I still don't understand this new pedestrian law in Ontario that says drivers have to wait until pedestrians have crossed all the way to the other side at a crosswalk or crossover. What's the reason for it, other than just another cash grab? Cars should be allowed to inch forward once the pedestrian has cleared their path because it helps the flow of traffic. – Jim, Ottawa
When Ontario first announced the new law, there were some crossed wires over the difference between a crosswalk and a crossover.
"There was a lot of outrage because the way it was understood was that this was at every intersection and there would be tie-ups all over the place," said Teresa Di Felice, director of government and community relations and driver education for CAA South Central Ontario. "They've clarified it."
The law, which came into effect this month, says that drivers and cyclists have to stop and wait until pedestrians have completely crossed at pedestrian crossovers – or, at normal crosswalks, if there's a school crossing guard there.
"Where there is a median or physical barrier that divides a highway into two roadways, the new law requires drivers to wait until pedestrians and the school crossing guard has cleared the roadway in the direction that the vehicle is travelling," said Ontario's Ministry of Transportation (MTO) in an e-mail statement.
Fines range from $150-$500 and drivers may face three demerit points. Fines are doubled in community safety zones.
So what's a pedestrian crossover? It sounds a little like a cool name for a pedestrian bridge, like the one reportedly being used by people and cars in Ottawa. But, really it's a painted crosswalk with overhead lights that flash when the pedestrian pushes a button. "A pedestrian crossover is a pedestrian crossing facility identified by specific signs, pavement markings and overhead lights in combination with pedestrian-activated flashing beacons," the MTO said. "A school crossing is any pedestrian crossing facility where a school crossing guard is present and is displaying a school crossing stop sign."
Before the law change, drivers could keep going once pedestrians had crossed halfway across the road.
That's a problem because drivers might see traffic moving and might not realize that someone is crossing, De Felice said.
"People see some cars moving and think they can go," De Felice said. "They may not be sure why one car is stopped and decide to go around – and all of a sudden there's a pedestrian in that intersection."
It's also an issue in school zones because kids may dawdle or suddenly switch directions while crossing the road – or another child might be running behind them to catch up.
"Even when there's a crossing guard, kids are kids," De Felice said. "If all the cars are waiting, it's easier to see somebody rushing out."
Across Canada, British Columbia, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island have laws saying that drivers must only yield half of the road to pedestrians, the CAA said.
Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Saskatchewan have specific laws about school crossing guards. In those provinces, there's no specific wording about when drivers can proceed after stopping, the CAA said.
So will Ontario's law increase traffic snarls? The MTO says it shouldn't.
"Pedestrian crossovers are installed on roadways with a maximum posted speed of 60 km/h and maximum four lanes of two-way traffic," Nichols said.
The new crosswalk rule is part of the "Making Ontario Roads Safer Act", or Bill 31, which was unanimously approved in June. The rule came from recommendations in the 2012 Chief Coroner's Report on Pedestrian Deaths, which looked at a spate of 95 deaths in 2010.
CAA Ontario driving instructors teach drivers to stop until all pedestrians have crossed – even when not at a crossover or school crosswalk, De Felice said.
"We teach that pedestrians always have the right of way, but under the Highway Traffic Act there's some grey area," she said. "When someone is crossing, I think it's a good practice to let them cross the complete way, especially when children are involved."
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