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Blocking a crosswalk with your vehicle can earn you fines, as well as dirty looks from pedestrians.

Tom Maloney

Nothing irks me more than drivers who block the crosswalk. I always give them stinkeye. If I can get them to roll their windows down, I tell them off. My brother thinks I’d be a little more forgiving if I drove (I don’t have my licence). He says he’s blocked the crosswalk accidentally, and I don’t see how. Either you’re paying attention or you’re not. There’s no excuse for this, right? – Zhen, Vancouver

If you’ve driven in a busy city, you’ve probably found yourself blocking a crosswalk at least once.

“We’ve all done that, we’ve all made that mistake,” said Angelo DiCicco, director of operations at Young Drivers of Canada’s advanced driving centre. “If you’ve made a dumb mistake and can’t back up, you mouth to people: ‘Sorry, I’ll try to do better.’”

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But there’s a difference between miscalculating whether you’ll be able to get through an intersection on the green – or not seeing that the intersection was blocked because there was moving truck in front of you – and just trying to barge your way through.

“If you get up to the crosswalk and you know it’s snailing along, you want to make sure that once you enter it, you can get through without impeding anybody’s way,” said Const. Jason Doucette, Vancouver police spokesman. “If you’re parked in the middle of a crosswalk and [pedestrians] have to go around you into unsafe traffic, you put them in a dangerous position.”

Failing to yield to a pedestrian could net you a $167 fine. Stopping in a crosswalk is another $40 fine, Doucette said.

You should be approaching an intersection slowly enough that you should be able to stop in time, Doucette said. And you should normally be stopping well in advance of the crosswalk.

We asked how many people get charged for this, but the numbers weren’t available.

The rules vary by province – and sometimes by municipality – but they’re similar.

“The way the law is worded, the driver has to have a reasonable expectation that they could get through the intersection before the light changed,” said Toronto police Sgt. Clint Stibbe. “So charges can be laid as long as officer can articulate why it wasn’t reasonable.”

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In Montreal, it’s included in a provincial law banning parking on sidewalks and medians, and comes with a $100 fine.

Pay attention and wait your turn

If you get to an intersection and traffic is snarled on the other side, wait.

“You don’t ever enter unless you can get out because we know green lights don’t last forever and ever, amen,” DiCicco said. “For someone to enter an intersection without a high degree of probability that it will be clear on other side is being assertive bordering on aggressive and just mean-spirited.”

And if traffic is snarled and you’re stuck at a light for two or three cycles, it can be tempting to try to get through – even if there’s not quite enough room on the other side to clear the crosswalk.

“Somebody who’s doing this is either in a really bad mood or really late with work and trying to make up time,” DiCicco said. “But you don’t have the right of way. Everybody behind you can honk as much as they want, you still can’t go.”

If you’re stuck at a light, you can try to get out of the intersection by making a right turn.

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But, if pedestrians are trying to beat the countdown and crossing when they have three seconds left on the timer, it can be tough to turn.

And if you get stuck making a turn because you had to wait for a few daredevils, you might end up blocking the crosswalk.

“Many pedestrians don’t drive, and they can’t appreciate what it’s like to be a driver,” DiCicco said. “Pedestrians also have to be cognizant of what’s going on around them, because it’s in their best interest.”

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com. 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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