Overtaking at a Stop Light

Got a inquiry through our contact page. I admit that I don’t know the law in this case. Read this, then I’ll describe how I handle the traffic situation described.

There was a line of about 15 cars all stopped at a red light and I was passing on the right between the vehicles and the curb. Most roads on my commute are wide enough that I have more than enough space between the cars and the curb to cycle in. One of the motorists in this line saw me coming in his rear view mirror and when I was a couple meters behind him he turned right so that his front right tire was against the curb, thus cutting me off. It happened pretty quick so I instinctually swerved to the left and drove between the two lanes of stopped traffic(theres two lanes each way). He saw me swerve to the left and then tried to swerve to the left and cut me off again but, I managed to get by him. I was now biking between the two lanes of stopped traffic and then got over to the right side of the road as soon as there was enough space between two vehicles. It angered the driver to no end that I was able to get by him while he had to sit waiting in traffic. He eventually caught up to me a few hundred meters down the road. He slowed down to my speed and began screaming at me as traffic backed up behind him. Among other things he yelled at to me to, “learn the laws ***hole.”

I normally will pass any number of cars that are backed up at a traffic light, except the first one. I always make sure I can be seen by the driver in the car that I’m in front of so that he won’t be tempted to rally-race around the corner. If there are only 2 or 3 cars lined up at the light, or the street is too narrow, I’ll take my place in the lane.

But that’s just in the normal traffic situation, as for this particular driver trying to physically manage a cyclist, that’s way over the line. I wonder if this guy chases down other drivers who break traffic laws (imagined or otherwise). Taking his license and reporting him to the police would have been an appropriate step. In my observation there’s no shortage of drivers who will risk the life of a cyclist to teach said cyclist a lesson. Drivers are considerate like that.

Is anyone familiar with the laws in this scenario? In particular when the cyclist is sticking to the right and not having to dodge a jackass driver?

19 thoughts on “Overtaking at a Stop Light

  1. I’d like to know the answer to this as well. Recently I was a passenger in a car with a non-cycling friend of mine, who expressed his frustration at a cyclist who was consistently overtaking us at stoplights. As a cyclist I saw no problem with it, but it was clearly getting on the nerves of my friend.

    I usually take the approach described here– if it’s safe to do so, I’ll pass up to the front of the line. If there are only a few cars and traffic isn’t too heavy, I’ll queue up behind (but I will queue in the centre of the lane so as to remain visible).

    1. And the cyclist was probably getting annoyed at all the cars consistently overtaking him and drag racing to next red light just to slam on their brakes. ;)

  2. I was the one who emailed in the situation above. I did some researching after it occured since I was pretty shaken up by it and as far as I can tell passing on the right is legal. But, I began to doubt myself after reading the letter to the editor in todays paper saying it is illegal: http://www.therecord.com/opinion/letters/article/605572–too-many-rule-breakers

    From the highway traffic act:

    “Passing to right of vehicle
    150. (1) The driver of a motor vehicle may overtake and pass to the right of another vehicle only where the movement can be made in safety and,
    (a) the vehicle overtaken is making or about to make a left turn or its driver has signalled his or her intention to make a left turn;
    (b) is made on a highway with unobstructed pavement of sufficient width for two or more lines of vehicles in each direction; or
    (c) is made on a highway designated for the use of one-way traffic only. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 150 (1).
    Driving off roadway prohibited
    (2) No driver of a motor vehicle shall overtake and pass another vehicle by driving off the roadway. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 150 (2).”

    1. Good find in the HTA.

      It seems that it might be legal from the clause 1b). The roadway is wide enough for two or more vehicles to pass (remember that your bike is a vehicle). But I’m terrible at interpreting these things historically.

      Technically, riding between two lanes of cars is referred to as filtering or lane splitting. I’m pretty sure that’s illegal in Ontario. I’m not sure what the law says about using your car as an obstacle though.

      Also, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over opinion pieces from The Record. It’s a low bar to get into that club.

    2. ‘Low bar’ is in, you don’t have to back up any opinions with actual facts. That’s why it’s called opinion.

    3. That clause wouldn’t apply, since bicycles are not motor vehicles.

      I do pass stopped cars on the right and don’t really see a problem with it.

      1. Ahhh, good catch it specificly says motor vehicle, presumably it would have just said vehicle if it also applied to bicycles. So, if it doesn’t apply is it by default legal?

  3. I’d agree that it appears to be legal, as long as the road is wide enough.

    Interesting about cycling between two lanes of cars– technically speaking, it means you are passing on the left (which you should do for safety reasons in the case of passing a right-turning car) which would be entirely legal. I won’t do it because I know that it frustrates the hell out of drivers and is quite a bit more dangerous.

