2015 ∙ 8 ∙ 30  /  Mobility

Optical delusions and the Highway Traffic Act

Ontario is amending the Highway Traffic Act (HTA), increasing fines for the existing provision against 'dooring' cyclists and adding a new law, or really adding a subsection to an old one, that fines drivers for not leaving at least one metre when passing a bicycle (unless one metre isn't possible and then really whatever you want). It is called the 'Making Ontario Roads Safer Act' and, while certainly not as egregiously misnamed as other recent bills (take your pick of recent federal ones), promises to do nothing of the sort.

I'm not against the sentiment of making roads safer for cyclists, or everyone for that matter, but this kind of posturing detracts from what is really needed to improve road safety, like separated bicycle lanes, while giving people the feeling that something is being done. If something is being done, than maybe we don't have to build infrastructure.

So what is being done?

The government of Ontario has released a data set which lists HTA violations by section from 2012 to 2013 (You can download the data set here and read the license here). The section for overtaking other vehicles in the HTA is 148 and there is a subsection for overtaking bicycles (6). Under the old law, which suggested that vehicles move as far to the left as possible when overtaking cyclists, there were twenty violations over those two years.  It's clearly either not a problem, the police do not care, or the police cannot do anything about it. Why do we think specifying a metre or more, and then only where possible, will make any difference?

Dooring, section 165, clause (A) opening the door of a motor vehicle without the proper precaution and (B) leaving a door open too long, seems to a least be a thing with 242 violations for (A) and nine for (B). In a province with thirteen million people, these numbers are still very small. Dooring someone will now come with steeper fines, but it will affect a very small number of people. I am much more interested in not getting doored than I am in punishing someone after the fact.

To really see where our crime-fighting priorities are, we need only look at section 62 (17). There were 4739 violations for not having proper lamps on a bicycle, putting the number of violations for overtaking and dooring in perspective. The fine for reckless lamping will increase from $20 to $110 under the new bill, which, if these criminals continue to be brought down at the same exemplary rate, will result in an extra $426,510 for the province over the next two years. Cha Ching.

In summary, two laws to protect cyclists, that are not currently being enforced, are getting stricter wording and larger fines. A law to protect motorists from the horror of hitting someone while not giving their full attention to the road will also get larger fines. The only thing that has changed is cyclists will now pay considerably more money.