Pedestrians who assume that their obligation to comply with the basic road rules—pedestrian traffic control signals, for example—is optional, are an all too common hazard for drivers. We can only speculate about why there are so many pedestrians like this; likewise whether there are more of them now—or less. We know for certain, however, that safety-conscious drivers must always be on the alert for unexpected, irregular behaviour on the part of other, non-motorized road-users.
The definition of a pedestrian in the BC Motor Vehicle Act (MVA) is broad: “pedestrian” means a person afoot, or an invalid or child in a wheelchair or carriage (S. 119). We have commented in previous articles on the uncommonly poetic nature of this statutory language and surmised that it serves well to remind drivers of the essential vulnerability of all “non-drivers” with whom they must share the roadways. This vulnerability imposes an obligation on drivers to yield to pedestrians. But the law is also clear that pedestrians are also obliged to watch out for themselves. This is especially so where they are “jaywalking” i.e. crossing at a point not in a marked crosswalk. We have noted before that MVA section 180 says that when a pedestrian is crossing a highway at a point not in a crosswalk, the pedestrian must yield the right of way to a vehicle. The case law says the same thing: a jaywalking pedestrian has to yield. But invariably these decisions add that drivers still have a duty to avoid hitting the pedestrian.
At busy, main, light-controlled intersections—the very place where drivers most need to focus on traffic flow patterns without other distractions—alas, it’s only prudent to expect that some pedestrians and cyclists will ignore the signals specifically for their direction. The most common infraction is by impatient pedestrians who will not wait for advance left turners to go first. Little do these people appreciate how such discourtesy, compounded, can dramatically increase rush hour congestion. As more and more turners are unable to make it through on a single light cycle, the back up grows and grows.
Alternatively, the light-chasers who dart across against the Don’t Walk or Red Hand light impede those who might have had an opening when the intersection was cleared of oncoming traffic. The close call scenarios these pedestrians cause are extremely stressful for most drivers.
Pedestrian behaviour at marked crosswalks is also confounding. Some pedestrians are annoyingly over-assertive, stepping out regardless of a clearly visible break in the traffic flow six cars down the road. This forces a whole row of drivers to brake suddenly. It only takes one driver’s slow reaction to cause a pile-up. Some pedestrians on the other hand are so timid that it’s unclear whether they intend to cross or are merely passing the time of day loitering on the road edge. When they finally assert themselves and slowly check to ensure that it’s safe to go, saintly patience is required of the stopped motorists.
Patience, courtesy and civility on the part of all road users are essential qualities for fostering a culture of road safety.