By Ludmilla Jarda, J.D
What you need to know about cycling safety
The varied landscape of Ontario makes it one of the best places for cycling in Canada. From the rocky Canadian shield in the Georgian Bay, to the wine country of Prince Edward County, and the historic Rideau Canal pathway, the province boasts an impressive network of trails. As summer approaches and holiday travel options remain limited, more people are exploring their backyard on two wheels. Below is information about the legal implications of cycling.
Rules of the road
Cycling is governed by a patchwork of laws including Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act, municipal bylaws, and certain federal regulations specific to the National Capital Region that apply to those cycling around Ottawa.
Although bicycles do not require registration or a licence, under the Highway Traffic Act, a bicycle is considered a vehicle. Cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers and must obey all traffic laws. For example, cyclists must yield to pedestrians, stop at stop signs and travel with the flow of traffic. Cyclists must also ride on the right edge of the roads. When crossing at a pedestrian crosswalk, cyclists must walk their bike to the other side.
Under the Highway Traffic Act a bicycle must have an illuminated white front light and a red rear light 30 minutes before sunset and 30 minutes after sunrise, or during any unfavourable light conditions. Your bicycle must also have a working bell.
Cyclists should also be aware of the rules that apply to drivers. In Ontario, there is a one-metre passing law that requires drivers to leave a minimum of one-metre distance when passing a cyclist. The set fine for failing to leave one metre is $85. Drivers can also be penalized for improper opening of a vehicle door, resulting in “dooring” a cyclist — hitting a rider with a stationary car door. The set fine for dooring is $300 and three demerit points.
top 3 safety tips
Tip #1 – Wear a helmet
In addition to following the rules of the road, cyclists should take additional safety precautions. By law, all cyclists under age 18 must wear an approved helmet. Although helmets are not compulsory for adults, they should be worn as helmets can help reduce the risk of injury. The Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians (CAEP) cites research that shows helmets reduce the risk of head, brain and severe brain injury for all cycling ages by up to 88 per cent. Reflectors on your bike and on your clothing also helps to make you more visible.
Tip #2 – Tune up your bike
Your bike should be in good working condition. It is a good practice to take your bike in for a tune-up at a local bike shop to make sure it is ready to ride.
Tip #3 – Plan your route
Planning your trip along bike paths can make cycling safer and more enjoyable. Many online maps show routes where there are protected bike lanes. Moreover, some cities are blocking off roads to allow for pedestrian and cyclist use. For example, in 2020 the National Capital Commission piloted a program and closed sections of Queen Elizabeth Driveway, Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, Sir George-Étienne Cartier Parkway and Gatineau Park Parkway to car traffic to allow residents space to walk and bike.
What to do in case of an accident
Unfortunately, even with precautions, cycling is not without risk. According to Statistics Canada, most bicycle injuries occur during the afternoon rush hour. Cyclists are more likely to be killed or injured at an intersection, or where there are traffic control signs. In 2017, collisions with a motor vehicle made up 73 per cent of fatal cycling events, with the other fatalities coming from collisions with other cyclists, or stationary objects.
If you or someone else is hurt in an accident, call 9-1-1. If no one is hurt, call the local police. If you are in a collision with a motor vehicle, take down the driver’s license number, name, telephone number, license plate number, and insurance information. You should also take note of the information of witnesses.
In Ontario, if you are hit by a motor vehicle while cycling, you are entitled to no-fault benefits. If you have auto insurance, you can claim those benefits through your auto insurance. If you do not have auto insurance, you can claim benefits through the driver’s policy. Compensation for a cycling accident may include loss of income, medical and rehabilitation treatment as well as damages for pain and suffering.
Cycling is a great way to enjoy the warm weather, get some exercise, and see new sights. By following the rules of the road and taking responsible precautions, you can make cycling safer for you and others. Nevertheless, if you are in an accident and you need assistance navigating the legal process, you should contact a lawyer with experience handling personal injury claims.
Ludmilla (Milla) Jarda is an associate lawyer with Nelligan Law, with expertise in personal injury law, insurance law, and litigation. She has handled a wide variety of claims, including matters concerning wrongful death and slip-and-falls, long term disability, professional negligence, and motor vehicle accidents.
Nelligan Law gratefully acknowledges the contribution of Maya Fernandez in preparing this article.
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