A PROPOSAL TO AMEND
THE HIGHWAY TRAFFIC ACT
The Ontario Highway Traffic Act (HTA) treats a cyclist as a driver of a vehicle and thus a cyclist has all the rights and responsibilities of a driver of a vehicle. It is adherence to this principle that makes the HTA the best possible framework for protecting the safety and other interests of cyclists. The HTA is not, as some cyclists may view it, a legal document designed for the interests of motor vehicle drivers only.
Predictability is the key to safe use of the roads. Every road-user, be they pedestrian, cyclist, or motorist, relies on other road-users following the rules - drive on the right, stop at stop lines, only pass when there's adequate visibility and the road is clear, use the lane applicable to one's destination, etc, etc. Any rule that applies differently to one class of road-user than another decreases predictability and increases the risk of collisions. Cyclists do not need special privileges to operate safely use Ontario's roads and highways.
The HTA is based on best road practices with origins in English public highway law predating the private automobile and predating relatively recent innovations such as multi-lane divided highways, and directional turn only lanes at intersections. This explains the archaic terminology still scattered throughout the Act, for example "turn out to the right" and "meeting a person on a bicycle". Such terminology causes problems in interpretation since the original intent of the law has been obscured over the years. Cyclists and police are sometimes in conflict over a particular meaning of certain terminology, and therefore it needs to be reviewed and updated. Section 148 concerning passing for example should be rewritten.
Political pressure to treat cyclists other than drivers of vehicles should be resisted. Such treatment will not protect the best interests of cyclists. Likewise, non-enforceable changes such as that which requires a minimum gap (usually one metre) between vehicle passing and bicycle rider being passed should not be considered. There should be no special rules for any class of road-user, either restrictive or concessionary. Exceptions to this principle should require evidence of real problems that they would address.
The recommendations address the aforementioned ambiguities, inconsistencies and anachronisms.
Recommended Amendments to the Ontario Highway Traffic Act
1. Section 62 (17) Requirement for reflective material
A. Redundancy; light/reflector requirements are sufficient to achieve need for nighttime conspicuity.
B. Ineffectiveness; any coloured (non-black) material is by definition reflective, but not necessarily reflective at night. Note that the law does not say "retro-reflective".
The law currently requires either a red lamp or a red reflector to be attached to the bicycle. There is a belief that a red lamp should be mandated. A reflector properly installed however is superior to a red lamp since it is passive and reflects light further than the light from a lamp. Standards for reflectors do need to be raised however. The three-way reflectors commonly fitted to bicycles are not particularly effective. Larger reflectors that match the capability of automobile reflectors should be required.
2. Section 75 (5) Requirement for horn, bell or gong
Recommendation: Amend to remove application to bicycle.
A. Partial ineffectiveness; a warning device on a bicycle is only useful to pedestrians and other cyclists. It is not effective in warning a motorist. Since any audible warning is effective for pedestrians and other cyclists, the law should eliminate the need for an audible sound to be made by mechanical means
B. Harassment; the existing law is often used to harass cyclists. Because of the low rate of compliance, individual police officers are granted far too much discretion in determining when and against whom to enforce the law.
3. Section 104 (2.1) and (2.2) Requirement to wear a helmet
A. Regulation; presently, adults (over 17 years of age) are exempted by regulation. It exposes adult cyclists to the whims of the government of the day.
B. Virtually unenforcable; children under 16 years of age cannot be charged.
C. Insufficent police resources to enforce.
D. Brings law into disrepute when laws are not enforced.
E. Need to enforce existing rules of the road and other traffic laws.
F. Discriminatory; any protection that may be offered by a helmet would also benefit motor vehicle users.
G. Far too intrusive. There is no danger to other road users by riding bareheaded so the law represents nanny-state interference in the lives of citizens.
H. Has the effect of discouraging cycling (as demonstrated in Australia, Nova Scotia and BC) while society struggles with obesity of children.
I. Evidence is inconclusive that bicycle helmets reduce head injuries. No evidence that helmets reduce disabling and fatal injuries.
4. Section 142 (5) Right turn signal
Recommendation: Delete use of left arm to indicate right turn.
A. Need for predictability; the use of left arm to indicate right turn is ambiguous and leads to confusion.
B. Easier for children to understand; the use of the right arm is clear and is easier for children to comprehend. Children are taught simply to point in the direction of their intended turn.
5. Section 148 Various passing requirements
Recommendation: Review and rewrite.
This whole section uses archaic language, is confusing and partly contradictory. Read literally, it compromises the safety of cyclists. For example (4) allows the driver of an oncoming vehicle to pass another oncoming vehicle at high speed while approaching a cyclist in the opposite direction. 148 (8) should delete the word "safely" since it is unenforceable.
6. Section 150 Passing to the right
Recommendation: The exemption from the requirement to pass on the left should be extended to cyclists and other non-motor vehicle drivers. In conjunction with this, it is suggested that 150(1) be modified to state in (b) "… is made on a laned highway where there is an unobstructed traffic lane to the right of the lane occupied by the motor vehicle being overtaken.
A. A technical error exists in section 150. Section 148(5) requires all drivers to pass on the left but section 150 exempts only motorists from this requirement.
B. If section 150 were to exempt cyclists, paragraph (1)(b) as worded would allow cyclists to pass on the right in virtually all circumstances. This would not be desirable from a safety point of view. Therefore, it is suggested that reference to "two lines of traffic" be deleted and be replaced by wording that permits right side overtaking where one or more extra lanes exist.
7. Section 185 (2) Municipality permitted to prohibit cyclists and other users from highways
Recommendation: Amend to remove bicycles in conjunction with Section 195 (below).
A. Discrimination; A bicycle is a vehicle. Municipalities should not have the authority to prohibit cyclists (and perhaps other categories) from any public highway.
B. The public has a common law right to use highways (except 400 series freeways which are purpose-built for high speed motorized travel).
8. Section 195 Municipal by-laws
Recommendation: Strengthen this section by prohibiting municipalities from writing by-laws that affect the operation of vehicles on any highway beyond the requirements of the HTA (except by-laws for parking, stopping, standing, and turning).
A. Harmonization required; different moving by-laws among municipalities create confusion for all road users as they travel from one jurisdiction to another.
B. Discrimination; municipal by-laws frequently discriminate against cyclists, e.g. a requirement to ride single file, even though such laws adversely affect the safety of cyclists. The most common variances invariably apply not to drivers of vehicles, but to cyclists and therefore are discriminatory.