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Pedestrians walk along Granville Street in Vancouver last June. (File photo) (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Pedestrians walk along Granville Street in Vancouver last June. (File photo) (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Ask Joanne

Distracted drivers? Bad. What about distracted pedestrians? Add to ...

If I see one more pedestrian wandering obliviously across the road while talking on a phone or staring down at the screen, I’m going to lose my mind. I realize, as a driver, I have a responsibility not to hit people with my car. But don’t pedestrians have to take some responsibility for their own safety? – Ivana in Vancouver

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We hear a lot about distracted drivers, but little about pedestrians who are preoccupied with cellphones, MP3 players or in conversation with other pedestrians while crossing the street.

“For the most part, a pedestrian has the right of way at an intersection or crosswalk,” says Constable Brian Montague of the Vancouver Police Department. “But that right of way is not absolute; a pedestrian can’t just step out in front of a car – there has to be a distance to allow drivers to stop.

“Where a pedestrian may be lawfully in the right, it doesn’t protect them from a 2,000-pound car and an inattentive driver. So we have to look at the bigger picture; it’s about safety and making sure everyone gets home safely. We encourage pedestrians, cyclists and drivers to take some measure of responsibility – and everyone has their share.”

To minimize the risk of collision, drivers and pedestrians should acknowledge that they’ve seen each other.

“If you’re a driver or pedestrian make eye contact with the other person,” says Montague. “As far as pedestrians go, make eye contact with approaching drivers before you cross the road. Wear brighter clothing if you’re walking at night. Don’t jaywalk – use the crosswalks and obey the traffic signals.”

Many of us seem unaware that when the “don’t walk” signal is flashing, it’s too late to begin crossing the street.

“If you haven’t already entered the crosswalk, you’re supposed to stay on the sidewalk and wait for the next set of lights,” says Montague. “If you step off the curb while the hand is flashing, it is illegal and you could be given a ticket for disobeying a traffic control device. A pedestrian disobeying a ‘don’t walk’ sign is a $109 fine under B.C.’s Motor Vehicle Act.”

Pedestrian penalties vary between provinces and territories; in Ontario for example, disobeying a “don’t walk” sign could net a $47 fine.

Pedestrians aren’t the only road users engaging in risky behaviour. Drivers who speed, fail to yield or don’t check before turning corners are common causes of pedestrian injury and fatality. A major cause of pedestrian casualties are vehicles overtaking another vehicle that has slowed down or stopped for a pedestrian.

“Always expect the unexpected. Expect that when a vehicle is stopped in a lane beside you, they’ve stopped for a pedestrian or something that may be crossing in front of them,” says Montague.

In Toronto, 10 pedestrians have been killed so far this year. In Vancouver, pedestrian fatalities have declined in the last decade. “Last year we had 19 fatal collisions, and 11 of them involved pedestrians.” says Montague. “Back in 2005, we had 20 pedestrians who were struck and killed in the City of Vancouver. This year we’ve had one pedestrian, so the numbers are encouraging, but that’s still one too many.”

To reduce injuries and death, drivers should be aware of pedestrians at all times, not just on crosswalks. Pedestrians must be mindful of the traffic around them – which means turning down the volume and looking up.

Send your automotive maintenance and repair questions to globedrive@globeandmail.com

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