From city buses to cyclists to pedestrians, drivers face more distractions and frustrations than ever before. Getting rid of an "us and them" attitude is step one for sharing the road safely.

"The key to being a safe driver is respect," says Jerry Thomas, road safety coordinator for the City of Ottawa. "But respect must come from everyone using the road. We have to watch out for one another."

That's especially true for drivers because the simple fact of our greater travel speed as well as the size and weight of our vehicles means we, as drivers, can cause severe harm to a cyclist or pedestrian. "That doesn't mean that drivers face all the responsibilities," says Mr. Thomas. "All road users share responsibilities. It does mean, however, that safe drivers always take precautions to ensure they're being responsible."

Practise pedestrian precautions

It's easy to think that pedestrians have their place (on the sidewalk) and you have yours (on the road). But sometimes the two meet. Jerry Thomas advises that drivers should watch for pedestrians when:

  • Driving across a sidewalk. "That means when you're pulling into or out of a driveway or a parking lot," he says.
  • Driving on a road without sidewalks. Usually, pedestrians should be facing oncoming traffic while walking on the shoulder of the road, but that's not always the case.
  • At pedestrian crossings. "Stay out of crossings when you're waiting," explains Mr. Thomas. "That way, you're not forcing pedestrians out into traffic."
  • Turning — especially on one-way streets. "On one-way streets, cars obviously travel in one direction. But remember that pedestrians cross both ways."

Be extra careful when you're in a school zone or anywhere children may be walking; for example, near playgrounds or around school buses.

Bicycle basics

Since bicycles share the road with drivers, they can present more challenges than pedestrians.

  • Know the law. Check your provincial ministry of transportation website to get informed about the road rules for bicycles.
  • Check before opening your car door. "Take a look in your side-view mirror or glance over your left shoulder before opening your car door," says Mr. Thomas. Swerving to avoid a suddenly open car door or ramming into it may be deadly for a cyclist.
  • Don't startle the cyclists. "Only beep your horn at a cyclist if they are in imminent danger," he says. "And when passing a cyclist, do so at a moderate speed and leave plenty of space." If road conditions are slippery, leave extra passing space.
  • Pay attention to weather conditions. A puddle or a dusty road can be a cyclist's nightmare. Avoid splashing cyclists or blasting a cyclist with wind and dust when passing.

Get on the bus

Public transit buses are part of many city roads. In some cities, they have their own lane on major roads and it's important to stay out of that bus-only lane when specified. Also remember to:

  • Be seen. "Avoid driving in blind spots at the sides and immediate rear of the bus," advises Mr. Thomas.
  • Never squeeze to the right. Since buses must make wide right turns, it can be dangerous to squeeze to the right of the bus.
  • Let them through. "Buses are not only convenient, they also reduce the amount of drivers on the road," he says. "Make room for buses trying to change lanes. They'll generally quickly return to their right-hand lane as soon as they can."