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cyclist riding bike on road

Should I “Stay in My Lane?”

There is one stretch of road in London where I always take the lane. It’s a blind curve where the road bends around a forest making it impossible to see oncoming traffic. If someone tries to pass me, there is a real risk that they will collide with an oncoming car. I’ve found that if I don’t take the lane drivers will inevitably attempt to pass despite the blind curve, however, when I take the lane they wait behind me until they can see. But am I actually permitted to take the lane there? The question of when cyclists are allowed to take the lane is a contentious one. City websites and different police forces all say different things, and everyone around the water cooler has their own opinion. Many people think that cyclists have to stay as far right as possible all the time. But what does the law actually say?

The relevant section of Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act says that “any vehicle travelling upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at that time and place shall, where practicable, be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.[1]

There are a couple of things to keep in mind here. The first is that this section applies only to vehicles travelling less than the normal speed of traffic. That means that if traffic is slow and you can keep up, you have no obligation to stay right and you can take the lane.

The second thing is the word “practicable”. A lot of people seem to think that this means “possible”. In other words, they think it means that someone riding their bike needs to stay as far to the right as possible. That simply isn’t the case. “Practicable” likely means something more like “what is reasonable given all the circumstances”. So what does that mean?

“Circumstances” just means things like the road design, weather and traffic conditions, obstacles, the limits of your bike, and that sort of thing. Courts have held that the Highway Traffic Act, and the section on staying right in particular, have a public safety purpose. It’s meant to help people on the road avoid accidents. So if, given the circumstances, taking the lane would reasonably help avoid an accident, the law likely allows you to do so.  

People sometimes acknowledge that cyclists are allowed to take the lane but only if they are avoiding an obstacle. While avoiding obstacles is certainly a good reason to take the lane, there is nothing in the law that says it’s the only reason. All the circumstances should be taken into account. So turning back to that blind curve I bike on, even if there isn’t an obstacle, it is “reasonable given all the circumstances” to take the lane because it helps keep me safe and prevents accidents along that stretch of road.

If you have been injured while biking, consider talking with a cyclist lawyer to help navigate your options.

 


[1] Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 147(1).

David Isaac

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