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Sidewalks are stop signs

Sidewalks are Stop SignsI love playing devil’s advocate.  Challenging perceptions is fun for me.  With road safety issues I get the bonus of doing my small bit to make our roads safer.

I recently challenged perceptions about rights of way between drivers and pedestrians at intersections.  Most drivers seem clueless that pedestrians have the right of way at every corner, not just the ones with crosswalk markings.  Conversely, most pedestrians seem clueless about their legal obligation to look out for their own safety, even in a clearly marked, flashing lights crosswalk.  If you missed those columns, please e-mail me and I’ll send them to you.

Another perception problem was handed to me on a silver platter within the last two weeks.

Consider this fact scenario:  A 61 year old cyclist riding against traffic on a sidewalk, at night, with no lights and no helmet.  A 19 year old woman is leaving the parking lot of the downtown Kelowna Boston Pizza, turning right.  The bicycle passes in front of the car which hits the left side of the cycle and cyclist.  The cyclist is taken away by ambulance.

I suspect that almost everyone reading this column is pointing their fingers squarely at the cyclist as being at fault in this scenario.

Look at all the laws the cyclist is breaking!  Section 183(2)(a) of the Motor Vehicle Act prohibits riding on a sidewalk, s. 183(6)(a-c) requires the use of lights at night, s. 184(1) requires a helmet and s. 183(1) imposes obligations of a vehicle on a cyclist, which includes riding with instead of against traffic!

What about if, instead of a cyclist, it was a pedestrian (perhaps a parent pushing a baby buggy), jogger or rollerblader?  None of those laws would have protected against the unfortunate coincidence of passing in front of a driveway access at that unfortunate moment when a vehicle is exiting.

What about the rules of the road that apply to the motorist?

Did you know that just like “every corner is a crosswalk”, “every sidewalk is a stop sign”?

Section 176(1) requires a driver in these circumstances to come to a complete stop ahead of the sidewalk and then yield the right of way to pedestrians.

Have you ever done that?  Have you ever, when coming out of a parking lot, actually brought your vehicle to a complete stop before the nose of your vehicle got to the sidewalk?

If you saw a pedestrian coming, of course you would stop.  I’m talking about when you’re approaching the street, usually with something blocking your vision down the sidewalk one way or the other.

If you are like most motorists, you roll across the sidewalk, looking to your left for oncoming traffic, until you have a clear view.  It is at that point, your nose likely fully into or crossing the sidewalk, when you come to a stop.

I wonder how many tickets would be handed out if the RCMP had a blitz on this important road safety law and staked out at a popular grocery store parking lot.

If the motorist who hit the 61 year old cyclist had stopped her vehicle ahead of the sidewalk and looked to her right to see if there were any pedestrians, as the law required, she would have seen the unhelmeted cyclist on this well-lit downtown Kelowna street and not run into him.

In my opinion, a court would likely assess this motorist at least 50% at fault in this collision.  E-mail me if you would like a copy of Bradley v. Bath, 2010 BCCA 10, a case of our Court of Appeal with a similar fact pattern.

Unfortunately, the cyclist suffered 100% of the injuries.

I challenge the RCMP to blitz this important road safety issue.  Imagine the tickets that would be issued if law enforcement was staked out for even an hour at any popular grocery store parking lot.

I challenge you to focus on this road safety point until you have changed your driving behaviour to always, every time, come to a complete stop ahead of sidewalks as you exit parking lots, back alleys and even your own driveway.  Do it for road safety, though, not to avoid a ticket.

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  • Your assertion — “Did you know that just like “every corner is a crosswalk”, “every sidewalk is a stop sign”?” — is too broad a generalization. A sidewalk is most certainly not a stop sign at a signalized intersection.

    • Thank you for your interest in my column.

      And you are absolutely correct. Those are both generalizations and neither of them would apply to the extent they conflict with the instructions given by the signal lights.

      I thought I was clear about the circumstances where “every sidewalk is a stop sign” with the fact pattern I used and with my concluding paragraph: “I challenge you to focus on this road safety point until you have changed your driving behaviour to always, every time, come to a complete stop ahead of sidewalks as you exit parking lots, back alleys and even your own driveway.”

      Obviously from your comment, though I was not clear, and this exchange will clear things up.

      For further clarity, here is section 176(1) of the Motor Vehicle Act:

      Emerging from alleys

      176 (1) The driver of a vehicle in a business or residence district and emerging from an alley, driveway, building or private road must stop the vehicle immediately before driving onto the sidewalk or the sidewalk area extending across an alleyway or private driveway, and must yield the right of way to a pedestrian on the sidewalk or sidewalk area.

      …and here is a link to the case I referenced: Bradley v. Bath, 2010 BCCA 10

  • Good reference

  • 50%
    This is the bs part of this whole very common scenario

    No matter what
    The driver will still be found at fault, even if in the right 100%.
    So I stop…as ‘I’ always do because 8 know this law very well from the sad experience of somebody who went through this very thing..Except it wasn’t nighttime.
    When sone hacjass can cause me loss because they screwed up and had not respect for others . It lights my goat.

    • Thank you for your interest and commenting, Dave. I suspect that your views are widely shared by motorists. I wish there was a way to bridge the gap in perspectives to promote / encourage / develop mutual respect and care of all road users to each other.

  • Thank you for the article. Do you know if there is a similar law that applies in the Province of Ontario?

    • Thank you for your interest.

      I just did a quick search of the Highway Traffic Act, which I believe to be the Ontario equivalent to our Motor Vehicle Act: I could not find a similar provision but I only briefly scanned through. I suggest taking the time to read through the act, section by section. And perhaps consult with an Ontario police officer who might be able to point you to something. If you cannot find one, you might lobby the government for what in my view is an important law.

  • I will read through the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. Thank you for the link and the quick response.