By Michelle Stephenson
With the introduction of Bill 31, which came into effect on Tuesday September 1, 2015, the province is cracking down on certain driving offences and cyclist safety precautions in an attempt to “make Ontario’s roads safer”.
The Bill features amendments to the Highway 407 East Act, 2012, the Highway Traffic Act, and will lead to subsequent amendments to Ontario’s Provincial Offences Act. These amendments include new requirements and increased fines for existing offences. Here is what you need to know to avoid being slapped with a hefty fine, or worse:
For starters, it is now illegal to pass another vehicle while approaching within 30 metres of a crosswalk.
To avoid substantial penalties, drivers will also need to exercise increased care around cyclists. When passing a bicycle on the road, drivers are now required (when possible) to leave at least one metre of space between their car and the bike at all times. Failure to do this carries with it a current fine of $110, as well as two demerit points.
Additionally, the fine for “dooring” a cyclist (hitting a passing bicycle with your car door) has been increased to $365 and three demerit points.
As of September 1, active tow trucks must be treated similarly to emergency vehicles on the road. This means slowing down when approaching them, and (whenever possible) moving over a lane the left when passing.
The penalties for distracted driving have also increased drastically. The previous fine for this offence was around $200; with the new Bill now in effect, drivers convicted of this offence (for example for texting, emailing or dialing on a hand-held device) will now pay a minimum of $300, with a maximum fine of $1000. The fine currently set for this offence is $490, more than double the previous charge.
Furthermore, anyone convicted of distracted driving while they have only a G1 or G2 license will also receive a minimum 30 day automatic suspension of their license.
Drivers are also now prohibited from towing behind their cars people on bikes, toboggans, sleds, skateboards, rollerblades, skis, toy vehicles, etc. (This prohibition is very broad and encompasses any “type of conveyance” along these lines.)
Finally, coming soon in 2016, operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs (such marijuana) will be treated similarly to drunk driving, and carry with it comparable penalties.
The most notable change for cyclists is that they are now legally required to have proper lights on their bikes if they are using them between half an hour before sunset and half an hour after sunrise. The requirements are a white or amber light on the front of their bike, a red light, flashing light or reflector on the back, as well as reflective material on the forks (white on the front, red on the back). These requirements are also in place during daytime hours, whenever people or vehicles are not clearly visible from 150 metres away due to lighting or weather.
Cyclists are also prohibited, as of September 1, from riding inside a crosswalk to cross the road.
Additionally cyclists, as well as the drivers, will be penalized if they allow themselves to be towed behind a vehicle (as will anyone else riding, wearing, or playing on any other type conveyance falling within this rule).