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driving concerns

As a pedestrian, I’ve become terrified of cars making right turns on green lights. Even though we have the walk sign, many drivers don’t stop – and some barely slow down – as they turn. I’ve had to pull my dog back as she was about to cross because a car was coming fast around the corner and would have hit her. Aren’t drivers supposed to come to a complete stop when turning, even at a green, to make sure nobody is crossing or about to step out into the crosswalk? I don’t drive much, but it’s something I’ve always done when I’m driving. – Sid, Vancouver

There’s no law in Canada that says you must come to a complete stop when turning right at a green light.

But if a pedestrian has the walk signal, the driver must give them the right of way – and that usually means the driver must stop.

“The driver will likely need to stop to allow a pedestrian to cross the road safely before advancing around the corner,” said Pamela Fuselli, chief executive of Parachute, a non-profit organization that focuses on injury prevention. “Rolling forward [without stopping] increases the risk to the pedestrian and is also intimidating; the pedestrian may not be sure the driver is going to stop to allow them to cross.”

In British Columbia, for instance, there’s no requirement to stop before turning right on a green light, Vancouver police said in an e-mail. But the law in B.C. does say drivers “must yield the right of way to pedestrians lawfully in the intersection.” That means, practically speaking, drivers should stop to make sure it’s safe, said RCMP Corporal Mike Halskov, a spokesman for B.C. Highway Patrol.

“Prior to making any right, we see a lot of people rolling through, and it’s dangerous,” Halskov said. “There could be pedestrians entering the intersection you haven’t seen, there could be a cyclist, or your view may be blocked.”

If you’re caught failing to yield to a pedestrian in B.C., you’ll face a $167 fine and two demerit points, Halskov said.

If you’re turning at a green light and there’s a pedestrian already crossing – say if they’re coming across from the other side – you’re legally allowed to turn as long as you “do not interfere with the path of the pedestrian,” Vancouver police said.

“That said, safe distance can be subjective, so it would be wise to yield,” Constable Tania Visintin, Vancouver police spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

Other provinces have similar rules. For instance, not yielding to a pedestrian will cost you $173 and see two demerit points added to your driving record in Quebec. In Ontario, it’s a $300 fine – that’s doubled in a community safety zone – and four demerits. In Alberta, it’s $810 and four demerits.

Talk to the hand?

At a green light, pedestrians only have the right of way if they started crossing while the white walk signal is on. Once the countdown starts, pedestrians aren’t supposed to cross.

So if you step off the curb after the countdown starts and the red hand starts flashing, you’re in the wrong and you could face a fine.

“Basically, the way to look at that flashing hand is to treat it like an amber light,” said Sergeant Colin Foster, commander of the Calgary police collision reconstruction unit. “If it’s flashing, don’t start crossing. If you’re in the middle, carry on going.”

The fines for crossing once the countdown starts are about $100 in most provinces. That countdown is supposed to allow pedestrians time to clear the intersection so drivers can make left turns before the light turns red. But many pedestrians don’t know the rule – or don’t care – and cross anyway, Halskov said.

“They take the chance because they know they can get across before the countdown is over,” Halskov said.

But having the right of way is no guarantee against crashes and injuries. Even though a turning car may have the right of way, its driver could still injure or kill a pedestrian who’s in the wrong.

“If you’ve got a green light, you still have to anticipate that a pedestrian may suddenly cross the road – it could be a kid,” said Calgary police’s Foster. “It’s not just one party’s responsibility or another – it’s everyone’s responsibility to be safe.”

The same goes for pedestrians. When crossing the street on a walk signal, it’s a good idea to make eye contact with drivers to make sure they see you and will stop, even though you have the right of way, Halskov said.

“One of the first things I do as a pedestrian when I cross is look over my left shoulder,” Halskov said. “You’re not going to win that fight against a car.”

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.