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Visibility and safety

Cycling and the law

Collisions

The law requires every operator of a vehicle to identify him- or herself to the other driver and to report the collision to the police if there are injuries or damages in excess of $1,000.

If you are involved in a collision:

  • Give your name, address and phone number to the other driver(s).
  • Get the other driver(s) name, address, phone number, vehicle particulars and insurance company and policy number.
  • Call the police if there are injuries.
  • Settle damages between yourselves, but only if damages are minor (less than $1,000). Keep in mind that “no fault” insurance in Ontario means you can't make a claim against the other driver’s insurance, but you can still sue the driver personally.
  • Call the police if the damages exceed $1,000. The police may ask you to come to the station to make a report. Explain that getting to the nearest station may not be feasible because you are on a bicycle.
  • Obtain names of any witnesses that may be available. If anyone has stopped to help at the collision, ask for their name(s) and telephone number(s).
  • Write out a short paragraph describing what happened if the police will not be responding to the scene. Have everyone involved sign it. Keep this for future reference.

Avoid getting into a collision by taking a CAN BIKE course.

Equipment

According to the Highway Traffic Act, your bicycle must be equipped with:

  • A bell or horn in good working order
  • At least one braking system on the rear wheel capable of skidding that wheel on dry, level pavement
  • A white front light (visible from a distance of at least 150 metres)
  • A red rear light or red rear reflector
  • Two strips of white reflective tape on front forks (each strip to be 125mm by 25mm)
  • Two strips of red reflective tape on rear forks

These lighting requirements are mandatory if you are riding between half an hour before sunset and half an hour after sunrise, or anytime visibility has been reduced to the point where you cannot see 150m ahead.

Electric bikes (e-bikes) that physically resemble traditional bikes are permitted on City of Ottawa bike paths. An electric bicycle is a bicycle that is powered with an electric motor. It uses rechargeable batteries and can travel up to 24 to 32 kilometres per hour.

Scooter type power assisted devices and bicycles with a non conventional appearance are NOT permitted on the pathways because they tend to be heavier and therefore have an increased risk to health and safety in the event of a collision.

These rules do not apply to mobility devices such as powered wheelchairs, three wheel electric scooters and four wheel electric scooters.

Helmets

Bicycle helmets must be worn by all cyclists under the age of 18. Look for the CSA or CPSC certification in the helmet before you buy or wear it.

  • To provide maximum protection, the helmet should fit level and square on the head, and the front should cover the forehead.
  • It should sit snugly on and not slip when the head is moved around, even before the chin strap is fastened.
  • The straps should be adjusted to meet just below the ear, and fastened comfortably. For more information, contact Ottawa Public Health Information at 613-580-6744.

Rules of the pathways

Bicycles are permitted on mixed-use pathways, but cyclists should follow these guidelines:

  • Keep to the right of the yellow centre line (where one exists)
  • Pass other users only when it is safe to do so
  • Use your bell or voice to warn others when you are passing e.g., "Passing on your left!"
  • Ride at a suitable speed for a mixed-use pathway (recommended speed of no more than 20 km/hr)
  • Be cautious at night, especially along pathways that are not lit. Ride more slowly, especially around dark curves, and stay visible by dressing brightly and using bicycle lights.

Rules of the road

Cyclists must identify themselves when stopped by police for a contravention of the Highway Traffic Act or municipal by-law regulating traffic. You just need to provide your correct name and address.

Cycling on the sidewalk is prohibited by the City of Ottawa Traffic and Parking By-law except where it is permitted by official or authorized signs.

Please refer to the Ministry of Transportation Ontario site for updates to the Highway Traffic Act including the 1 metre passing law and new fines and penalties for dooring.

Cyclists who frequently ride in Québec should become familiar with the details of the Code de la sécurité routière from the Québec Ministry of Transport.
 

Children and cycling

Children should be taught that cyclists must follow the same rules as vehicles. As adults, we often take for granted that children know how traffic works and what signs mean. Practice and experience, combined with adult supervision, will reinforce good cycling behaviour. Parents can set a good example by wearing bike helmets themselves.

Is your child ready to cycle to school without an adult?

