More to crosswalks than you think

Pedestrians always fare poorly in a collision with a vehicle. That is why the laws are very plain and simple when it comes to right of way at crosswalks. Pedestrians are given the absolute right of way at crosswalks unless there are extenuating circumstances dictating otherwise.

Crosswalks are often misunderstood by both drivers and pedestrians. Here is a short course:

Solid horizontal parallel white lines at intersections with stop signs and streetlights delineate pedestrian pathways. Zebra or intermittent lines appear at locations without the necessity of a full stop unless occupied by a pedestrian.

A legal crosswalk exists at the end of every city block. Sometimes the crosswalk area is only identified by a pedestrian X and some warning signs prior to or at the crosswalk.

There are so many variations in the construction of crosswalks, that it is no wonder drivers and pedestrians alike are sometimes confused. The legal crossing area at the end of a city block need not be marked with signs or lines at all. It is still an enforceable pedestrian right of way.

The most identifiable crosswalks are those triggered by pedestrians themselves. A flashing green light can be changed to a full green, then amber and finally red by the push of a button by any pedestrian in most provinces. (With the exception of Manitoba, where the flashing green light means left turn for cars — go figure.)

Lately, several high-intensity oscillating LED amber lights have been installed at high-volume intersections or mid-block locations. Vehicle drivers need only stop at these locations when the crosswalk is occupied and may proceed even if the amber is still flashing, as long as any pedestrians have reached the other side of the road.

The most confusing pedestrian crosswalk I have ever seen is the green flashing type, triggered by a pedestrian in mid-block. The law in British Columbia does not require a driver to stay stopped at these intersecting pedestrian crossings, even if the light remains solid red. Once the pedestrian has reached the other side of the road, the driver is free to drive through the red light. This only applies to mid-block lighted crossings in Vancouver, but may very well apply throughout the province unless disallowed by municipal bylaw. This particular rule is so odd that I would not recommend any driver actually try it, even though it is legal. The reaction from bystanders could be unpredictably confrontational. (To avoid a rear-end collision when making an unscheduled stop, use the four-way flashers to alert following traffic.)

It is acceptable to resume travel once the pedestrians have cleared your side of the roadway on a divided type of highway or city road with a median.

Always yield to people crossing the road at intersections. Sometimes the pedestrians will walk or run against the “Don’t walk” signal. They often anticipate the light change and forget about the left-turn advance arrow for traffic which is adjacent to them. It is the driver’s responsibility to predict such action and to avoid conflict when easily anticipated.

Drivers who collide with pedestrians are exonerated when the driver has no time to react. Children can dart out between parked cars, giving drivers and cyclists no time to avoid a collision. Most cities have jaywalking bylaws. (Curiously, those which do not have such bylaws in the U.K. have fewer pedestrian fatalities.)

When it rains, pedestrians run much more often. Vehicle speeds increase in the rain. This is a bad combination. Always pay more attention to pedestrian crossings in bad weather. Slowing down to accommodate rather than confront, is the best advice for pedestrians and drivers alike.

Steve Wallace is a longtime teacher and owner of the Wallace Driving School in Victoria.

Photograph by: Les Bazso, The Province.