In a perfect world, every single road would have ample space designated solely for cyclists, keeping them well insulated from the threat of motor vehicles. Unfortunately, things haven't worked out that way; and even on roads where bike lanes do exist, it is by no means assured that rider-driver accidents won't occur.
Accident prevention on the roads requires buy-in from both drivers and riders. Each of them is very much capable of disrupting the flow of traffic and instigating an incident.
That said, it is drivers, not riders, whose burden of responsibility is ultimately more crucial, since they are the ones who can do the most damage with their chosen mode of transportation. While negligent cyclists can absolutely trigger horrible situations on the roads, the extent of that disruption will be determined by what it caused the nearby motor vehicles to do—the same cannot typically be said for the inverse of that statement.
Here is what drivers need to know about sharing the road with cyclists.
As a driver, you can't properly co-exist with cyclists on the road unless you understand their non-verbal cues. Since bikes don't have the luxury of electronic turning signals or stop lights, that means learning their hand signals.
There are a number of signals that are used for the leader in a group of bikers to communicate with those behind him/her. Those aren't essential for drivers to know. What is essential, are the signals for right turns, left turns, and full stops.
A left turn signal is made when a rider's left hand is pointed straight out to the left, parallel with the ground, palm facing straight ahead. Right turn signals can be made when the same thing is done on the right, with the right hand; or, alternatively, when the left hand is brought up to form a perpendicular alignment between the forearm and bicep (again with the palm facing straight ahead). Finally, a stop signal also involves the rider making a perpendicular angle with the forearm and bicep; except for this one, the hand points down and the palm is facing behind the rider.
Cars making right turns at an intersection are one of the biggest hazards to cyclists. Although drivers turning right tend to remember that pedestrians have the right of way at an intersection, it often slips their minds that bikers who are continuing to go straight do as well.
If a driver makes that right turn before taking stock of the lane for approaching bikes, it could be game over for a rider. That's why drivers must always take a moment to pause and check their mirrors for an oncoming biker before entering the intersection for a right turn.
Bike lanes exist for a reason. Just because you don't see any bikes nearby at a given moment, you as a driver don't suddenly have the right to take over the lane for your personal use.
There are some notable exceptions to this. When drivers make a right turn, they will have to sometimes cut through a bike lane. That is fine, so long as it is free of riders passing through. Being in a bike lane as a driver is also justifiable if there is a need for an emergency stop and it is unsafe to do it elsewhere.
Parking in a bike lane will result in a fine, which may differ by region. In Toronto, the amount for doing it is $150.
Passing over-aggressively is also something that may result in fines for drivers if they are caught in the act. Again, the precise amount of that penalty will vary depending on the area.
Ontario updated its traffic laws in 2015 and passing was one of the rules that received an adjustment. The new regulation states that drivers must leave at least a metre of space between them and the drivers when passing. Failure to do so results in a minimum fine of $110 and two demerit points.
Too often a driver or passenger exiting the left side of a road-parked vehicle will fail to observe the space outside the door before opening it. A lot of the time, that can happen and nothing will come of it. But on the occasions where a biker does happen to be zooming by, the results will be fatal.
Hitting cyclists with a car door was another of the offences that was updated in Ontario two years ago. It nets offenders a minimum fine of $365 and three demerit points.
Between 2009 and 2015, more than 500 people have died on OPP-controlled roads because, to some degree, of driver inattention. That is completely unacceptable, and only serves to highlight the dire importance of driver education.
Plus, negligence on the road that harms a biker could cost a driver dearly. In addition to having to potentially pay out "no-fault benefits" through his or her insurance, the driver could be sued by the cyclist and have to pay out big time.
So study up on your responsibility, drivers.