Highway Traffic Act (HTA): The Law

While the HTA is not perfect when it comes to cycling and Ontario highways, it must be understood that no piece of legislation can anticipate and predetermine all actions in all circumstances. Like the old saying goes,” You can’t please all of the people all of the time”. The solution to these inevitable voids in the law is common sense. Years ago the Province created the concept of Defensive Driving practices to address the deficiencies in the HTA. It was not based on the law but on common sense, and these Defensive Driving practices have proven to be very successful for drivers through the years.

‘Properly executed’ two abreast cycling has been used internationally for over half a century as a legitimate Defensive Cycling technique. While two abreast cycling may be new to many Canadian drivers and cyclist it’s both common place and accepted without question in Europe where cycling is a traditional sport. We are seeing improvements in North America where more and more progressive States are specifically accepting and defining the terms of two abreast cycling in their highway traffic acts.

In Ontario two abreast cycling is not defined nor acknowledged but neither is it prohibited in the HTA. A cyclist may ride six abreast if there are no other faster vehicles approaching. The confusion comes into play when another faster vehicle approaches. Section 148(2) of the HTA suggests that the slower vehicles move to the right to allow the faster moving vehicles to go past, in other words not to impede or obstruct a faster vehicle from passing. This is interpreted by many to mean that all cyclists riding two abreast should shift to single file when any and all faster vehicles approach. Now any experienced cyclist will tell you it is unrealistic to suggest that a double paceline go single file for EVERY passing car. It simply can’t be done but more importantly it does not need to be done. In our normal context, that is riding on low traffic roads at low traffic times, mostly all faster vehicles pass easily without being obstructed by a double paceline. But in those rare moments when we find ourselves in a position that a double paceline is in fact impeding the progress of faster traffic, we should go into a single file formation until such time that the traffic has cleared.

What we are trying to do within the CCC is define and propagate a Defensive Cycling practice that provides a common sense approach that accommodates both cyclists and drivers. We believe that an accommodation can exist if we all accept the following premises:

  1. First, let’s all accept that two abreast cycling in and of itself does not run afoul of the HST in mostly all situations while cycling. 
  2. Second, let’s all accept riding two abreast is a legitimate and responsible Defensive Cycling practice.
  3. Third, as an organized cycling club we undertake to ride our double pacelines in a manner that greatly reduces the occasions that they may obstruct traffic (ie our ‘Tight and to the Right’ program etc).
  4. Fourth, we as a cycling club undertake to go into single file on those occasions that we are actually obstructing faster moving traffic.

Learn more:

OCA presentation by Sasha Golish - HERE

Road Bike Safety & Etiquette by Robert Narejko - HERE 

Office of the Coroner, Cycling Death Review - HERE

One Meter Law Passes in Ontario - HERE 

Single File Cycling vs. Two Abreast - HERE