It's an age-old question: Who has the right of way at a four-way intersection when there is just one pedestrian in a crosswalk – a motorist who has patiently waited their turn or the person walking that just approached it?
Every time, it's the pedestrian, according to traffic safety expert Jason Tchir in a special for The Globe and Mail.
Tchir indicated that even if a pedestrian hasn't actually started walking yet, a driver is obligated to not proceed through an intersection unless everything is clear.
"Pedestrians are considered traffic," said Ajay Woozageer, spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. "Drivers must yield the right of way to traffic in the intersection or approaching the intersection so closely that to proceed would constitute an immediate hazard."
Proceeding isn't without its price. Tchir pointed out that Ontario Provincial Police have the right to issue a ticket to violators, which can costs motorists $60 and three demerit points. Additionally, if it's a safety zone, the charge may be doubled to $120.
Drivers should yield even if they get there first
Mike Brady, traffic safety manager for the City of Toronto, indicated that logic suggests that it's first come, first serve. In other words, if a vehicle comes to a complete stop at an intersection and sees that it's clear for them to drive, they should be able to go through an intersection so long as a pedestrian wasn't in the crosswalk at the time. But even if motorists do start moving before someone enters into a crosswalk, the driver should still yield to whoever is in the road.
"Without getting into the science of reaction times, pedestrians travel at a slower rate and have less opportunity than a car to avoid an accident," said Brady. "Really, everybody on the road needs to be aware of everybody around them."
With less than a month to go in 2013, nearly three dozen people have been killed in pedestrian accidents, Tchir said. At 34, that's 10 more than occurred in all of 2012. Additionally, of those who were mortally wounded, more than half were over the age of 65, suggesting that slow reaction times may have played a role.
Automotive experts interviewed by Tchir said that even though pedestrians may virtually always have the right of way when they're in crosswalks, they should assume that motorists aren't aware of this fact. Pedestrians, of course, don't have the advantage of being ensconced inside a metal vehicle with airbags that inflate as soon as there's impact. Thus, it's important to walk defensively in a crosswalk, making sure that eye contact is made with the driver before proceeding.
Pedestrians accidents have not been confined to the Toronto-area. In fact, there's been a spat of these incidents in Atlantic Canada. CBC News recently reported that in the first week of December, five people were struck by an automobile, most of the injuries being serious enough to require hospitalization.