Driving Offences

Back to School- Bicycle Safety and Criminal Law

Written on behalf of Barrison Law

As the long summer days get shorter and shorter, across Canada millions of students are returning to school. Returning students means the return of school buses, increased pedestrian traffic around school zones and children riding their bikes to school.

Bicycles Under the Highway Traffic Act

Under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act (HTA), a bicycle is a “vehicle”, just like a car or truck. As such, cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers and must obey all traffic laws.

Cyclists must stay as close to the right edge of the road whenever possible, especially when travelling slower than other traffic, which will be the case in most instances.  Cyclists who do not obey the HTA may be charged with an offence of careless driving, defined as driving “without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway” and may face a fine of $400 to $2,000 and/or potentially up to six months of jail time.

Best Practices for Parents

Parents should remind their children to ride in a single file, complete a shoulder check for vehicles, know how to use hand signals, and watch for cars backing out of driveways and/or pulling onto roads.

By law, every cyclist under the age of 16 must wear an approved helmet.  In fact, according to the Highway Traffic Act, it is a parent or guardian’s duty not to authorize or permit a person to ride a bicycle under the age of sixteen unless he/she is wearing a bicycle helmet.

For adults over 18, while it is not compulsory to wear helmets, wearing one can greatly reduce the risk of permanent injury or death, and can set a positive example to your children.

Requirements for Cyclists

By law, every bicycle in Ontario must be equipped with:

  • A bell or horn in good working order;
  • At least one braking system on the rear wheel capable of skidding that wheel on dry, level pavement;
  • A white front light (visible from a distance of at least 150 metres);
  • A red rear light or red rear reflector;
  • Two strips of white reflective tape on front forks (each strip to be 125mm by 25mm);
  • Two strips of red reflective tape on rear forks.

These requirements are mandatory if you are riding between half an hour before sunset and half an hour after sunrise, or anytime visibility has been reduced to the point where you cannot see 150m ahead.  Failure to comply with these requirements can result in a fine.

If you are stopped by a police officer, cyclists are required by the HTA to provide their name and address or proper identification.  A police officer may arrest an individual who does not comply with providing proper identification.

Rules vary in different communities regarding whether it is lawful to cycle on the sidewalk depending upon a municipality’s bylaws. Toronto is preparing to adopt a cycling bylaw which stipulates that “no person age 14 and older may ride a bicycle on a sidewalk”.  Persons found cycling on a sidewalk 14 or over may be charged a fine.  Riding on a sidewalk puts pedestrians at risk and motorists crossing intersections or driveways do not usually look for cyclists on the sidewalk.

Drivers must be very cautious of bicycles and may be subject to penalties should they not follow the law.  For example, a driver may be subject to a fine for failure to leave a minimum of one metre distance when passing a cyclist.

Another form of protection for cyclists codified in the HTA pertains to the improper opening of a vehicle door (for driver or passenger).  Everyone is required to take precaution to ensure that the act of opening a vehicle door will not interfere with the movement of or endanger any other person or vehicle.  Anyone who is found guilty of this offence is liable to a fine of not less than $300.00 and not more than $1,000.00.

Operating a Bicycle While Intoxicated

There are laws in place in Ontario where you can be charged with driving under the influence while operating a bicycle.  Although there appear to be gaps in the HTA regarding impaired riding of a bicycle, you can be charged under the Liquor License Act (LLA).

The LLA states that it is against the law to be “in a place to which the general public is invited or permitted access” while in an intoxicated condition. Public intoxication is a criminal offence in Ontario and comes with harsh consequences such as a fine or in most severe cases, jail time.  If you are swerving in and out of lanes, biking erratically and not paying attention to your surroundings, a police officer will have cause to stop you and you may be asked to perform a sobriety test.

To speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer about your legal rights, please contact Barrison Law online or at 905-404-1947.  We maintain a 24-hour call service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.