A five-year-old once explained to me how crosswalks work, after I’d grabbed her by her Justin Bieber backpack when she stepped out into traffic.
“I just stick my arm out, start walking and cars have to stop,” she said, with an eye roll. “Why are you freaking out, Uncle Jason?”
I didn’t say what I was thinking – that she’d be lucky to make it to six. I told her that obvious rule: never start crossing until the cars are stopped.
“You can’t just assume that they see you and that they’ll stop in time,” I said. “They might be looking for an address, or talking on the phone, or fiddling with the radio to make it stop playing Justin Bieber songs.”
The Bieber bit was just to be mean – the kid had scared me.
But now I’m realizing that this idea – if there’s a crosswalk, start walking and cars will see you and stop – is common among grown-ups, too. Including me.
Maybe I’m only noticing it now because I’ve switched from being a full-time pedestrian and occasional driver to a full-time driver and occasional guy who walks short distances, mostly across parking lots (I moved from Toronto to Edmonton).
When I was walking miles a day in pedestrians’ shoes, I’d scowl at drivers who screeched to a stop when I was in the middle of a crosswalk. Usually, they’d be wide-eyed and apologetic.
“Pay attention, moron,” I’d mutter to myself.
Sure, I’d seen them coming in the distance before I crossed, but I’d pushed the button that turns on those flashing yellow lights.
Cars are supposed to stop for people. Especially at corners and crosswalks. And definitely when you’ve hit that button.
How hard can it be to notice a person crossing the street?
When I came here and started driving more than I was walking, I started to notice grown-ups walking out into traffic – like those zombies that jump out from beneath the frame in video games.
I generally slow down at crosswalks and at intersections, like I should. I scan parked cars just in case a kid or a dog bolts out.
But you never know when a pedestrian will cross.
The other day, a girl wearing headphones and typing on an iPhone walked from the corner onto the crosswalk, without slowing.
She hadn’t been waiting to cross, she just crossed – right in front of my moving car. I slammed on my brakes and slid on the snow. I stopped without killing her. Luckily, I’d been going slow because traffic was lousy.
If it had been a few seconds earlier and I’d been looking in the rear-view mirror, or trying to get the lid back on my Starbucks cup so it would stop slopping all over the centre console, I probably wouldn’t have seen her in time.
I was horrified, and mouthed the word sorry.
“Pay attention, moron,” she called out. “You have to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, you know.”