Ontario plans to double fines for motorists who door cyclists or use their mobile phones while driving, as part of a sweeping road-safety crackdown.
On Tuesday afternoon, Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca reintroduced a list of amendments to the Highway Traffic Act in the legislature. The Liberal government originally put the proposals forward in the spring, but they failed to pass before the June election.
"It's important for us to demonstrate very clear support for the cycling community and give motorists a clear sense that it is important to share the road," Mr. Del Duca said in an interview.
Careless drivers who hit cyclists when opening their doors will be dinged for $300 to $1,000 – up from the previous range of $60 to $300. They will also be slapped with three demerit points. That higher fine range and demerit point hit will also apply to people caught texting or talking on their phones behind the wheel – the toughest law in the country.
The legislation will also make it easier for municipalities to install contra-flow bike lanes. Previously, local councils had to pass bylaws to put in such lanes. Now, city planners can build them at will. Such lanes on Shaw Street in Toronto have doubled cycling traffic in a single year, according to city statistics.
Motorists will also be required to leave a metre of space while passing cyclists, and cyclists will now be allowed to ride on the shoulders of some provincial highways.
The legislation makes a host of other changes, including extending laws against drunk driving to driving while under the influence of drugs.
The fines for dooring are some of the highest in North America. Chicago last year hiked its fine for the offense to $1,000. Montreal, by contrast, charges motorists just $52.
Ontario's beefed up laws have long been demanded by cyclists. In one 2008 case, a 57-year-old Toronto man was killed when he was doored in midtown and fell in front of a truck. The driver who hit him was fined $110.
"The bill is sending a very deliberate message: pay more attention to the road. Put down the phone, check your blind spot, check your mirror. That little decision can mean the life or death of a cyclist," said Jared Kolb, executive director of advocacy group Cycle Toronto.
But Mr. Kolb said the province must also spend more to help cities and towns build bike lanes. He pointed out that Ontario's funding on the file -- $10-million over three years -- is less than a tenth per capita of what world leaders such as the Netherlands spend.
"[The new Ontario rules] are important steps forward from an education and enforcement perspective," he said. "But there's still a lot that needs to be done on the infrastructure side."