  4. Lane splitting isn’t legal or motorcyclists would be doing it all the time. The “in safety” part in the first clause would only really work if there wasn’t a risk of right-hooks… so most roads are out but I would lane split if I were going to a trail connection.

    I gave up lane splitting a few years ago and rarely find myself waiting in traffic, but I guess some folks have inflexible commutes, but still, it’s not really a big deal to wait and take the lane through the intersection to avoid a common threat. Also route planning factors in too, better to learn ways around bust intersections when possible.

    1. But, there isn’t a risk of a right hook because we are passing between a car and a curb. A car wouldn’t drive up and over a curb to make a right turn…thus no right hook.

      1. There’s still the risk of getting doored by passengers exiting cars — drivers are bad enough at checking before opening, passengers are even worse.

        The bike lanes also expose cyclists to many of the same risks as lane-splitting does, so I guess that’s why the VC crowd isn’t too hot on them in general. I guess the magic white line on the road does make it okay to pass on the right and that’s

      2. The biggest risk of getting doored is being thrown into moving traffic and getting run over(Eg. the Ottawa cyclist who, sadly, was killed recently). With traffic stopped at a light this risk is eliminated.

        The other risk is actually crashing into the door and getting injured/wrecking your bike. Since the light is red I’m going quite slow and just slowly coasting up to the front of the line. At this slow of a speed I’d like to think my reflexes would be quick enough to stop for an opening door.

        I agree about the bike lanes, many times they are poorly thought out. Not to mention they always end right before the places that need them most(Eg. overpasses on the 85 and roundabouts).

    2. I’m pretty sure I already know what you’re going to say to this – bike lanes run all the way to intersections as separate marked lanes though. There is at least some encouragement to approach the intersection on the right of cars, no?

  5. Drivers stuck in traffic hate being passed by bicycles because it points out the foolishness of their daily commute. The law has nothing to do with it. They’re just pissed because they are paying to burn gas while someone else is faster for free.

    When I get to a light, I always pull over to the left so that right-turning cars can safely pass me on the right, instead of cutting in front of me. Would the angry driver or the record-letter-writer mentioned above also consider those drivers to be doing something illegal?

    If traffic is really heavy and there’s enough space, I’ll happily pass on the right. Same with cars lined up at stop signs. (You have to watch for cars blinking right turn signals though. I won’t pass anyone turning right on the right. That’s sketchy.) Lately, however, if it’s only a few cars at a stoplight, I’ve been just taking the lane and waiting my turn. It’s not going to save me much time to skip ahead a couple cars and wait at the light. I’d rather make my presence visible by taking the lane.

    Of course, if there are bike lanes, it’s perfectly safe and legal to pass on the right.

    1. Agreed. I’d say most aggressive acts against me personally on my bike seem to have little to do with the law. More often than not, people are ticked because I’m small and slow.

      It’s classic ‘might makes right’. Rarely would you see someone roll down a window to chew out or ‘buzz’ a heavy tractor or even a horse and buggy.

  6. When I was riding in my youth, I always remembered someone telling me to take my place in line in the traffic at a light. Typically though I agree with Rob, I take my place up to the first car if I can. If the street is narrow, then I don’t and I get in line. Not sure if there is a law out there that reflects this.

    HTA 147 – Slow moving traffic travel on right side
    any vehicle moving slower than the normal traffic speed should drive in the right-hand lane, or as close as practicable to the right edge of the road except when preparing to turn left or when passing another vehicle. For cyclists, you must ride far enough out from the curb to maintain a straight line, clear of sewer grates, debris, potholes, and parked car doors. You may occupy any part of a lane when your safety warrants it. Never compromise your safety for the convenience of a motorist behind you.

    Is about as close as I could find.

  7. I used to filter forward on the right more than I do now. If the line is long, I’ll do it, slowly, and signal my intention and get into the queue three or four cars back. I agree that most bike lanes encourage riders to pass on the right, but I think they also make drivers more accepting of the activity. Paint is powerful stuff in the minds of most motorists.

  8. I don’t have any one method of passing at stop lights. I simply judge each scenario.

    Usually if traffic is backed up with more then 5 cars, I’ll go to the front (providing there is a bike lane or wide road).

    If I notice the light is about to turn green, I just wait.

    There is one street where I can be in line with 20+ cars, but have little choice but to wait in line. Road is far too narrow to pass, so I just take the lane. Haven’t had an issue yet!

    Most people tend to move further to the left to let me pass, but I do get the odd person who hugs the curb. I just wait behind them.

    Of course it’s slightly harder for myself to pass traffic at stop lights because I have a large (wide) basket on the front, plus my left rear pannier basket is always open, so most of the time I don’t want to risk hitting someones mirror when passing.

    I wonder if ‘bike boxes’ actually encourage passing on the right, in order to get to the front?

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