Your child wants to ride a bicycle to school and you're worried. Keep in mind that children under the age of nine don’t have the skills to cycle safely without adult supervision and that all cyclists under 18 must wear a helmet. Consider these other factors:

Can your child handle a bicycle well enough to:

  • Check over his or her shoulder while travelling in a straight line 
  • Brake quickly and confidently to stop at a predetermined point 
  • Ride with one hand while displaying clear hand signals

Can your child demonstrate these skills:

  • The ability to gauge the speed of other vehicles
  • Knows right from left
  • The ability to concentrate on a task and avoid distractions
  • The ability to lock up the bicycle on his or her own

Does your child understand the rules of the road, such as:

  • What yield means and where he or she is expected to do so 
  • What "right of way" means 
  • What cycling-related road signs mean and where to look for them

For more information on how to get your children ready to cycle, contact the EnviroCentre at 613-580-2424, ext. 27399 or Safe Kids Canada at 1-888-SAFE-TIPS. Consider enrolling your child in a CAN BIKE class with the City.

Taking your child with you

 There are many options for bringing children on a bike trip. The best option for you depends on the age of your child.

Infants

Don’t cycle with infants who do not have sufficient neck strength to hold their heads up while wearing a helmet. Wait until your child is able to sit up on his or her own and can wear a properly fitted, certified bicycle helmet.

Toddlers

Transport toddlers in a bicycle trailer or in a seat mounted to the bicycle frame. Always make sure your toddler is wearing a properly fitted bicycle helmet and that the equipment is firmly secured to the bicycle.

Trailers

Bicycle trailers offer a more stable and secure environment for your toddler. Unfortunately, trailers are less visible and your child is farther away from you. Attach an orange safety flag to the trailer for greater visibility and try to ride with another adult behind the trailer.

Rear-mounted seats

A rear-mounted seat brings your child closer to you when cycling. However, these seats shift the bicycle's centre of gravity and can make it unstable. Parents who wish to use a rear-mounted seat should first practice riding with a weight comparable to the child's in the seat. A good seat has a high back, a lap and shoulder harness, and foot guards to protect feet from the spokes.

Front-mounted seats

Front-mounted seats vary in design and placement on the bicycle. Avoid seats mounted to the handlebars, as these can disrupt steering control. Other front-mounted seats that attach to both the seat and handlebar stems are more stable and keep your child in front of you, allowing for a more watchful eye on the child and the road.

Young children

Young children can ride on their own or with mom and dad using a trailer-bike. This device attaches to the seat post and transforms an adult bicycle into a tandem bike for kids. It is especially useful for longer trips where young children don't have the stamina to ride on their own. Remember that children should wear a properly fitted, certified bicycle helmet when using a trailer-bike or cycling on their own.
 

Cycling Safety Awareness Program

The Cycling Safety Awareness Program (CSAP) is an educational outreach program about cycling safety. 

Learn More

Sharing the road

A bicycle is a vehicle and must be treated the same as buses, large trucks, motorcycles and cars. This means that cyclists need to operate their bicycles like other vehicles on the road. Motorists must also respect a cyclist's right to ride on the street. Here are some tips to make everyone's road experience safer and more enjoyable.

Share the Road [ PDF 349 KB ]

Cyclists

Sharing with Motorists

  • Follow the rules of the road at all times.
  • Be bright at night! Use a headlight, taillight, reflectors and light-coloured or retro-reflective clothing so motorists can see you.
  • Motorists may not anticipate a cyclist, so ride defensively.
  • Never compromise your safety for the convenience of a motorist.
  • Where possible, ride in a straight line and avoid dodging between parked cars, into bus bays or around obstacles.
  • Know where you are going and look ahead to position yourself in the correct lane. Avoid being in a "right turn only" lane if you plan to proceed straight through an intersection.

Sharing with Pedestrians

  • Stay off sidewalks.
  • Yield to pedestrians at crossings.
  • Stay out of crosswalks when waiting at intersections - stopping here forces pedestrians into traffic.
  • Watch for pedestrians when pulling into or out of driveways, parking lots or anywhere you have to ride across a sidewalk.
  • Keep an eye out for pedestrians when turning, especially on one-way streets. While vehicles may only travel in one direction, pedestrians cross both ways.
  • Be especially careful where children might be walking - near schools, day cares and pathways.
  • Watch for pedestrians on roads that don't have sidewalks. They should be walking on the shoulder facing on-coming traffic.

Sharing with Buses

  • Avoid riding in the blind spots at the sides and rear of the bus where the operator cannot see you. If you can't see the operator's eyes in the bus's mirror, she or he can't see you.
  • Stay well back and to the left side of the bus and remember that buses make frequent stops.
  • Always pass a bus on the left side. Don't get trapped between the bus and the curb.
  • Allow plenty of room when passing a bus, and never race.
  • Avoid repeat passes ('leap-frogging').
  • Stay out of bus bays when cycling.
  • On Albert and Slater Streets ride in the far left lane to reduce conflict with turning vehicles. To make a right turn, signal and change lanes one at a time.

