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ONTARIO BICYCLE LAWS

It’s important to know your legal rights (and duties) when bicycling in Ontario. It is especially important after a bicycle accident (we call them bicycle “crashes” and explain why here).

For any questions about the Province’s bike laws, or about your rights to the road, contact attorney Pat Brown directly.

Right to the Road

  • Ontario bicyclists generally have the same rights, and same responsibilities, as drivers of motor vehicles.
  • Most of the laws that apply to bicycles are contained in the Highway Traffic Act (HTA).  However, municipal bylaws can also regulate the use of bicycles.
  • The HTA defines a bicycle as “bicycle includes a tricycle, a unicycle and a power-assisted bicycle but does not include a motor-assisted bicycle.”  Therefore, a bicycle is considered a vehicle under Ontario law.
  • Cyclists have an absolute right to use public roads.  When using the roads, a bicyclist is required to follow certain laws intended to ensure that bicyclists use reasonably caution and safe cycling practices.  

Prohibitions

  • Bicycles are prohibited on expressway/freeway highways such as the 400 series, the QEW and on roads where “No Bicycle” signs are posted.
  • A bicyclist shall not attach themselves to a vehicle or street car on a highway.
  • No person riding or operating a bicycle designed for carrying one person only shall carry any other person thereon.

Helmets

  • Helmets are mandatory on bikes for person 17 or under.  A parent shall be responsible for children under 16 who do not wear a helmet.  
  • A person who is 18 years old or older is not required to wear a helmet.

Alcohol

  • You can not be charged criminally for impaired driving or over 80 on a bike.  However, if you are caught riding impaired and in an unsafe manner, you can be charged under the Liquor Licence Act with being intoxicated in public.  You can also be charged with careless driving under the HTA. Both the Liquor Licence Act and the HTA are provincial offences and do not have criminal consequences.

Where to Ride

  • Ride approximately one meter from right curb.

Taking the Lane

  • It is permissible to take the lane in Ontario and move with traffic flow.
  • HTA (147(1) does require bikes (and cars) that are travelling slower than the normal speed of traffic to travel in the right lane or the close to the right hand curb “where practicable”.
  • The words “where practicable” therefore allows cyclists to take the lane due to various road conditions that include potholes, construction, street car tracks, grates, parked cars, or other unsafe conditions on the road.

Sidewalks

  • Each municipality can pass bylaws prohibiting sidewalk riding
  • Toronto Municipal Code, Chapter 950 states that “No person age 14 and older shall ride a bicycle on a sidewalk of any highway, except for those locations designated in § 886-6 of Chapter 886, Footpaths, Pedestrian Ways, Bicycle Paths, Bicycle Lanes and Cycle Tracks.”

Dooring

  • No person may open the door of a motor vehicle unless it is safe to do so.  

Bike Lanes, Bike Paths and Multi-Use Paths

  • No person shall park, drive or operate any vehicle, except a bicycle or power-assisted bicycle, on a bicycle path or bike lane.
  • Bikes are allowed on footpaths and pedestrian ways in Toronto

Transit Stops and Vehicles

  • Cyclist must stop at least 2 meters from the rear or front entrance or exit (on the side the passengers are getting on or off) and must wait until all passengers have crossed.

Left Turns

  • To turn left bicyclists may perform a “box turn” or use the left turn lane.

Stop Signs and Traffic Control Devices

  • Bicyclists are required to come to a full and complete stop at all stop signs and traffic lights displaying a red signal. Idaho stop is not permissible.

Signaling

  • Bicyclists must use hand/arm signals when turning and stopping.

Crosswalks

  • If at an intersection,  the cyclist may ride along any crosswalk but is not allowed to ride within the crosswalk
  • If not at an intersection and no traffic control signal, then the cyclist can ride within the crosswalk.  If there is a traffic control signal, the cyclist is not permitted to ride within the crosswalk

Drivers Overtaking Cyclists

  • Drivers must provide a minimum of one-metre distance when passing a cyclist.

Bicycles Passing on the Right

  • Bicyclists may pass motor vehicles on the right if it is reasonably safe to do so and where there is unobstructed pavement for two vehicles to safely pass.

Group Riding

  • The HTA does not explicitly forbid side by side riding.
  • The HTA requires that slower moving vehicles (cyclists) move to the right, but only when being passed and where practicable.
  • The HTA only forbids side by side riding when it impedes normal flow of traffic.
  • If there is not enough room for faster vehicles to safely pass, cyclists should ride single file as far right as safely practicable.  
  • Municipalities may have specific bylaws prohibiting side by side riding.
  • Toronto repealed their bylaw requiring single file riding.

Bike Equipment

  • White or amber light on the front and red light on the rear ½ hour before sunset, ½ hour after sunrise, or when unfavorable/light conditions.  
  • White reflector on the front forks.
  • Red reflector on the rear.
  • Flashing red light on the rear is permissible .
  • At least one brake system acting on the rear wheel that will enable the rider to make the braked wheel skin on dry, level and clean pavement.
  • Bell, gong or horn in good working order, but not permitted to have sound similar to emergency vehicle.

Walking Your Bike

  • If walking your bike due to disrepair or fatigue, you must walk on the left hand side of the road facing traffic.

Police Stops

  • Cyclist is to identify themselves and provide their address
  • Cyclist does not need to show their drivers licence.

Reverse Onus Law (Civil)

  • Ontario has a reverse onus law that requires the driver of a motor vehicle that strikes a cyclist to prove that the damage or injury did not arise through their negligence or improper conduct (as opposed to the cyclist having the onus of proving the driver was negligent)

Civil Remedies

  • Cyclists are permitted to sue drivers/owners of vehicles who are negligent and cause injuries to the cyclist.
  • Families of cyclists killed by negligent driver/owners are entitled to sue for wrongful death.
  • No fault benefits are available to injured and killed cyclists in Ontario regardless of fault provided a motor vehicle is involved.  
  • Joint and several liability applies to the negligent actions of defendants
  • Owners of cars are jointly liable with drivers
  • Cyclists may be held contributorily negligent for their conduct but there is no restriction in the cyclist pursuing a claim if so found to be partly at fault.
  • Municipalities can be held liable for improper design and failure to repair.  They are responsible for their percentage of fault

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