Riding a bike is a great way to combine daily exercise with environmental responsibility. While you get a cardiovascular workout, you are helping to reduce noise and carbon-based pollution, benefiting everyone in the community.
But bicycle riding comes with a number of risks and responsibilities. You are the smallest vehicle on the road, and it’s up to you to remain visible so that the larger vehicles remain aware of your presence. You need to remain especially alert in traffic situations where drivers react in a hurry, or at intersections where they might turn without checking to see if a cyclist is there.
Nor is it enough to be a good defensive cyclist. For your own safety, as well as the safety of other vehicles on the road, you need to make sure you are following the rules of the road.
Ontario bicycle laws were designed to protect cyclists from having a bike accident. All cyclists should use bicycle hand signals properly and stay in designated Toronto bike lanes wherever they exist.
If they get in an accident, Ontario cyclists are entitled to claim no-fault accident benefits even if they are liable for part or all of the event. However, because motor vehicles can do significant damage to cyclists in a crash, it is best to take proactive steps to avoid collisions in the first place.
The following cycling tips will help bike riders stay safe on the roadway. You will also come away with a better understanding of exactly what to do if in the worst case scenario — a collision with a motor vehicle.
Ontario Bicycle Laws
The Highway Traffic Act (HTA) was written by the Ministry of Transportation’s Road Safety Group for the purpose of instructing motor vehicles. By and large, guidelines for bicycle traffic are an afterthought. In fact, the law regards them the same as any other vehicle with which they share the road.
Nevertheless, some parts of the law address cyclists specifically. They are as follows.
HTA 62 (17): If you ride after dark, your bike must be equipped with two lights, a white front light and a red rear reflector or light. You must also have reflective tape for your bike to render it more visible in the moments just before sunset and after sunrise, when glare can make it difficult for motorists to see objects clearly.
HTA 64(3): A bike must have at least a rear brake system that allows the bike to come to a complete stop on dry terrain.
HTA 75 (5): Bikes must have a bell or horn.
HTA 104: Youths under the age of 18 must wear a helmet that is specially approved for cycling. It is up to parents or guardians to ensure that children under 16 comply with this rule.
HTA 140 (6)/144 (29): Cyclists are not allowed to ride in a crosswalk. The law says you must dismount and walk your bike when utilizing this space where pedestrians may be present.
HTA 142: Cyclists must signal a turn before turning and look behind them to make sure other vehicles are aware of their intention. They are allowed to use their right arm when signaling a right turn.
HTA 144/136: Cyclists must stop for red lights and comply with all other traffic signals, just the same as motor vehicles.
HTA 153: Bike riders must ride in the direction of a one-way street, the same as motor vehicles.
HTA 166: Cyclists must stop two metres back from a streetcar door, then wait until departing passengers have reached the curb before moving again.
HTA 175: Just like motor vehicles, cyclists must stop for school buses when the red lights on top of the bus are flashing. The penalty for failing to stop is a fine of $400.
HTA 178(2): Cyclists are not allowed to carry a passenger unless the bike was specifically designed for more than one person.
HTA 179: Ordinarily, a cyclist must ride on the right-hand side of the road, consistent with the flow of traffic. The exception to this rule is when cyclists have dismounted and are walking their bike on a road with no sidewalks. In this case, you are treated as a pedestrian and must walk on the left-hand side of the road, facing oncoming vehicles. The only time you would remain on the right-hand side of the road is when it would be dangerous to cross heavy traffic to get to the other side.
HTA 218: Cyclists are required to identify themselves if police stop them for breaking any traffic law.
HTA Reg. 630: Bicycles are not allowed to travel on expressways, freeways, or any road where there is posted a “No Bicycle” Sign.
Beginning in January, 2017, the province enacted new laws regarding signal lights put in place specifically for cyclists. Cyclists must obey these signals or face a fine of $85, or $120 in community safety zones.
Cycling Tips for Safe Travel
Knowing the law is one thing. But there are a number of common sense things you can do as a cyclist to increase your chances of avoiding a bike accident.
- Cross Streetcar tracks safely.
Both streetcar and railway tracks pose a risk for cyclists for two reasons. First, they create uneven terrain that requires you to balance carefully. Second, your wheel can easily get snagged in the space between the edge of the pavement and the steel track itself.
When crossing, you should make sure to approach the tracks at a right angle to avoid the latter scenario. Because a right-angle approach may cause you to veer into the roadway momentarily, it’s important to signal your intention to surrounding traffic and look behind you before the approach.
If you are uncomfortable crossing any tracks, but especially wet tracks or multiple sets of tracks, your best option is to dismount and walk your bike across.
- Make Yourself Visible in Low Visibility Situations.
