• Dave Shellnutt

The Right Hand Turn of Death

Less dramatically put, this is when a driver unexpectedly and/or illegally cuts into my bike lane to make a right turn.

It feels like this happens to me hundreds of times a year. It often starts with me ringing my bell in advance of what I suspect is about to happen. My bell ringing is ignored. The car then cuts in front of me, turning right into my path. I am forced to either slam on my brakes and attempt a safe stop or merge with fast-moving traffic. Nowadays, I do not approach a busy intersection without assuming I am going to get cut off.

This past March, I was in the eastbound Wellesley Street protected bike lane approaching Yonge when a Toronto Police Service cruiser cut me off.

As you can see from the video, the TPS officer passed me just before the intersection. I would argue he should yielded the right of way and waited for me to pass. Instead, he cut into my path.

The officer then sat his cruiser in the intersection, blocking my lane, waiting for pedestrians to finish crossing at the intersection. He finally made his right hand turn, without waiting for the last pedestrian to reach the safety of the sidewalk.

The officer did not use his indicator at any time.

Later that afternoon, I was handed a “Safety Guide for Pedestrians”…by another TPS officer, at a different intersection as part of a road safety initiative.

Being cut off in this manner bothered me more than usual. No, it is not the most dramatic example of a complete disregard for my safety - a flippant swerve into my lane to make an unnecessarily urgent right turn at an amber light without so much as a care as to what happens to me. It was not even as bad as the aggressive and highly dangerous cut off I experienced the very next night. But if the police are not getting this right, who else will?

In my experience there are aggressive drivers who see a cyclist, do not care about said cyclist, and assume as a car they can cut me off without consequence (to them). Others, simply do not pay attention to cyclists as well as they should when turning right.

To deal with the latter type of driver, we as the public need to educate ourselves and be aware of the laws that apply in these scenarios.

When can a car enter a bike lane to turn right? According to great r​eporting, City bylaws and Ministry of Transportation documents:

  • Only after yielding the right of way and only if the lane is separated by a dotted white line.

  • If the bike lane is separated by a physical obstacle or a solid traffic line, then the car should only turn right after yielding the right of way and then entering the intersection, but not the bike lane itself.

In my experience, a shocking amount of cars do not yield the right of way. The video of the police officer I encountered is an example of when yielding would have been appropriate.

Drivers, I get it, these rules can seem difficult or inefficient to follow on congested city streets, especially during rush hour.

But what if there are as many bikers in that bike lane now held up because of your illegal right turn? We too can be late for important meetings and work as a result of rush hour traffic.

Surely, if in one of these right hand turn scenarios an accident were to occur and a cyclist seriously injured we would all in hindsight agree that a slight delay would have been better for all parties?

I also acknowledge the highly inconsistent and rarely explained cycling infrastructure at intersections across this city. I would wager that some police officers could not explain every intersection’s turning rules if asked.

Many of these intersections with bike lanes vary in some:

  • White dotted line bike lanes

  • White dotted lines and green painted bike lanes

  • Solid white lined bike lanes

  • Solid white lines with green painted bike lanes

  • Raised bike lanes and solid white lines

Raised…well you get the idea. The list goes on. It is confusing.

To deal with these issues we need leadership in addition to mass road safety education. The City of Toronto, led by Mayor John Tory has committed to a Vision Zero Policy. No cyclist or pedestrian deaths by 2020. However so far, we have had one of our deadliest years on record. It is unsurprising that critics of the Mayor’s commitment to cycling use the hashtag #ZEROVISION.

If this policy is going to actually be implemented and succeed it needs to be accompanied by better enforcement and signage at more intersections: “WATCH OUT FOR CYCLISTS TO THE RIGHT” or “YIELD TO CYCLISTS”– nailed it.

Perhaps the Toronto Police Service should post officers to ticket illegal or dangerous right hand turns.

Further even, the City, as well as the Mayor and his team should consider supporting right hand turn road barriers to elegantly protect pedestrians and cyclists, while continuing to allow car traffic to run smoothly throughout the city. See this, and this.

In view of the recent spate of cyclist and pedestrian deaths, this type of safety first planning is critical. However, at the street level, we must be respectful and safe at intersections, respect our fellow commuters, and get some clarity and insight into how we should conduct ourselves on the road.

#bike #bikesafety #toronto #bicycle #roadsafety #lawyer #personalinjurylaw #bikelaw #bikingllawyer #canada #ontario

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