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A crash course on crosswalks

Want to cut down on pedestrian-driver crashes? Enforce the crosswalk rules

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Trevor J. Adams, Photo: Tammy Fancy

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.

  • Katherine Dimock

    Thanks, this is good to know, I never knew that even at unmarked areas it is a cross walk as well, or am i not understanding correctly? Why don’t they mark them all? My rule is to keep my foot almost on the brake all the time while driving and watch for people, better to be rear ended than run over someone right? Also, I had always thought that if there is not a marked cross walk it was because they thought it was unsafe to put one there, so now I know.
    I would like to see more discussion on the part of the pedestrian as well. I always find that pedestrians don’t wait for drivers to notice them. Just wait for a another few seconds to be seen by drivers…I wait. One time I was at a cross walk that had the over head lights that run across the street. I didn’t just push the button and jaunt across, i waited and made eye contact. That small fraction of time to see if everyone was paying attention paid off for me that day, as there were 4 lanes of noisy traffic. Trucks parked on the street, a utility truck stopped, others stopped and I made eye contact with everyone. I did not know that there was a van coming and NOT paying attention, coming along on the other side of the truck. (I did not see
    him on account of the parked trucks and the truck waiting there, and thought I gave it enough time,
    light was on long enough for others to see, because I WAITED an extra bit ) It flew right in front of me. 2 feet in front of me! I stood there stunned with my eyes closed for a second. I felt the whoosh go by my face, the heat of the vehicle on my face. I am sure that everyone else who was there was stunned too. I saw the looks on their faces! That is why I think people also need to just wait for people to notice them. Yes, pedestrians have the right away, but they also have the responsibility of being careful as well. Hitting a button and quickly rushing off across the street in front of machines that need time to react. I am always conscious of people at cross walks. I have seen all sorts of crazy. I have seen people go across corner to corner, oh and swear at you while you stopped as to not run them over, or when the sign said to not cross, and you stop and they swear at you even though you have the green light and they are going anyway, and they are cussing you while you are patiently waiting, and making sure your doors are locked. Also people who are several feet away from the crosswalk, coming towards the crosswalk. And then they change their minds.
    I use to live in Halifax. Then moved to Moncton and lived there for 20 years. I have stood and waited at many crosswalks and people just fly by, even when I know they must have seen me long before. But I WAIT. People walk and turn quickly onto a cross walk and/or no cross walk and expect those machines to stop on a dime, what about those people? Why are these sort of actions not addressed?
    I grew up in the country and I was told to look both ways. I never hear that anymore… instilled in children. It is not a game. I see people seemingly think that it is a magical walkway, like the waters parting just for them and off they go. I wish schools, teachers and parents would emphasize to children to WAIT for traffic to stop first and see you. Yes they have the right of way but they need to WAIT for traffic to see them, this is what I have always told my kids… just WAIT that extra moment for everyone to see you, make eye contact. Hey, here I am, see me.
    I now live in Sherwood Park, Alberta. I walk all over the place. And I find that the intersections are more open and people “see you”. People stop here! I am so surprised when traffic stops, because when I lived in Riverview NB, or Halifax, they didn’t. I learned to wait. I remembered what my mother told me and what I learned in school. Try driving west on Whitepine in Riverview, NB, and the high school students going everywhere and the sun is in your eyes. It is scary. I avoided it. However. I think with that sort of thing if students were taught that they have to walk across the crosswalks and WAIT for traffic to SEE them, there would not be so many mishaps and students giving the one finger wave as though they don’t have any responsibility while walking all over the place. Oh and what about this one… I would drive on that same street going to work in the morning… There is a cross walk. no one is there, morning sun in my eyes, and out pops a man where there is a fence and bushes on the corner. He walked straight out and I did not see him until he appeared on the street. Should he not have waited for me to see him? I was going slow enough because of the rising sun. Oh and how about kids on bikes coming down a street and fly across the cross walk. That was in Riverview as well. I was at a cross walk and the lights were on, a dump truck was coming and he did not stop. Should I be angry, no. he could not stop. Now If i were the type that assumed the world stopped on a dime for me like young people today I would have been dead. No body ever talks about the pedestrians’ part. Those machines people drive are machines. Please, please, please express to people to wait for traffic to SEE them PLEASE! Teach pedestrians their part as well. We often hear of the responsibility of the driver but along with it needs to mentioned the responsibility of the pedestrian in the same discussion perhaps. I do understand the importance of drivers being educated and to start paying attention and it certainly needs to be addressed. We need CONSTANT education on both parts. Not just when an accident happens and someone is injured or killed.

  • Janet Brush

    Thank you so much for defending pedestrians. The legal crosswalk issue is in desperate need of an education program. One of the letters on page 8 says that “many pedestrians are not drivers”, so they don’t understand the driver’s point of view. I think a bigger problem is that most drivers are not pedestrians. I used to be a driver, now I walk because I can’t afford a car. I see both sides and I think drivers are at fault much more often than pedestrians are.

  • The same as Defensive Driving teaches, it isn’t about who to blame, it is about staying safe. A simple PAUSE from pedestrians, recognizing that drivers DO NOT KNOW or observe the law, might save their life. We aren’t blaming pedestrians, but they hold a lot of power to save themselves just by making eye contact with the drivers. If they are busy tweeting or texting and driving, you might want to wait even in a marked crosswalk before proceeding.
    Regarding ENFORCEMENT, it is a SAFETY issue, and should have a higher police priority than other GOTTA ENFORCE THE LAW excuses in recent non-lethal crimes. A simple empty police cruiser can work for 2 or three days, before you have to move it or put a police officer inside to enforce again.
    I have three-way school crosswalk, where I have filmed up to 70 cars a day, speed up to BLOW THROUGH stop signs, narrowly missing students, and other cars at the intersection. Yet, not even once a year, do we have enough Police Resources for that type of protection.
    BLAME EVERYONE! Drivers, AccessNS, Pedestrians, we all can do better to inform, observe, act defensively and enforce existing laws before such foolishness as fining some pedestrian for not pushing the GREEN WALK light signal.
    Where there is no enforcement, as you indicate, people become complacent, lax and careless. And that’s when accidents happen. IMO

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