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On a right turn, who has right of way: Car or bike?

A driver who slowed and signaled at an intersection to turn right was upset after a cyclist continued to pass on his right. Should he have waited?

Published June 18, 2012
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Q: When approaching an intersection to turn right, I slow down and signal, but as I do, often a cyclist behind me (in the bike lane) continues on and passes on my right — directly into the path of my turn.

By law, shouldn’t the cyclist stay behind that car until the turn is complete?

A: Ontario Transportation Ministry spokesperson Bob Nichols replies:

There are responsibilities placed both on drivers when making right turns and on cyclists when passing a vehicle to the right. Requirements for motorists or cyclists to yield depend on the particular circumstances encountered.

The rules-of-the-road state that when a motor vehicle driver plans to turn right, they must signal and only make the movement when safe to do so, using due care and attention to avoid a collision. For the turn to be safe, a driver should check for other motor vehicles as well as cyclists and pedestrians who could potentially enter the path of their turn.

The cyclist should also follow the law. Passing on the right is allowed where there is unobstructed pavement for two vehicles to pass. The pass must only be made when safe to do so. Therefore, a cyclist passing a vehicle ahead that is clearly signaling a right turn — which might block their path at any time — would not be making a “pass in safety.”

Municipal bylaws govern bike lane use. Most municipalities follow the Transportation Association of Canada’s guidelines for bicycle lane design. At an intersection, the solid line of the bicycle lane becomes a dashed line to warn motorists they are crossing into the bicycle lane. The dashed line also serves to alert cyclists that there may be turning vehicles crossing their path.

Eric Lai adds:

Defensive driving demands that you always assume the “other guy” may not follow the rules, and act accordingly to protect yourself.

For drivers, this means pausing to check for cyclists passing or approaching from the rear before completing a right turn. (You need to check for pedestrians anyhow.)

For cyclists, this means being prepared to stop if the turning car should move while you’re passing (if you opt not to stop behind and wait), and being equipped with a loud horn. A timely toot might just save the day.

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