bike share the lane, with the cyclist riding one meter from the right side of the road. The cyclist does have the right to take the lane, (ride in the middle) when they feel it is safe for them to do so, or if it’s not safe for the faster vehicle to go around them. A good example is on Quebec St at Oxford.
2. Bike lane (a): a lane marked by a solid line. This clearly delineates the bike lane from the driving lane. The solid line means you don’t cross it. The only exceptions are when you need to pull into a driveway. That lane means cyclists have the right of way within it. If you’re turning right and the lane goes all the way to the intersection, stay out of it. Always look for cyclists before crossing the lane. Hyde Park Road is a prime example.
3. Buffered lanes: are often marked by posts and/or curbs. This should make it quite obvious that these lanes are for bikes, trikes, and e-bikes, not motorized vehicles. Colborne between Oxford and Horton St is a fantastic example. It’s one of our favourite roads to ride.
4. Separate lanes: These are lanes between the sidewalk and the road (typically). The City has been putting in new ones on Fanshawe. Also a lovely ride, nice and smooth.
5. And finally, bike routes with signs. That is simply a road with a sign that looks like a bike over the word ROUTE on a field of green. Also, the road is typically otherwise unmarked. Central Ave has these signs.
Rights and Responsibilities
…of a cyclist: It is your responsibility to obey the traffic laws; behave in a predictable manner; watch for pedestrians; be able to hear everything (which means at least one ear free of an ear bud or headphone); be observant; and be safe. It is your right to stay safe from motorized vehicles; to take your right-of-way; to take the lane; to be treated as another vehicle of the road; and to change lanes when necessary (turning left, going around hazards). It is not your right to ride through intersections without stopping; to attack unsafe motorists (verbally or physically); or to ride on the sidewalk.
…of a driver: It is your responsibility to watch all around you for slower vehicles, including bicycles; to behave in a predictable manner; to obey the laws of the road; and to make sure that everyone gets their right of way. It is your right to go around slower vehicles, when safe; to know that everyone around you is obeying the laws and behaving predictably.
Cyclists and Pedestrians
While the pedestrian is just as responsible for his own safety as you are yours, many of them simply do not pay as much attention to their surroundings as they should. That is why the onus is on you, as the faster-moving person, to keep your eye out for them, especially when there are children and dogs involved. Children and pets can dart out in front of you, despite their parents’ best intentions. If you’re doing 20km/h, you have a big chance of not only getting hurt yourself but of killing that child or dog. Keep an eye out.
Finally, What Not to Do
There are, of course, things you shouldn’t do on a bike.
Don’t zoom between oncoming traffic and traffic in your direction, (pedestrian or otherwise).
Don’t be invisible. Wear bright colours, have lights on, and be reflective.
Don’t leave your head bare. Helmets save your head, your personality, and your way of life.
While distracted driving laws don't apply to cyclists, don't text or play on your phone while riding.
Don’t assume that because you’re a cyclist, you’re immune from traffic laws. It’s not true.
Don’t leave your bike hanging in storage. Go ride! Have fun!