Intro to Cycling Blog #3 – Safe Cycling and the Rules of the Road

By: Justin Lethbridge, Communication and Event Coordinator for the Ontario Cycling Association

September 11th 2020

In our last blog we spoke with Lead Coach – High Performance Track/Road David Jack about how to improve your endurance. This week we are focusing on safety while riding on the road. We spoke with Constable Matt Baker on the importance of respecting the rules of the road.

The rules of the road aren’t just a set of guidelines for vehicles to follow, they apply to anyone that is using a roadway. While you’re not likely to get a ticket for rolling through a stop sign while on a bike, following the rules is every bit as important in keeping yourself and others safe.

Constable Matt Baker of the Halton Regional Police told the Ontario Cycling Association that most cyclists respect the rules of the road.

Photo Credit: Halton Regional Police

“The vast majority of cyclists are quite safe, groups like the Oakville Cycling Club even post about what roads in the area are under construction. Some cyclists, not all by any means, unfortunately don’t treat themselves as a vehicle when they are on the road which puts them in danger. When you’re on a bike and you’re on the road, you are a vehicle and have the same rights and responsibilities as a car.”

He added that one way to ensure that you’re riding safely is to make sure that you have the correct road positioning.

“Road positioning plays a big part in being safe. Cyclists have a right to be on the road but they have to make sure that they are positioning themselves in a safe manner that allows you to be seen and lets you avoid upcoming obstacles… Try to get comfortable on a roadway and practice your positioning by using quieter roads to build up your confidence before riding on busier roads.”

Another good way to learn about proper positioning and the rules of the road is by taking the Ontario Cycling Association’s ‘Ride Leader Training’ course. While the main focus of the course is to inform potential ride leaders at cycling clubs about their roles and responsibilities; it also covers the rules of the road, the Highway Traffic Act, road etiquette and other useful topics for cyclists. For more information, email support@ontariocycling.org.

Constable Baker stressed that little things such as keeping one meter out from the shoulder or the rideable side of the road, keep cyclists safe. (Rideable meaning that you are one meter out from drain covers, gravel or curbs)

“That will keep you safe from upcoming hazards, from road debris and it allows you to be seen by motorists. Ensuring that you’re seen by other vehicles is a really important part of staying safe. In addition to road placement, you should ensure that you have good lighting that includes flashing rear lights as well as a flashing front light at all times, even though it’s only required at night (from half hour before sunset to a half hour after sunrise) I’d recommend that you have it on at all times.”

Constable Baker added that while it is legal to ride on the sidewalk in some cities it’s safer for yourself and pedestrians to stay on the road.

“The City of Burlington allows you to use the sidewalks but I’d still recommend that you use the road to cycle. It’s also important to educate youth and kids, make sure that you take the time to work to transition them from the sidewalk to the road and explain the reasons why to them.”

While riding on the sidewalk is legal in Burlington, it isn’t in many other cities so it’s important to check what the bylaws are in your municipality.

Even if your riding as safely as you can, there is still the chance that you can be put in a dangerous situation by other people on the road who are not respecting your space or driving erratically. If that happens, Constable Baker said the most important thing is to stay calm.

“You have to remain calm and try not to get into a road rage incident, I know it’s easier said than done but it’s important that you are calm. If possible try to get the license plate number, the vehicle description, description of the driver, and any witness information. All three of those are required for any charges to be pressed.”

He said for cyclists in Halton they can go to www.haltonpolice.ca and go to ‘Road Watch’ where they can file a report on any incidents. For other municipalities you can look on the local police website for a spot to file a similar report or call the station.

While it is a little more difficult without a license plate, the same steps can be followed if someone sees a cyclist riding dangerously or blatantly ignoring the rules of the road. Constable Baker said in either case it’s important to file a report on these incidents.

“By filing a report it allows officers to follow up on the incident. Even if nothing happens, all the reports go to a senior officer and can be used to track what issues are happening in what areas, we can identify hot spots where specific issues are coming from and set priority areas for enforcement.”

Whether for exercise or transportation, cycling is a great way to explore your community and enjoy the great outdoors but it’s important to do so in the safest way possible. For more information on safe biking practices view the sites listed at the bottom of the page.

Some additional things to remember when riding a bike:

  • Helmets are required for ANYONE UNDER 18 and it is strongly encouraged that everyone wear a helmet while out riding
  • Use your bicycle as it was designed, if it is meant for a single person then only one person should be on it
  • Bicycles are not allowed on any 400 series highways
  • Ensure that you are following ALL the rules of the road including stopping at all stop signs and lights, signaling your turns and stopping for school buses when their lights are flashing
  • Make sure you review the traffic laws for the area you are riding in

Road Safety – Teaching Kids How to Bike in Toronto

MTO – Bicycle Safety

CAA – Safe Biking Tips

Halton Police Road Watch

CAN-BIKE

Ontario Bicycle Laws