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driving concerns

At those pedestrian crosswalks where you push a button and amber lights flash, are cars required to stop if I’m standing at the curb ready to cross but the lights aren’t flashing? I have a kid in a stroller and a dog – often the button is far on the left and not easy to reach without moving everybody over. Also, there’s one near where I live where the button doesn’t work. So instead, we stand there and wait for a dozen cars to pass by or until someone is nice enough to stop for us. – Anne, Calgary

Drivers should stop at a pedestrian crosswalk even if you haven’t pushed the button to activate the flashing lights – but counting on that could be pushing your luck, Calgary police said.

“There’s no legal requirement for a pedestrian to activate that [flashing] light – they can cross in the crosswalk and still have the right of way,” said Acting Sergeant Dennis Vink with the Calgary Police Service collision reconstruction unit. “It’s still a smart idea for pedestrians to make sure cars are stopping [before crossing], whether you have the right of way or not, because you don’t know that drivers have seen you.”

In Alberta and other provinces, the rules say that drivers have to stop for pedestrians crossing at a crosswalk.

For instance, Section 41 of Alberta’s Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation states that drivers “shall yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk.”

If they don’t, the driver could face an $810 fine and four demerit points.

So, do drivers have to stop for you if you’re waiting at the crosswalk to cross? In Alberta, they do, Vink said.

“The most literal interpretation [of the law] is vehicles are required to stop when the pedestrian has indicated a desire or an intention to cross. They could have a hand sticking out, a toe in the roadway or they’ve activated the pedestrian signal,” Vink said. But “if a person is just standing there, they may not want to cross; it would cause chaos on the roads if drivers stopped at every crosswalk [any time someone is close].”

Shared responsibility?

So even though pedestrians have the right of way, they shouldn’t dart out into a crosswalk if cars are approaching and expect them to stop.

“If the car is going 50 kilometres an hour, they may not be able to physically stop in time,” Vink said.

Section 91 states that a pedestrian “shall not proceed onto a roadway … into the path of any vehicle that is so close that it is impracticable for the driver of the vehicle to yield the right of way.”

While the rules are similar in each province, how they’re interpreted can vary. In Ontario, for instance, cars have to stop once a pedestrian has stepped into the crosswalk, Toronto police said in an email.

Ontario has two types of crosswalks. When they’re at an intersection, they’re called crosswalks. When they’re not at an intersection, they’re called crossovers.

“There is no obligation to stop unless the pedestrian is crossing on the roadway within a pedestrian crossover [or crosswalk],” Victor Paul Kwong, Toronto Police Service media relations officer, said in an email.”

In both crosswalks and crossovers, drivers have to stop once a pedestrian starts crossing. At crossovers, drivers can’t proceed until the pedestrian has reached the other side. At crosswalks, drivers can go once the pedestrian is clear of the vehicle; otherwise, they may face a $300 fine (doubled in community safety zones) and three demerit points.

If the crossover is equipped with amber flashing lights, drivers still have to stop for pedestrians who cross even when the lights are not flashing, Kwong said.

If the crosswalk is at an intersection with traffic lights and pedestrian signals that show the walking man (cross), flashing red hand with countdown (don’t start crossing) and red hand (don’t cross), then pedestrians should only start crossing when the walk sign is on.

Still, once a pedestrian is in the crosswalk – even if they’ve got a solid red hand and they no longer have the legal right of way – cars should stop to allow them to cross safely, Vink said.

Stop anyway?

In any province, if someone is standing at any crosswalk, it’s a good idea to slow down and be prepared to stop, even if the lights aren’t flashing, said Angelo DiCicco, general manager with the Ontario Safety League, a Mississauga-based non-profit focusing on driver education.

“That area has been designated as a safe crossing area for the public at large – the lights are above and beyond that,” DiCicco said. “What if the power is out for some reason and the lights aren’t working?”

Even if the letter of the law says to yield to pedestrians once they step off the sidewalk, to be safe, drivers should slow down any time it looks like a pedestrian is about to cross, DiCicco said. For instance, if they’re standing at the crosswalk or walking quickly toward it.

“Always assume anyone who is around a crosswalk is there for a reason,” DiCicco said. “It’s the difference between being proactive and reactive.”

That said, pedestrians shouldn’t assume that drivers will know they want to cross and will stop in time.

“If you’re looking down at your phone … you should look up and make eye-to-eye contact with the drivers around you to make sure they understand your intention,” DiCicco said. “Most drivers are respectful and they don’t want to run you over – they just want to know what the heck you want to do.”

Have a driving question? Send it to 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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