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driving concerns

At a pedestrian crosswalk, especially one that crosses a median, can I proceed once the pedestrian reaches the safety island? Or do I have to wait to go until the pedestrian has completely crossed to the opposite sidewalk? – Michael, North Vancouver, B.C.

In most provinces, you don’t have to wait to go until a pedestrian gets all the way across.

But you should err on the side of caution, police say.

“If you’re approaching a crosswalk and there’s a pedestrian on your side of the road about to cross, you’re obligated to stop,” says Cpl. Mike Halskov, spokesman for B.C. RCMP traffic services. “Once they’ve gone past your vehicle and gone past the centre line, then you’re free to go.”

In B.C., the law says that drivers must yield if the pedestrian is “on the half of the highway on which the vehicle is travelling, or is approaching so closely from the other half of the highway that he or she is in danger.”

So, if there’s a median, you can go once the pedestrian gets to it. If there isn’t, you can go once they get to the middle of the road.

Also, you can’t pass a car that’s stopped for a pedestrian. Breaking these rules carries a $167 fine and three demerits.

So, what if someone is crossing from the other side?

The law says you only have to stop once they get to the middle of the road – but you should stop anyway, Halskov says.

“There’s nothing saying that you absolutely have to stop, but you should stop to allow the pedestrian to complete the crossing safely,” Halskov says.

Drivers must wait in Alberta and Ontario

In most other provinces, the law either says that you have to wait until a pedestrian gets to the middle – or it doesn’t say where you have to stop.

But in Alberta, the law says you have to wait for pedestrians to get all the way across, say Calgary police.

“It can be interpreted to indicate a driver must yield right of way to a pedestrian while they finish crossing from curb to curb,” Calgary police wrote in an e-mail statement.

Section 41 of Alberta’s traffic law says drivers must yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk, and the law says a crosswalk extends across the whole street.

In Ontario, the rules vary depending on the type of crosswalk.

It gets confusing. Basically, if it’s a crossover – a dedicated crosswalk that’s not at an intersection – drivers and cyclists have to stop and wait until pedestrians have finished crossing.

If a pedestrian is in the crossover, traffic should be stopped in both directions.

The same rules apply when a school crossing guard is stopping traffic – neither direction can go.

If it’s not a crossover – if someone is crossing at a corner, for instance – you can go once they’re clear.

Stay on the safe side

Although drivers are supposed to stop for pedestrians, don’t assume that they will, Halskov says.

If you’re crossing, make sure that drivers see you – and are stopping – before you step onto the road.

“You can’t just walk out in front of traffic and expect it to stop,” Halskov says. “The onus is still on the pedestrian to be responsible for their own safety.”

Last year, 49 pedestrians were killed and more than 1,200 were injured on B.C. roads.

If you’re hit by a car and survive, the injuries can be life-changing.

“On the road, there’s a lot going on, so a driver might not see you,” Halskov says. “It’s incumbent on you to make sure it’s safe.”

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com and put ‘Driving Concerns’ in your subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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