Ontario Highway Traffic Laws You “Think” You Know…but may have forgotten!
The average age of a person in Ontario is 40.4 years old. Let’s just round that down and say the average is 40. That means, if you are in or around this number and you learned to drive when you were 16 years old (as many of us did), you’ve been driving for 24 years.
If you think about what else you learned when you were 16—like quadratic equations—you’ll probably notice that there is a lot you’ve forgotten since then. Sure, we don’t all use quadratic equations every day, while many of us DO drive, but that doesn’t mean that we’re immune to forgetting the rules of the road.
Here are just a few areas where I witness a lot of confusion or outright forgetfulness, when it comes to traffic rules:
Don’t Pass The Flashing School Bus
I see this one all the time.
Someone is late for work or an appointment and they are impatient sitting behind a school bus that has its lights flashing and stop sign extended.
In a fit of pique, they pull around and pass the bus. DON’T DO THIS. Ever.
I’ll be blunt: You could run a kid over. You must remember that we can’t see small children coming around the front of the bus to cross the road. The legal repucussions of getting caught (fines for failing to stop are upwards of $2,000 with a loss of up to 6 demerit points) are nothing compared to the guilt and trauma of taking a young life simply because you were five minutes late for work.
Whether approaching a stopped bus, or coming up from behind, you MUST stop at least 20 metres before or behind.
The only exception to this is when you are oncoming and there is a physical median on the road between you and the lane the bus is in. A physical median is a raised, paved strip that prevents vehicles from crossing over to the oncoming lane.
The Etiquette Of U-Turns
Unless it is specifically prohibited, you can technically make a U-turn in many places. Except one: at a red light. This is without a doubt the craziest move I see drivers making, but make it they do!
To make a U-turn safely, you need to be able to see traffic clearly at least 150 metres forward and behind you. Curves, hills or anything that blocks your view within about 150 metres are signs that you should move on before you make the turn.
Pull over to the right, using your turn signal, and then stop to wait. When traffic is clear in both directions, you can put on your left turn signal and proceed to make the U-turn.
And a word to the wise, never assume you can legally make a U-turn. Look out for signage, just in case. Ignorance of the law is never a defense.
Doing Circles In A Roundabout
Roundabouts are the latest traffic trend, particularly in rural areas, but a lot of people don’t know how to use them properly, so here’s a crash course:
- The cars in the roundabout already have right of way, so if you’re entering the roundabout, you have to yield to traffic already engaged.
- The left lane of a roundabout is for traffic going straight or left (around) towards an exit. The right lane of a roundabout is for traffic going straight or right (towards the first exit). It’s important to read the signage as you approach the roundabout so you can figure out where your exit will be and therefore which lane will be appropriate as you shouldn’t change lanes once you’re in the roundabout.
- Roundabouts ALWAYS go counter-clockwise, so the island in the middle is always on your left.
- The lane of a roundabout is not a good place to stop because you missed your exit! Keep moving and do the loop again. Remember, you have the right of way over vehicles entering the roundabout.
I understand that many Ontarians are not yet used to roundabouts, but remember: it could always be worse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kafx_GGHqVg
Bike Hand Signals
Passing cyclists is an easy one: leave a metre of space between your car and the bike, where you can. But do you remember the hand signals that a cyclist might use and what each of them means?
Left arm straight out to the side — this means the rider is planning to make a left hand turn. They are allowed to use the left turn lane, if one is available.
Left arm out and up, palm facing forward — this means the rider is going to be making a right turn.
Right arm straight out to the side — this is an alternative signal, to advise they are turning right.
Left arm out and down, palm facing back — this means the cyclist is stopping.
For a visual representation, check out the MTO cycling guide, pages 14 – 16.
Of course, the best solution for bikes and cars sharing the roadways is to have and use designated bike lanes. Hamilton has been working hard on making these a reality, in the aim of reducing cyclist-motorist accidents significantly!
Wheel Positioning Matters
This is an oldie but a goodie: when you’re setting up to turn left at an intersection, keep your wheels straight until you make your turn. That way, if you’re suddenly rear ended, your car won’t be pushed directly into the path of oncoming traffic.
Makes sense right? Moreover, it’s in the Ontario Driver’s Handbook. But do any of us do think about it? Probably not.
Brushing up on the rules of the road is a good idea for everyone, whether you’ve been driving for ten years or fifty. Things change, they move fast and you don’t want to be second guessing your driving decisions while going 100 km/hr down the QEW…