Sharing the Road: Who has the Right of Way?
A few weeks ago, as I was out driving around doing some errands, I encountered a situation that was new to me, but is a situation that I believe is going to become more common in the future.
I was driving straight, put on my signal, slowed down and made a right hand turn. I had passed a cyclist about a block or so before I wanted to make my turn. As I made my right hand turn, I heard the cyclist yell. I looked in the mirror to see him giving me a rather obscene gesture. He clearly thought I had cut him off.
I was confused as to why he was upset. I cycle myself and I always thought that, as a cyclist, I was to act the same as any other vehicle on the road. Since I was in front of the cyclist, I thought I had the right of way; he should have slowed down when he saw my turn signal and allowed me to turn right. It turns out that the question of who has the right of way on a right hand turn is more complicated than I thought.
Interactions between bicycles and cars on the road are governed by both the Ontario Highway Traffic Act and municipal by-laws. Municipalities are responsible for designing and regulating the use of bike lanes in the municipality, while the Highway Traffic Act governs the rules of the road when there are no bike lanes.
The Highway Traffic Act includes bicycles in the definition of a “vehicle”. Therefore, if there is no designated bike lane, bicycles are treated as any other vehicle on the road. The bicycle, when seeing my turn signal, should slow down and allow me to make my right hand turn. If the bicycle wants to overtake my vehicle, he or she should do so on the left hand side.
When there is a designated bike lane present, it seems that the right of way depends on how the bike lane is separated from the regular travel lane. Most bike lanes will have a solid line or a physical barrier separating it from the main roadway. If this is the case, it is illegal for a vehicle to park or drive in the bicycle lane. Vehicle traffic is not supposed to enter the bicycle lane to turn right until it is safe to do so. In that situation, it is the responsibility of the driver to check his or her right hand mirror and yield the right of way to a cyclist going through the intersection.
However, at many intersections, the bike lane will open to a dashed line. In this case, the vehicle turning right should, when safe to do so and after signaling, move into the bicycle lane prior to making the right hand turn. If this occurs, the bicycle should yield the right of way to the car making the right hand turn
To help solve this confusion and make our roads more safer for all users, the Government of Ontario has produced a Guide to Safe Cycling and also an information page about Sharing the road with other road users.
In my time as a personal injury lawyer I have seen several bicycle-vehicle accidents. As you would expect, these accidents typically result in significant injuries to the cyclist. I think it is important that all drivers, of any vehicle, read these guides to help make our roads a safer place for all to travel.
For those that are wondering, I went back to the intersection and found that there was no designated bike lane. Therefore, I did have the right of way to turn right.