Sharing with Trucks

  • When stopping behind a truck, remember that it may need space to roll back when it starts up again, especially on a hill.
  • See and be seen: trucks have large blind spots on both sides, directly behind and in front. Stay away from these areas as much as possible. If you're cycling behind a truck and you can't see one of its side-view mirrors, the truck driver can't see you.
  • Give turning trucks lots of room. Never pull up into the open space on a truck's side if the driver has signalled a turn because the driver may be setting up or completing a turn.
  • The size of the truck will directly affect the size of the blind spots, length of time it takes to stop, and the amount of space needed for turns.

Motorists

  • Follow the rules of the road at all times.
  • Bicycles are considered vehicles under the Highway Traffic Act, so treat them as you would any other vehicle on the road.
  • Cyclists generally ride in the right-most through lane, about one metre from the curb or parked cars.
  • People who ride bicycles are not obligated to use bike lanes or pathways, and are entitled to cycle on all roads in Ottawa except the Transitway, Highways 416, 417 and Regional Road 174 (to Orléans).
  • Motorists are prohibited from driving or parking in all designated bicycle lanes.
  • When passing a cyclist, the Highway Traffic Act requires that you leave a safe distance between your car and the bicycle. Extra passing distance should be given when slippery road conditions exist.
  • Cyclists are entitled to ride in the centre of a lane when they feel it is too narrow for a motor vehicle to pass them, or if they feel their safety is compromised.
  • Slow down or avoid puddles when passing cyclists.
  • Cyclists can ride on either the paved road, paved shoulder or unpaved shoulder in rural areas.
  • Drivers of larger vehicles should be cautious of blasting a cyclist with winds when passing, especially on dusty roads.

As a reminder about sharing the road, you can watch the following videos:

E-bikes

Effective October 3, 2009, conventional style and scooter-style e-bikes that meet the definition of a power-assisted bicycle, as described above, are permitted on roads and highways where conventional bicycles are currently allowed. They must follow the same rules of the road as set out in the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) that currently apply to cyclists, with some exceptions.

For use in the Province of Ontario, a power-assisted bicycle, or e-bike, is a bicycle that:

  • Has a maximum weight of 120 kg (includes the weight of bike and battery)
  • Has wheels with a diameter of at least 350 mm and width of at least 35 mm
  • Meets the federal definition of a power-assisted bicycle:
  • Has steering handlebars and is equipped with pedals
    • Is designed to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground
    • Is capable of being propelled by muscular power
    • Has one or more electric motors that have, singly or in combination, the following characteristics:
    • It has a total continuous power output rating, measured at the shaft of each motor, of 500 W or less
      • If it is engaged by the use of muscular power, power assistance immediately ceases when the muscular power ceases
      • If it is engaged by the use of an accelerator controller, power assistance immediately ceases when the brakes are applied
      • It is incapable of providing further assistance when the bicycle attains a speed of 32 km/h on level ground
      • Bears a label that is permanently affixed by the manufacturer and appears in a conspicuous location stating, in both official languages, that the vehicle is a power-assisted bicycle as defined federally
      • Has one of the following safety features, an enabling mechanism to turn the electric motor on and off that is separate from the accelerator controller and fitted in such a manner that it is operable by the driver, or a mechanism that prevents the motor from being engaged before the bicycle attains 3 km/hr.

Do all e-bikes look like bicycles?

E-bikes may resemble conventional bicycles, or resemble scooters and limited-speed motorcycles as illustrated below.

Effective October 3, 2009, conventional style and scooter-style e-bikes that meet the definition of a power-assisted bicycle, as described above, are permitted on roads and highways where conventional bicycles are currently allowed. They must follow the same rules of the road as set out in the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) that currently apply to cyclists, with some exceptions.

On what roads can an e-bike travel?

E-bikes are allowed to travel anywhere bicycles are permitted to travel. Any municipal by-law prohibiting bicycles from highways under their jurisdiction also apply to e-bikes. Municipalities may also pass by-laws specific to e-bikes that prohibit them from municipal roads, sidewalks, bike paths, bike trails, and bike lanes under their jurisdiction.

E-bikes, like bicycles, are not allowed on controlled-access highways such as 400 series highways, the Queen Elizabeth Way, the Queensway in Ottawa or the Kitchener-Waterloo Expressway, or on municipal roads, including sidewalks where bicycles are banned under municipal by-laws.