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      The HIGHWAY TRAFFIC ACT

      ... and a Few Vagaries

      by Avery Burdett


      Other articles in this series on the Highway Traffic Act of Ontario (HTA) have dealt with general rules of the road as they apply to cyclists. This final article examines laws which have specific applicability to cyclists and some their curious implications.

      Lighting

      Section 62 (17) requires lighting equipment to be used one half hour before sunset and one half hour after sunrise. A white or amber lamp must be on the front of the bicycle. (The white reflector on chain store bicycles does not meet the requirement and should be removed.) A red lamp or a red reflector must be attached at the rear. White and red reflective materials are required front and rear respectively also, but contrary to common belief, reflective material is not required on bicycles ridden only during the hours of daylight. It should be noted that all equipment must be attached to the bicycle. Technically, equipment worn by the cyclist does not satisfy legal requirements.

      Did you spend $10 on a red flashing light? Bad news. It is expressly forbidden by Section 62 (14). Get rear-ended at night while using one of these and a smart lawyer will sue you for damage to his client's car.

      The origins of the requirement for reflective material is a mystery since reflective material provides no additional safety benefit. Even when retro-reflective material is used, it is taped to the front forks and rear stays sending much of any reflected light somewhere into outer space. Reflective material is not defined, so it seems any red and white coloured material will keep the bureaucrats who draft this stuff happy - who cares about safety?

      Brakes

      Section 64 (3) requires a rear-wheel braking system on a bicycle which will enable the rider to make the braked wheel skid on dry level pavement. Can the average cyclist reach a high enough speed to enable knobbly tires skid? Could be that all those mountain bikes are illegal.

      Bells, Gongs and Horns

      Section 74 requires a bell, gong or a horn to be attached to any types of vehicle, including a bicycle. Though it doesn't say whether a hammer needed to strike the gong must be attached to the vehicle.

      Styrofoam Wigs

      Section 104 (2.1) requires cyclists 17 years of age or less to wear an approved helmet. This section effectively applies to persons of 16 or 17 years of age only. Section 104 (2.2) states that no parent of a person under 16 years of age shall knowingly permit that person to ride on a highway without wearing a helmet. This requires police officers to first establish that a bareheaded cyclist is actually riding on the highway - a sidewalk is part of the highway but a bike path may not be. Then the officer must determine that the cyclist either (a) is under 16 years of age, in which case he sends the tracking dogs after the parents, (b) is over 17 years of age for which the officer says "oops sorry Mr. Rae, you don't look old enough to be an ex-Premier of Ontario", or (c) is 16 or 17 years of age for which the young criminal gets a $78 ticket. (To put that in context, that's about 3 times the fine for riding without lights at night.)

      Hand/Arm Signals and Waves of Endearment

      Section 142 requires cyclists to use hand/arm signals if the operation of another vehicle is affected by a turning or stopping cyclist. There are two permitted signals for a right turn. There is the sensible right arm horizontal signal, which like the left turn signal, its mirror image, is easy for children to grasp. Children are taught simply to point in the direction of the intended turn. The other right turn signal is the left arm out horizontally, elbow bent and forearm and hand extended vertically. This can be confused with the "hey, there's my granny on the other side of the street" wave. Unless granny really is on the other side of the street, cyclists are well advised to discontinue its use as it is perplexing and ambiguous. (Riders in my groups who seem to have a granny standing on every other street corner, please take note).

      Passing other Vehicles

      Section 148(5) requires drivers of vehicles (including cyclists) to overtake on the left. Section 150 permits however passing on the right if there is sufficient width for two or more lines of vehicles. Presumably if a lane is wide enough for a line of cars and a line of bicycles then cyclists may pass on the right.

      Cycling on Shoulders

      Although Section 150 prohibits motorists in most circumstances from driving on shoulders, cyclists are subject to no such restriction. Cyclists should be aware that by using the shoulder they have left the roadway, and must yield right of way to vehicles on the roadway before returning to it. Cyclists are probably better off staying on the roadway where they can be seen by those motorists whose peripheral vision seems to end at the solid white line delineating the edge of the road.

      Originally published in the Spokesperson, the newsletter of the Ottawa Bicycle Club April 1997.

March 2000
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