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Driving Concerns

A pedestrian caused an accident. Is she liable? Add to ...

Saw an incident yesterday that stumped me from a legal perspective. A car making a left at a busy intersection braked suddenly for a pedestrian who appeared to be crossing against the light. A chain reaction occurred in which four cars were damaged, one quite severely. After a brief exchange with the lead driver, the pedestrian walked away. Does the pedestrian bear legal responsibility in such a case if she was indeed jaywalking? Would she be expected to remain at the scene? – Jody

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In a chain collision, it doesn’t matter why the first driver had to slam on the brakes – it could be a pedestrian, a rolling shopping cart or an errant llama – the cars behind should leave enough room to stop in time, police say.

“If something drifts out in front of me and I have to slam on my brakes, the driver behind me is required to leave enough room to allow for that,” says Vancouver police Constable Brian Montague.

“Here in B.C., there could be tickets for following too closely.”

"The pedestrian could be charged, like any pedestrian could who's crossing illegally, but it wouldn't be connected to the accident," Montague says.

The pedestrian wouldn’t be required to remain in the scene, but she could get a ticket for illegally crossing. In B.C. that’s a $109 fine. But she wouldn’t be legally responsible for the accident, Montague says.

Once the hand starts flashing and the countdown begins, it’s illegal to start crossing, police say.

“People see the countdown start and think that’s how much time they have to make it across,” says Toronto police Constable Clinton Stibbe. “But if you get hit after you started crossing against that light, you could be charged.”

In Ontario, that’s covered under section 144 of the Highway Traffic Act. In Toronto, pedestrians are most often hit by cars turning left or right, Stibbe says.

That countdown is there to allow pedestrians to clear the intersection quickly so drivers have the chance to make left and right turns before the light changes, Montague says.

“Sure there’s a countdown but there’s also that flashing ‘don’t walk’ sign, and that means don’t walk,” he says. “It’s only legal to start crossing while that white walk sign, the little man, is on.”

Regardless of who’s in the right, everyone needs to be more considerate on the roads, especially when the cost of impatience could be a life, Montague says.

“Everyone seems to have this attitude of I’m more important than you, basically it’s really inconsiderate, right?” he says. “There’s no win if people aren’t following the rules – they’re there to keep people safe.”

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