Des Ryan is a retired police officer who volunteers as a CRA board director and leads our safety and security portfolio.
One of the privileges of living in downtown Toronto is being able to take public transit or ride a bike pretty well anywhere you need or want to go. The increasing numbers of Bike Share locations makes cycling a very favourable mode of transportation, especially for people like me who don’t own a bike (shhh…don’t tell anyone!). And, as you’ve likely been reading (and seeing and experiencing), there are a lot of safety concerns about cycling in our beautiful city, including enforcement by our local constabulary.
While I would like to be able to click my heels and make some of the car drivers in this city stop driving like…well, you can probably fill in that blank…I cannot. So, let’s look at a few ways to be safe(r) while riding your bike.
First of all, what is a bicycle?
The Ontario Highway Traffic Act, which governs the movement on our roadways, defines a bike as a vehicle that has one, two or three wheels (a unicycle, bicycle or tricycle), has steering handlebars and pedals, and does not have a motor (motor-assisted bikes such as electric bicycles or scooters and mopeds are a whole different story!). You don’t need a licence to own one or have any sort of liability insurance on it. And you don’t need a driver’s licence. Having so said, you DO need to know the rules of the road because whether you are operating a motor vehicle or a bike, the law requires you to follow them.
For example, whether in a car or on a bike, you have to stop at stop signs and when streetcar doors open or school bus stop lights flash. Unless otherwise indicated, cyclists must follow one-way street signs. And the list goes on.
Assuming you ride according to the rules, what else can you do to keep yourself safe out there?
Wearing a helmet helps. A lot. Public Health Ontario published the results of a study that looked at the impact of mandatory bicycle helmet legislation and found that, for children 0-14 years of age, wearing a helmet significantly reduced serious injury and death. The difference in mortality rates were not such an issue for adult riders in this study but believe me when I tell you—it is a VERY good idea to wear one. By law, anyone under 18 must wear an approved helmet. It is the parent’s responsibility to ensure that riders under 16 years of age wear their helmets (READ: you, parent, will receive the offence notice if your child is not wearing a helmet, even if Junior is on a tricycle).
And be aware that, if you are in an accident, regardless of who is at fault, you are on a bike. You are vulnerable. If anyone is going to get hurt, you are much more likely to receive significant injuries than someone in a car. Be aware of your surroundings. Drive defensively (but not like a jerk!). All of the reflective clothing and bells and whistles in the world won’t help you if you’re not fully engaged with your journey.
And, just to clarify a common misunderstanding, you DO have to identify yourself to a police officer who stops you for breaking any HTA rules (or any municipal by-law that regulates traffic). Section 218 of the Act makes this pretty clear. If you don’t ID yourself (verbal is sufficient), you can be arrested. And, if you are convicted of any HTA offences that you were charged with while riding your bike, where applicable, the points on your driver’s licence will be affected.
All of this is to say, wear your helmet, follow the rules of the road, and be aware of your surroundings. Aside from the helmet part, this is likely how you drive your car. There is nothing like the smell of the summer breeze on your face as your ride through the various neighbourhoods that surround us and, whether it is on a bike, motorcycle, or with the windows (or top) down on the car, now is the time to enjoy it. Drive carefully.