Haligonians have lots of strong opinions about pedestrians and who’s to blame when drivers hit them. In our last issue, I wrote about how lowering speed limits is the best way to keep people safe.
I got a lot of emails and social-media comments in response, and most fell into two categories. 1) “Stupid entitled pedestrians don’t use crosswalks and that’s why drivers have to run them over.” 2) “Stupid entitled pedestrians— probably using iPhones—just step into crosswalks like they have some right to be there, and that’s why drivers have to run them over.” (Not all responses were so mean-spirited. See readers’ letters on page 8 for some of the more thoughtful responses.)
Most Haligonians don’t have a clue what the law requires drivers to do at crosswalks. You probably think that if a pedestrian is at a marked crosswalk, and it’s not too inconvenient for you, you ought to stop. And you only need to stop if it’s a marked crosswalk, right? You’ve certainly blown by pedestrians standing on the corner half a block from a marked crosswalk, muttering “Use the crosswalk, jerk.”
It’s time to return to the Nova Scotia Drivers Handbook. “Every intersection has a crosswalk,” it says. “Many are unmarked. Drivers must yield to pedestrians at all intersections, whether crosswalks are marked or unmarked.” Note: “must yield.” In most intersections, the law requires drivers to stop for pedestrians. “At intersections without traffic signals, pedestrians have the right of way if they are in marked crosswalks or in unmarked crosswalks formed by imaginary lines extending across the streets,” says the handbook.
When intersections have walk/don’t-walk lights, pedestrians must obey them. But most intersections don’t have them, so in most intersections pedestrians always have the right of way. The rules define an intersection as any place two or more roads intersect. Hands up if you knew all that.
So in many cases, the pedestrians you think aren’t using crosswalks actually are using unmarked ones. And pedestrians step out like they’re entitled because they are entitled. By law.
You can be forgiven for not knowing it’s the law, though. It’s probably one of the least enforced rules on the books. In 2016, Halifax Regional Police issued drivers a total of 142 tickets for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Recently, I spent 20 minutes observing a typical Halifax unmarked crosswalk (at the intersection of Gottingen and Macara streets). I counted 12 instances of drivers refusing to yield to pedestrians in the unmarked crosswalk, and four instances of drivers obeying the law and stopping.
That’s not a scientific survey, but if police issue 142 tickets per year for a violation that happens dozens of times an hour all around the city, we can safely assume that most people who do it suffer no consequences.
The solution is simple. Educate drivers about crosswalks and the laws around them, and enforce those laws much more aggressively. Making drivers obey crosswalk laws is bound to reduce driver-pedestrian collisions.