dandySAFETY #4: ask an expert ~ Proper passing procedure

By Tammy Thorne and Cosette Schulz

dandySAFETY #4: ask an expert ~ Proper passing procedure? Common courtesy for cyclists

Riding downtown can be tight; what with streetcar tracks and parked cars, and sometimes having no choice but to merge into the automotive lane. The streets midtown and uptown may be wider, but motorists still aren’t given proper passing berth.

Our dandy editor-in-chief, Tammy Thorne, now commutes up to Sunnybrook campus and noted the final part of her commute on Blythwood at Bayview as being particularly dangerous:

“As you may know, I now commute midtown and uptown by bike. This morning, in the last (sometimes terrifying) leg of my trip I biked down a narrow, fast moving and very hilly road with intermittent parked cars.

Nearing the major intersection (at Bayview) motorists get a Pavlovian like instinct to merge to the curb and a couple of SUV drivers came a bit too close this morning. I had the opportunity to catch up and kindly inform one of them that they must use their arm muscles to turn the steering wheel and go AROUND the cyclist properly so they will not be charged with manslaughter and ruin their lives. I also was able to point out the potholes, gravel, drainage basins and other debris in the curb.”

Tammy asked our dandySAFETY experts what she could tell these careless motorists if a moment of education (before altercation) presents itself.

Here's what our dandySAFETY expert Hugh Smith had to say:


Q. How to pass cyclists properly as a cyclist and as a motorist; with a bike lane and without.

A. If we were to flip through the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) we would come across all these overlapping sections of right of way, what is practicable or when safe to do so when it comes to safe passing.

All that is really required to satisfy most of these laws listed below is a little courtesy and communication while travelling with the flow of traffic based on the speed and lane of traffic you are in.

Given from the HTA:

Slow vehicles to travel on right side

147.  (1)  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. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 147 (1).

Vehicles or equestrians overtaken

(2)  Every person in charge of a vehicle or on horseback on a highway who is overtaken by a vehicle or equestrian travelling at a greater speed shall turn out to the right and allow the overtaking vehicle or equestrian to pass. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 148 (2).

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).

Bicycles overtaken

(6)  Every person on a bicycle or motor assisted bicycle who is overtaken by a vehicle or equestrian travelling at a greater speed shall turn out to the right and allow the vehicle or equestrian to pass and the vehicle or equestrian overtaking shall turn out to the left so far as may be necessary to avoid a collision. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 148 (6).

 Passing vehicle going in same direction

148(8)  No person in charge of a vehicle shall pass or attempt to pass another vehicle going in the same direction on a highway unless the roadway,

(a) in front of and to the left of the vehicle to be passed is safely free from approaching traffic; and

(b) to the left of the vehicle passing or attempting to pass is safely free from overtaking traffic. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 148 (8).

Passing to right of vehicle

150.  (1)  The driver of a motor vehicle may overtake and pass to the right of another vehicle only where the movement can be made in safety and,

Courtesy and Communication:

If you are driving a motor vehicle and passing a slower moving cyclist, you should pass this vulnerable and exposed driver with a minimum of at least one metres distance. This may, as shown in the diagram below, cause you to move up along the painted guidelines or even cross them at times without making an entire lane change. Most times a warning from your horn would not be required as the space cushion you provide would communicate your intentions.

The painted lines are merely guidelines on the road surface. As a motorist it is up to your good judgement to decide where is the safest and most considerable area to pass a slower moving vehicle with the space available to you at that time. If there is more than one lane available then you should probably change lanes as you would when encountering other slow moving vehicles, such as street cleaners, Pedi-cabs or even rickshaws.


If a cyclist who is travelling within a designated bicycle lane with other riders wants to pass, or is travelling at a greater speed, that rider should take the necessary steps to make a safe lane change to go around on the left portion of the roadway.  A cyclist passing another rider should also call out or sound their bell or horn as they pass, as it is more difficult for other riders to detect a passing cyclist compared to a motor vehicle.

Most bicycle lanes are just wide enough for cyclist to travel in a single file, parallel to other motor vehicle traffic.

The painted lines for the bike lanes are guidelines here as well and should not be viewed as a restriction for a cyclist that wants to pass on the left lanes of traffic.

A cyclist who is not travelling at the same speed of other traffic should ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway. A cyclist may leave the right-most portion of the road when passing, making a left turn, to avoid road hazards, or when a lane is too narrow for a bicycle and a car to share safely.

Motorists are required to pass at a safe distance and must not return to the right of the roadway until they have fully passed a cyclist. This rule applies to cyclist as well who are attempting to pass another cyclist on a regular lane of traffic or out from a designated bicycle lane.

dandySAFETY expert Jim Kenzie weighs in:

"I should leave the legal niceties to Hugh, but my reading of Ontario's Highway Traffic Act is that it is pretty much what one would expect of rational people (both 'car' and 'bicycle' are 'vehicles' as defined therein, so both are obligated by the HTA). The 'overtaken' vehicle (presumably but not always the bicycle) is to move to the right as far as practicable and the 'overtaking' vehicle moves as far to the left as practicable in order to avoid a collision.

From a motorist's perspective, the most common beef is probably that cyclists stay in the middle of the lane when being overtaken, and do not move as far to the right as practicable, forcing the motorist to move further into the left lane, and possibly into oncoming traffic. Now, the overtaken vehicle is not obligated to leave more than half of the roadway available, but cyclists should always bear in mind that while 'might' is not necessarily 'right', a cyclist and cycle might weigh maybe 100 kg; the car and driver probably weigh 1,500 kg or more! Don't take a knife to a gunfight..."


Hugh Smith is a constable who specializes in traffic safety with the Toronto Police Service.

Jim Kenzie is a Wheels section columnist with the Toronto Star.

If you have a dandySAFETY situation you’d like advice on, please email us at: safety@dandyhorsemagazine.com

Related (Toronto Sun): Bid to give Toronto cyclists more road space

Related on the dandyBLOG:

dandySAFETY #3: Getting around obstructions in the bike lane

dandySAFETY #2: One way left turns

dandySAFETY #1: The Right Hook

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