On Passing – What Are the Rules?


A little room, please!

That’s all I ask. You, in your car, you’ve got airbags and steel and power brakes and power steering and mirrors. To pass me, all it takes is a simple set of movements. Check your mirrors, check your blind spots and slightly move your hands on the steering wheel.

Honest, that’s all it takes.

Why then, do the motorists who pass me on Keele, on Bathurst, on Jane, streets with at least 2 lanes running in each direction, fail to give me room?

When I confronted a driver about why he didn’t yield at all, he said, “You get 18 inches of space, you need to stop weaving.”

I was dodging pot holes and sewer grates, oh and I get 1 metre, that’s 40 inches of space. And I get an additional 1 metre of space around me to protect me when you pass.

Or do I?

The Ontario Driver’s Handbook suggests this of drivers (emphasis mine):

Bicycles and mopeds that cannot keep up with traffic are expected to keep to the right of the lane; however, they can use any part of the lane if necessary for safety, such as to avoid potholes and sewer grates. Cyclists need a metre on either side of themselves as a safety zone. When passing a cyclist, allow at least one metre between your car and the cyclist.

If the lane is too narrow to share, change lanes to pass the cyclist. When turning right, signal and check your mirrors and the blind spot to your right to make sure you do not cut off a cyclist. When parked on the side of the street, look behind you and check your mirrors and blinds spots for a passing cyclist before opening a door.

I like the sounds of that, sounds like a rule to me!

But, it is only just a suggestion. One that many drivers simply choose to ignore, or have forgotten. Aside from just now, I hadn’t looked at a Driver’s Handbook in over a decade. And for the drivers failing to give me space, who often appear to be much older than I am, well it’s probably too long ago for them to remember at all.

Perhaps there’s something more concrete in the Highway Traffic Act:

Vehicles meeting bicycles

(4) Every person in charge of a vehicle on a highway meeting a person travelling on a bicycle shall allow the cyclist sufficient room on the roadway to pass. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 148 (4).

“Sufficient room?” To the motorist I encountered, the 18 inches I supposedly was to occupy, was his definition of “sufficient room” and by “weaving” I was forfeiting my access to more “sufficient room” when he passed me, so close his mirror passed below my handlebars.

What we need is a concrete definition of “sufficient room,” one backed by law.

Groups like 3feet2pass are working towards establishing such laws across the United States. Isn’t it time we saw this in Ontario?

Share your thoughts and developments on this issue in the Biking Toronto Forum

Photo from Erik Twight’s Flickr Photostream