Right before sunset and just after dawn are perilous times for a cyclist to be on the road because glare from the sun reduces visibility greatly. Ontario law mandates that cyclists out during those times have reflective striping on their bikes. It is also a good idea to wear a helmet with reflective striping and colors designed to cut through the glare.
Another low visibility situation occurs when a cyclist approaches an intersection in stopped traffic, riding to the right of cars stopped in traffic. Cyclists should exercise caution as they approach the intersection, understanding that might be in a motor vehicle’s blind spot and that impatient motorists may seize an opportunity to turn right without checking to see if a bike is present.
- Consider Riding Two Abreast.
Although it makes many motorists angry and impatient to see a group of cyclists riding two abreast, this is actually a safer strategy.
First, it ensures that drivers will pass the cyclist legally, by moving into the opposing lane, rather than overtaking them in the same lane. When vehicles fail to maintain a safe distance between themselves and cyclists, it can drive bikes off onto the shoulder and increase the likelihood of an accident.
It is also against the law. In Ontario, motor vehicles must clear a bike by the distance of at least one metre when passing them in the roadway. A failure to do so is punishable by a set fine of $85, plus court fees and a $20 victim surcharge.
Second, riding two abreast when you are in a group of cyclists actually reduces the time motorists spend overtaking the bikes. This, too, decreases the chance of an accident.
Of course, cyclists should make sure to ride in even lines when two abreast rather than taking over the road as a loose, disorganized group.
What to Do if You Are in a Bike Accident
No matter how careful you are, it is impossible to account for every variable. There is a chance that you will join ranks with the thousands of other Canadians who are injured in a bike accident each year. In that eventuality, here is what you should do.
- Determine the Extent of Your Injuries by Seeking Medical Attention.
Immediately following an accident, you are not thinking straight. Charged with adrenaline, you may underestimate the extent of your injuries. You might also be in shock. Finally, if you experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI), you may not have any noticeable symptoms at first.
It is crucial to seek medical attention as soon as possible — even if you don’t think you are injured. In the event that you need to file suit against the motorist, you will have a clear record to present in court. You may also be able to forestall serious complications from your injuries by being proactive in addressing them.
- Call the Authorities.
Just as seeing a doctor right away to assess your injuries is an important part of documenting the accident, so is contacting the police. They will have you file an accident report at the scene.
You will also need their report if you go to file an insurance claim.
- Collect Information from People at the Scene.
Although you want the authorities to be present, you should also take some time to document the accident scene yourself. That way, you’ll be prepared in the event that police neglect to obtain some crucial information.
At the minimum, you should write down the license number of the vehicle that was involved in the accident. You should also ask the driver for their name, address, phone number, driver’s license number, and insurance information.
If there are witnesses at the scene, make sure to get their names and phone numbers as well. Later on, they may be able to provide important corroborating evidence. They may also be able to provide new perspective on the accident since they viewed it from a different vantage point and in a less emotionally charged frame of mind.
- If You Are Able to Do So, Document Evidence at the Scene.
Because you are likely in a state of high alert in the moments directly following the accident, you may think you are going to remember everything. You would be surprised, however, at how faulty people’s memories are when it comes to remembering details at an accident scene.
For that reason, it’s important to document everything. Take notes detailing the time of the accident, the weather conditions, and whether there were distractions like road construction, heavy traffic, or emergency vehicles passing through at a high rate of speed.
Note what you are wearing and how you feel immediately after the accident.
If there are road signs in the area, make note of that as well. Also detail the conditions of the roadway and the angle of the sun at the time of the accident.
Although it’s helpful to write these details down, you should also compile photographic evidence. Some important things to document with your phone camera:
- The position of your bike in relation to the vehicle or vehicles involved in the accident.
- Any damage to your bike.
- Visible injuries and damage to your bike helmet or clothing.
- Traffic signs and signal lights in the vicinity.
Your Rights as a Cyclist
Cyclists enjoy important legal protections under Ontario law and can pursue compensation through various avenues, including your own insurance policy, the insurance policy of the driver involved in the accident, and the Ontario Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Fund.
This is how provincial law works in the case of a vehicular collision. Regardless of who is at fault, both parties are covered by Ontario’s “no fault” system, and your injuries will be covered by your insurance company. If you are not insured, you can file a claim for coverage under the other party’s policy. If it is a hit-and-run accident, you can apply for compensation through the Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Fund.
In some cases, the motor vehicle behaved in a reckless or negligent fashion. In such a case, you may opt to file a personal injury lawsuit to recover damages. Your success is contingent on whether the court is able to determine that you played no role in causing the accident.
Want to Consult an Experienced Bike Accident Lawyer?
If you have been injured in a bike accident, our team of dedicated personal injury lawyers is ready to assist you in getting the compensation you may be entitled to. Contact Diamond & Diamond for a free case evaluation today.