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Do cyclists have to follow same rules as motorists in Ontario?

With the new Ontario law that requires motorist to give a one-metre gap when passing a cyclist, does this mean that cyclists are required also to give a one-metre gap? Almost daily a cyclist will pull up next to me while I'm stopped a red light with less than a one-meter gap between us. – Kristian

Cyclists have to follow the same traffic rules – and pay the same fines – as drivers.

An exception? The one-metre passing rule. But there's a four-ton reason for that.

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"The coronor's review of provincial cycling deaths found that in the vast majority, motor vehicles were at fault – often it was because they were not passing with enough space and distance," said Jared Kolb, executive director of Cycle Toronto. "What's really at the core of the law? Motorists are encased in a ton of plastic, steel and glass – and cyclists and pedestrians aren't."

The rule has been in place since last September as part the Making Ontario Roads Safer Act. It says all drivers of motor vehicles are required to keep a minimum distance of one metre, where practical, when passing cyclists on highways.

"This requirement focuses on reminding motorists that they should only pass when it is safe to do so and it encourages all road users to share the road responsibly as set out in the Highway Traffic Act (HTA)," said Ontario's Ministry of Transportation (MTO) in an e-mail statement. "While cyclists do not have the same obligation to keep a minimum distance of one-metre when passing, they are still required to obey the rules of the road."

The act also hiked penalties from a $110 fine and two demerits to $365 and three demerits for dooring – opening a door as a cyclist or vehicle is approaching – and fines for cyclists who don't have proper lights and reflectors.

Safe space

"The [one-metre] safe passing law is consistent with other instances in the Highway Traffic Act when drivers are told to leave space, like with railway crossings and school buses," said Jamie Stuckless, executive director of Share the Road Cycling Coalition. "It recognizes that cars can inflict serious injury and death on people who bike when they do not leave enough space."

If you're caught passing a cyclist with less than a one-metre gap, you face a $110 fine, including all fees. Fight it in court, and it could cost more.

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"Drivers who contest their ticket by going to court may face a fine of up to $500 if found guilty," the MTO said on its website. "Upon conviction, two demerit points will also be assigned against the individual's driver record."

The numbers of convictions since the rule came into effect were not immediately available.

Enforcement tricky

Actual enforcement can be tricky – but it's "a good rule of thumb" for drivers, Kolb said. And it's important that new drivers be trained to give cyclists room when passing.

"The rules of the road are only as good as how well they're adopted and how well they're enforced." Kolb said. "We saw some innovative enforcement practices in Ottawa where you had police officers riding on bicycles with sensors."

In 2013, the latest year with available numbers, 25 people – 24 drivers and 1 passenger – were killed in collisions with cars in Ontario. There were nearly 2,500 injuries.

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"If a bike and a car get into a collision, the person in the car will walk away – the person on the bike will not," Kolb said. "The one-metre rule is designed for motor vehicles because of that risk level."

While cyclists don't have to legally keep a metre away from cars they're passing, it's still a good idea, Stuckless said.

"As part of the CAN-BIKE training program, cyclists are instructed to create a safe space around them by doing things like biking one metre out from the curb," Stuckless said. "But this only works if motorists respect people on bikes and give them that space."

Cyclists have to follow rules of the road

Ever see a cyclist run through a stop sign or red light?

Well, if a cop sees it, that cyclist will get a $365 ticket – the same amount a driver would.

"If you're a cyclist and you pass a street car with its doors open while people loading, you can get a $110 fine, just like a driver," Kolb said. "Cyclists don't get demerit points but the fines are the same."

Both Kolb and Stuckless are against a motion put forward to Toronto City Council to require licences for bicycles.

"It's a disincentive to ride and it creates an administrative burden and costs to the taxpayer without any benefit – police already have full power of enforcement," Kolb said.

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