Sharing the Road

A bicycle is a vehicle under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act (HTA). This means that a bicyclist has the same rights and responsibilities as anyone else using a road. It also means that motorists share the same responsibilities towards bicycle riders as they do to other motorists.

Unfortunately, the interactions between bicycles and motor vehicles can lead to serious and deadly injuries. The office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario released its review of cycling deaths in Ontario found that 129 people died while cycling in the years spanning 2006-2010. In its review, the Coroner’s office found that 100% of these deaths were preventable through an increased awareness and respect for the rules of the road by all road users.

The HTA provides a basic set of guidelines for a bicyclist. Under the HTA it is mandatory to ride a bicycle with a helmet if you are 18 years of age or under. It is required that every bicycle has a bell or horn in good working order. The HTA indicates that slow moving vehicles, including bicycles, are to drive in the right-hand lane, or as close as practicable to the right edge of the road except when preparing to turn left or when passing another vehicle.

The HTA also provides instructions for motorists passing bicycles. It states that “every person in charge of a vehicle on a highway meeting a person travelling on a bicycle shall allow the cyclist sufficient room on the roadway to pass.”

Our recent history of cycling related accidents shows us that the HTA does not go far enough in terms of educating bicyclists or motorists on the rules of the road they share. It provides often vague laws such as suggesting that cyclists are to pull to the right and drivers out to the left “so far as may be necessary to avoid a collision”. The result is that 26,000 Ontarians visited emergency rooms for bicycling related injuries in 2009 alone. In 2012, a year not captured in the previously mentioned Coroner’s review, there were more cycling related deaths than in any year since 1998.

In releasing its review, the Chief Coroner’s office made 14 recommendations. These included making helmets mandatory for all cyclists, making it a priority to construct highways with paved shoulders, and implementing a 1-metre (3 foot) passing rule. The Transportation Minister for Ontario, Glen Murray, has also suggested this passing rule but to date has been non-committal about its implementation (there are similar rules in place in Nova Scotia and in 39 states in the U.S.). In May of this year, Mr. Murray cited the need to create “complete” communities and roadways that leave space for pedestrians, vehicles and bicycles alike. Mr. Murray also stated that his goal was to see Ontario become one of the top-20 bicycle friendly communities in the world.

Over the course of this summer the Ontario Ministry of Transportation will be reviewing and evaluating its Cycling Strategy for Ontario.  There is still time to have your say. If you have opinions or concerns now is the time to speak with the Transportation Minister, your MPP, your local councillor or one of the many groups lobbying for support.

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