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Behind-the-Wheel

How not to get run over

In Castanet News last week, there was a story about a Surrey family hit by a car while using a newly marked crosswalk. 

Two young children were seriously injured, and while the police did not specify a reason for the incident, the spokesman did say that the family members were not the only people using the crosswalk at the time. 

Cpl. Fedirchuk suggested that both drivers and pedestrians need to pay more attention to each other. This raises the question of whether the family stepped out in front of the car when they should not have, or whether the driver failed to yield to pedestrians in a busy crosswalk. 

Knowing the expectations for both drivers and pedestrians at crosswalks may help to prevent collisions like this in the future.

Crosswalk roulette 

Drivers and cyclists are not required to yield to a pedestrian until the pedestrian physically occupies the crosswalk. That means stepping off the sidewalk, and onto the road. 

It's a lesson from one of my first visits to the courtroom, one that I will not forget. I had written a traffic ticket to a driver for failing to yield to a pedestrian waiting patiently on the sidewalk for her turn to cross. It didn't take the judge long to dismiss the ticket, for want of evidence that the driver had been required to yield.

As odd as it may seem, marked crosswalks are dangerous places. Over half of pedestrian collisions occur at intersections. Another surprise: More markings are not better than fewer markings. 

Not as straightforward as you think

The Pedestrian Crossing Control Manual for British Columbia 

As pedestrian control issues are often emotionally charged, there can be a tendency to assume that using more traffic control devices will resolve pedestrian safety problems. However, experience has shown that the overuse of devices may reduce their effectiveness.

The manual also states:

Pedestrian crossing safety relies on the judgement exercised by pedestrians and drivers. To interact safely requires an exchange of information between the pedestrian and the motorist. 

Never assume that you have the right of way as a pedestrian or as a driver. Right of way is something that is given, not taken.

For the pedestrian

Using a crosswalk is simple. First, look both ways for approaching traffic. If it is safe to step into the crosswalk, do so. If not, wait until it is. As we teach children to do, point your way across by holding your arm up and pointing to the far side. This reinforces in the driver's mind that you intend to cross, and are not just passing the time of day. Make eye contact with the driver, and be sure they come to a complete stop. Step out to the edge of that vehicle, and repeat the sequence at each successive lane, making sure not to enter it until after the traffic in it has stopped.

For the driver

There is an onus on the driver to exercise due care to avoid colliding with a pedestrian who is on the highway. Most of us would think that this would only apply if the pedestrian is using an area where vehicles normally drive. This would be incorrect, as, by definition, places such as the shoulder and sidewalks are part of the highway. You must pay attention to the travels of people on foot, to yield the right of way as required by law, and to prevent a collision through anticipation of what might happen.

Share the road

If you approach the act of driving and walking with an attitude of sharing the road together, it is more likely that difficulties can be avoided. It is only if you become selfish and insist on being first that the problems begin, particularly for the pedestrian, as they are the ones with the most to lose regardless of whether they are right or wrong.

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It won't happen to me

Have you ever met anyone who admits to being less than a good driver? 

Probably not.

You know, in your own mind, that you are an excellent driver, just as you know everybody else isn't. This is called optimism bias, and it is something that affects us all. We are optimistic about our personal capabilities, and, in particular, our driving skills.

We’ve all had plenty of driving experience. “Well, that traffic ticket was just the cop, making a quota!”

We've never been involved in a crash. “The fender-bender? Totally minor, doesn’t count, and won't happen again anyway!”

And all those bad situations involving other drivers? “Well sure, they don’t know how to drive, they’re the ones who should pay attention and learn to drive safely!” 

This inflated sense of confidence in our driving ability makes us feel sure that we can cut corners just a little by exceeding the speed limit (crash risk increases 10X at 25 km/hour over), sending a couple of text messages (crash risk increases 20X), or having a couple of drinks before we leave (crash risk at least double). 

After all, we’re excellent drivers, the problem isn’t us. And that optimism bias will allow us to continue discounting the risk until something happens that shows us otherwise.

The most common response from drivers I’ve stopped for a traffic violation was an excuse to justify why they had done what they were stopped for. Fact is, they had weighed the risk, and decided that their needs were more important than obeying the traffic rules. Experience dictated that since it had not caused problems in the past, it was acceptable to do it again that day. However, their assessment of risk minimized the possibility of being involved in a collision, and did not factor in the chance of my presence.

ICBC has told us that driver education for new drivers doesn’t improve their crash risk outcomes. Over-confidence is not a good thing when you are learning new skills, and it appears that the knowledge gained can sometimes lead to people thinking they are more skillful drivers than they really are. The driving skills training alone did not contribute to a reduction in crash risk. 

Stressing accountability for errors, on the other hand, would be more beneficial. As well, making a change in risk perception and driver attitude could help overcome this optimism bias we have. However, it is not a simple feat. 

Impaired driving is a good example of this. During my lifetime, the attitude of making it a contest to get home after drinking has changed to either limiting your consumption or arranging for a designated driver. 

However, I know that it is not difficult to find an impaired driver on our highways now.

