What motorists need to know about cyclists in Toronto

By SmartCoverage Team on April 3rd, 2018

More people in Toronto are choosing cycling as their main mode of transportation than ever before. In fact, more than half of Torontonians cycle, with the latest figures showing that 32.6% more people started cycling between 2001 and 2006. As you can imagine, these numbers have only risen since then.

However, what this also means is that the likelihood of crashes and incidents between cyclists and motorists is also on the rise. In 2013, the latest year with available statistics, 25 people died as the result of fatal collisions between a bicycle and car.

While the density of bike lanes across the city is increasing, this isn’t enough to ensure everyone is safe on their journeys. And since the difference between a fatality and an avoided collision is often forced into the hands of those behind the wheel, we decided to put together a handy list to help motorists navigate the busy city streets.


Know cyclists hand signals

In order to share the road safely, cyclists and motorists must be able to communicate with each other non-verbally. While cars have the advantage of using their indicator and brake lights, cyclists must rely on hand signals. As a driver, understanding these signals could be the difference between a road incident and a comfortable experience.

There are several signals which are only for cyclists and others on bikes behind them, however, there are some key hand signals you, as a motorist, should be clued up on. The essentials include those for right turns, left turns, and for when the cyclist is coming to a stop.

For a left turn: left arm out.

For a right turn: left arm out and raised up in the air, with the palm facing forwards or, alternatively, right arm out.

When stopping: left arm out and down with the palm facing behind themselves.


Keep your distance

Motorists are required to give cyclists a one-metre gap when passing, where practical. Failure to do so may result in a fine between $60 and $500, plus an additional two demerit points on the driver’s record. It is recommended that drivers change lanes to pass where possible.

The new rule was implemented as part of the “Making Ontario Safer Act” after a coroner's review of provincial cycling deaths found that in the vast majority, motor vehicles were at fault – often because they were not passing with enough space and distance.

Motorists are also reminded not to follow too closely behind cyclists since they do not have brake lights to warn you that they are stopping.  


Respect the bike lanes

Bicycle lanes were implemented across the city for a reason, and it is your duty as a motorist to respect this. Bike lanes were installed to improve safety for cyclists and motorists alike; by allowing cyclists to fully utilize the lanes, you’re benefiting the driving ecosystem positively.

Do not impede or park in bike lanes unless it is absolutely vital. Parking in a bike lane can cost you a $150 fine.

There are some exceptions; when drivers make a right turn, they sometimes have to cut through a bike lane. That is fine so long as you give cyclists the right of way, and check for any oncoming bikes before making your manoeuvre. Similarly, if you find yourself in an unsafe situation and need to stop, this is acceptable.


Be cautious when making right turns and at intersections

When turning right be sure to signal and double check both your mirrors and blind spot before making your turn. Failure to do so could seriously impact a cyclist and have the potential to cause a fatal accident.

At an intersection be aware of cyclists waiting to turn left, and allow approaching bikes to pass before making your left turn.


Do not sound your horn at cyclists

Do not sound your horn when overtaking cyclists as this could startle them and cause an accident. Use your car horn only in the case of an emergency where it is necessary to warn a cyclist about oncoming danger.


Pay attention to road markings

As well as offering handy signals to motorists about directions, lots of newer road markings have been implemented across the city to distinguish between car zones and bike zones. Be aware of what each of these markings means to avoid accidents.

Bike boxes are found at intersections and are typically a painted box on the road with a white bicycle symbol inside. They help to prevent collisions between cars and bikes, by offering two separate waiting areas. As a car driver, you must stop for a traffic signal behind the box, while bikes may wait inside the box.

Bicycle sharrows appear as two chevrons painted above a bicycle symbol on the road. They indicate that the lane is shared, and serves as an additional warning to keep your eyes peeled for your friends on two wheels.


While motorists are by no means the cause of all cycling accidents, since those behind the wheel are in the vehicle that can cause the most damage, it is often up to drivers to be the one to make a potentially life-saving decision. While your auto insurance can certainly ease some of the woes in the aftermath of an accident, your best bet is to avoid a collision altogether by following these simple rules. If you are always prepared for cyclists, you can help to maintain the safety of Toronto’s often hectic streets.

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