The Great Debate – Are Cyclists Required to Ride Single File?
When it comes to cyclist/car interactions, few topics are more polarizing than the debate over whether cyclists, riding as a group, are required to ride single file. Many cyclists feel they are entitled to a full lane of the road. These cyclists feel it is perfectly legal to ride two abreast within one lane. Many motorists hold the opposite view. They feel cyclists have an obligation to ride single file, tucked as close as possible to the road’s right curb. Who is right? The answer is not entirely clear.
Under the Highway Traffic Act (“HTA”), there is no express prohibition against cyclists riding two abreast in the same lane. Therefore, a plain reading of the HTA might lead a cyclist to conclude that there is no obligation to ride single file. Unfortunately, the reality is not so clear. Section 148 of the HTA applies to both cyclists and cars. It requires cyclists (and cars) to turn out to the right to allow faster moving vehicles to pass. In the past, cyclists have been charged under s.148(2) and s.148(6) of the HTA for riding two abreast. The argument is that by riding two abreast, cyclists are unable to comply with their obligation to move right and yield to faster moving traffic. To date, there are no reported decisions dealing with whether s.148(2) and s.148(6) apply to cyclists riding two abreast.
In addition to the prohibitions under the HTA, each municipality has its own by-laws. Some by-laws may expressly require single file riding. For example, prior to 2014, it was illegal to ride two abreast in the City of Toronto. That prohibition has now been eliminated.
Given the uncertain state of the law, cyclists should do whatever makes them feel the safest. Many cyclists either get killed or seriously injured because they are riding too close to the right curb. They either get forced from the road, or collide with cars after getting pinched between the curb and passing vehicle. By riding two abreast, cyclists can safely occupy a full lane of the road. Instead of getting pinched against the right-hand curb, passing vehicles will need to perform a full lane change to pass. While such behavior might infuriate the occasional driver, it is much safer for cyclists riding in groups.
In summary, the law is unclear on whether cyclists are prohibited from riding two abreast. It may also vary from municipality to municipality. The legislature should be well aware of the fact that cyclists ride two abreast instead of single file. If the legislature actually wanted to prohibit two-abreast riding, it could have amended the HTA to include provisions requiring single-file riding. No such provisions exist.
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