I used to park my marked police car in a bar parking lot about an hour before closing time. I would watch someone exit the door, look at me, and go back into the bar. A little while later, that person would peek out the door again, see me still there, and go back inside. 

This might repeat through the evening until bar staff moved everyone outside and locked the doors. Then we’d have a group of impaired drivers standing around watching me, waiting for someone brave or foolish enough to get into their vehicle and lead me away so the rest could make their escape.

We still have a long way to go.

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Do you know the rules?

The interaction I have with others on the subject of driving and traffic laws is always very interesting. 

Some people illustrate their points with incorrect information while some, despite years of driving, find they don't actually have a solid grasp of the laws. I am always learning something new as well. 

I hope that I am helping others by writing these articles, because we are rarely the better-than-average drivers we think we are.

Discussion of my article last week branched off to include the Immediate Roadside Prohibition (IRP) system in BC. 

I offered the opinion that any driver who receives an IRP deserves it, as they knew, when they got behind the wheel, that they should not be there. 

This was countered with the response that the IRP “. . . relies largely upon evidence provided by roadside screening devices, which are not to be confused with the far more sophisticated and accurate breathalyzer device. A breathalyzer test is admissible in a criminal trial, whereas the test of the far simpler and less accurate screening device encountered at a roadblock is not."

While I will agree that the instrument used at the detachment for breath testing is more sophisticated than the one used at the roadside, this person is mistaken as to the accuracy. When properly calibrated and utilized, both have the same accuracy of +/- 10 milligrams percent. 

Further, the result of tests conducted with either instrument is admissible in court. However, because of the way that the impaired driving law in the Criminal Code is constructed, the offence of driving with a blood alcohol level of more than .08 cannot be prosecuted on the strength of the screening device reading alone.

On another note, I was also asked about a sign with an arrow in a red circle without a slash on a white background, posted below a stop sign. I was confused, because signs of this nature have either a green circle to show what movement is permitted, or a red circle and slash to show what is forbidden. 

The commenter went back for another look at the sign, and found that it was, in fact, a right arrow in a green circle. This sign means that a driver may only exit by making a right turn after stopping.

After a bit of back and forth over why this sign would be posted, I was told that much of the traffic ignored both the signs and the lines. The drivers did whatever they wanted, and besides, how was someone supposed to know about these obscure points in traffic laws?

Both of these conversations illustrate that sometimes what we think we know is wrong. 

I suspect that the comment on the IRP stems from incomplete or poorly understood information gained from the media. 

As for the other, signs and lines are part of the basic knowledge required by any driver. Unless we make an effort to reinforce what we've already learned, and make a point of keeping up with inevitable change, we may find ourselves without the knowledge needed to drive properly and safely.

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Nothing but a tax grab

"This is nothing but a tax grab!" 

These words are often spoken by drivers after signing to acknowledge receipt of a violation ticket. I can understand the frustration in these circumstances, but I wish there was a little thought behind it, rather than just parroting something inappropriate.

To me, a tax grab is an unscrupulous action by government at any level to extract money from taxpayers for general revenue. 

A violation ticket, on the other hand, is a tool in an attempt to modify driving behaviour, encourage compliance with the rules, and promote road safety. 

If you truly believe that this is a tax grab, then I invite you to reconsider. 

For one thing, voluntary conformity will eliminate the ‘tax’. Deliberate violation is a decision that you make, and means that you chose to accept the risk of being ‘taxed’. 

In simple terms: Behave and you won't get spanked.

The Traffic Fine Revenue Sharing program returns net revenues from traffic fines to communities in the form of an unconditional grant. Municipalities must use the money in ways related to community safety, and rural areas receive a reduction in policing costs. I would prefer to see the grants used to promote road safety and driver improvement exclusively.

Photo radar, red light cameras, and increased penalties for distracted driving are not examples of tax grabs. They are genuine attempts by the people that we elect to make our highways safer. I will accept that photo radar was politically unpalatable, but it may be a bitter pill that we should swallow in our own best interests. 

Think what you will about photo radar, but a report in Traffic Injury Prevention from December 2005 found that in 2001, the program saved the province of BC $114 million and ICBC $38 million through the reduction of collisions and injuries. 

Accident Analysis and Prevention reported in July of 2000 that photo radar was responsible for a 25% reduction in daytime unsafe speed related collisions, an 11% reduction in daytime traffic collision victims carried by ambulances, and a 17%, reduction in daytime traffic collision fatalities.

Red light cameras are also useful in reducing the types of intersection collisions that produce injury, according to both the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety and the Institute of Transportation Engineers. The drawback associated to these cameras is an increase in rear end collisions, both at intersections with cameras, and from the spillover effect at intersections without cameras. This is attributed to drivers who follow too closely, which is another epidemic problem in our province.

The effectiveness of higher fines is not as clear. While it does change people's perceptions of the hazard related to the act, it may not reduce the incidence of the behaviour. My experience shows that it increases the court's reluctance to impose them, which is likely why BC mandated minimums when tiered penalties for speeding were added to the Motor Vehicle Act.

The author is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. To learn more, please visit drivesmartbc.ca

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More Behind the Wheel articles

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About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

To comment, please email

To learn more, visit DriveSmartBC



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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