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Driving Concerns

Who has the right of way at an intersection crosswalk, cars or pedestrians? Add to ...

My recall from driver's education is that if a pedestrian is in the crosswalk at an all-way stop sign, the driver has to stop even if it's his turn relative to the other drivers approaching the intersection. But, at least once a day a driver comes to a rolling stop and then proceeds even though I'm already in the crosswalk. I have to stop abruptly to avoid getting hit. Can you clarify what the rules are with four way stops and pedestrians? -- Catherine, Toronto

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There’s no asterisk next to the word “stop” on a stop sign.

The law says cars have to stop at every stop sign, and wait until the road is clear of any traffic – whether it’s cars, bikes, crossing pedestrians or roaming livestock.

“Pedestrians are considered traffic,” writes Ontario Ministry of Transportation spokesman Ajay Woozageer. “Drivers must yield the right of way to traffic in the intersection or approaching the intersection so closely that to proceed would constitute an immediate hazard.”

In Ontario, that’s spelled out in section 136.1 of the Highway Traffic Act.

If you get caught not stopping for pedestrians, or any other traffic, at any stop sign, you face a fine of at least $60 and three demerits. The fine gets doubled in a safety zone.

If nobody’s crossing when you get there, four-ways stops are technically supposed to work the same way for everybody, says Mike Brady, transportation manager with the city of Toronto. Whoever gets there first, whether pedestrian or motorist, gets to take their turn. Yes, pedestrians don’t have to follow stop signs, but they do legally have to stop at crosswalks and make sure cars are stopped, or can stop in time, before stepping onto the road.

But will that work in practice? Well, say a Buick arrives at a four-way stop sign before a kid walking his dog. Technically, the Buick is supposed to go first.

If they both got there at the same time, they’d technically do what cars do – yield to the person on their right, Brady says. Of course, in reality that unlikely to happen. The car should yield to the pedestrian.

“Technically, at a muti-way stop, it’s first come, first served, but the rules of the road can fail,” says Mike Brady, Traffic Safety Manager with the city of Toronto.

Brady says drivers should be watching out for pedestrians. And pedestrians should be watching for drivers.

“Without getting into the science of reaction times, pedestrians travel at a slower rate and have less opportunity than a car to avoid an accident,” Brady says. “Really, everybody on the road needs to be aware of everybody around them.”

So far this year, 34 pedestrians died from collisions in Toronto, 10 more than all of last year. Of those 34 people killed, 18 were 65 or older.

Teresa Di Felice, director of driver training for the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) of South Central Ontario says they train drivers to yield the right of way to pedestrians, period.

“Pedestrians are vulnerable road users, they don’t have benefit of having a ton of metal and air bags around them,” Di Felice says. "Drivers need to expect the unexpected."

Pedestrians also need to be aware of what cars are doing, because they might not stop like they’re supposed to.

“Make sure that drivers see you and are stopped before you cross,” Di Felice says. “Make eye contact. You have to make sure you’re visible. This time of year we see a rise in incidents because it gets dark earlier and pedestrians are harder to see.”

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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