Canadians love their bikes. I love my bike! No matter the season, you’ll find cyclists out on the roads, rain or shine – and even snow (although winter is a bit hardcore for me personally). And why not? Cycling is not only great exercise, it's a healthy and budget-friendly way to traverse our city streets and avoid the congestion on our roadways – and in our subways too.
But, along with the benefits of a cycling culture comes greater risk and accidents. Approximately 7,500 cyclists are seriously injured each year in Canada. As the number of cyclists who share the roads with cars, trucks, and even pedestrians continue to rise, it may be a good time to revisit some of the rules of the road to ensure we all share it safely.
Stricter Rules on our Roads
Recently, some changes were made to the Ontario Highway Traffic Act that underscore the importance of following the rules for both cyclists and drivers alike. For example, drivers need to maintain a minimum distance of one metre when passing cyclists or face a fine of $110.
Those who are guilty of “dooring” – opening the door of a parked vehicle into the path of a cyclist – now face a minimum fine of $365 and three demerit points upon conviction. The laws have also become stricter for cyclists who don’t adhere to bicycle lighting requirements. Bikes must have a white or amber light on their front and a red light or a reflector on their rear (if you need a set, let me know!). Any cyclists who fail to comply can face an increased fine of $110.
Helmet Head is Cool
According to the law, if you’re a cyclist under the age of 18, you must wear an approved helmet (i.e. those that fit properly and meet safety standards). Though adults are not required to do the same, it’s been established that helmets can significantly minimize the potential for injury or death – so keep one on no matter your age. It always astounds me when I see kids with helmets riding with their parents who have bare heads. Is the parent's brain any less important to the well being of the family than the kids'?
Cars, Watch Where You Pass
Drivers in Ontario must maintain at least a one metre distance when passing cyclists. If more space is possible, all the better. How is that space measured? Very strictly, of course - from the edge of a vehicle’s outside mirror to the outside edge of the cyclists’ handle bars. Keep in mind, the rule applies even if the driver is attempting to pass a cyclist when stopped at a traffic light. For those who fail to obey the one-metre passing rule, they can face a penalty of $110 and two demerit points. More important, those drivers could cause serious, life-changing injuries to the cyclist, something both may have to live with for the rest of their lives.
Be Cautious and Proactive
As a cyclist, it’s always best to assume that you’re not the central focus of a driver’s attention. The precautions you should take can make a big difference to your well-being. Make sure to wear bright coloured clothing, use reflectors or reflector tape, double check your headlights and taillights before heading out on the roads and fasten a bell or horn on your bike to make yourself heard wherever you go. Don’t be afraid to yell loudly to get the attention of a driver who may not see you! It may embarrass your kids (just ask mine) but it will help to keep you safe.
Know Your Responsibilities
Contrary to what many cyclists may believe, they enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as a driver of a car. That means, even when riding two wheels, you are required to yield to pedestrians and to come to a full stop at stop signs. Of course, cycling comes with its own unique set of obligations too. Every cyclist should know their hand signals, must keep as close as possible to the right side of the road and remain in single file when riding with other cyclists.
As winter turns to spring, these rules take on an even greater importance. When we work together to keep our roads safe for our children and ourselves, our cycling culture can remain strong and vibrant. And that’s definitely something worth striving for.
Personal injury lawyer Adam Wagman is a Senior Partner and Former Managing Partner of Howie, Sacks & Henry. He is Past-President of Ontario Trial Lawyers Association (OTLA) and was recognized as one of the 25 Most Influential Lawyers in Canada. Adam’s practice focuses exclusively on personal injury law and includes the areas of: Motor Vehicle Accidents; Spinal Cord Injuries; Brain Injuries; Fatal Accidents; Slip and Fall Claims; Long-Term and Short-Term Disability Claims; and, Bike and Pedestrian Accidents.