Sidewalks are stop signs

I love playing devil’s advocate. Challenging perceptions is fun. 

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 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 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
  • Section 183(6)(a-c) requires the use of lights at night
  • Section 184(1) requires a helmet
  • Section 183(1) imposes obligations of a vehicle on a cyclist, which includes riding with instead of against traffic.

What 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 as 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 before 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 before the sidewalk and looked to her right to see if there were any pedestrians, as the law required, she would have seen the un-helmeted 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 per cent 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 per cent of the injuries.

I challenge the RCMP to blitz this important road safety issue. Imagine the tickets that would be issued if police were 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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About the Author

Paul Hergott began practicing law in 1995, in a general litigation practice. Of the various areas of litigation, he became most drawn to, and passionate about, pursuing fair compensation for injured victims. This gradually became his exclusive area of practice.

In 2007, Paul opened Hergott Law, a boutique personal injury law firm in the Central Interior, serving personal injury clients from all over British Columbia. Paul’s practice is restricted to acting only for the injured victim, never for ICBC or for other insurance companies.

Paul became a weekly newspaper columnist in January of 2007, when his first column entitled “It’s not about screwing the Insurance Company” was published. 

Please feel free to email or call Paul (1.855.437.4688) with legal issues you might like him to write about in his column, or to offer your feedback about something he has written.

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