The Problem with Crosswalks Ontario

The Problem with Crosswalks in Ontario

Written by Patrick Brown, Partner and Avery Kavanaugh, Summer Student

In Ontario, pedestrian safety at crosswalks has long been a critical concern, underscored by alarming statistics and reports highlighting the dangers pedestrians face. The 2012 Pedestrian Death Review by the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario revealed troubling insights into the circumstances surrounding pedestrian fatalities. Factors such as vehicle speed, driver, distraction, failure to yield and pedestrian behaviours contribute significantly to accidents, particularly at crosswalks.

The review identified five primary circumstances that accounted for 70% of pedestrian deaths. These include pedestrians being hit at mid-block locations while crossing, incidents where vehicles hit pedestrians on sidewalks or shoulders, and collisions involving vehicles turning left or right at intersections where pedestrians had the right-of-way. Disturbingly, factors like driver inattention, pedestrian disabilities, and intoxication further complicate safety concerns.


Bill 31, Making Ontario’s Roads Safer Act

In response to these findings, Ontario implemented significant legislative changes aimed at improving pedestrian safety. On January 1, 2016, Bill 31, the Transportation Statute Law Amendment Act (Making Ontario’s Roads Safer), 2015, came into effect, amending the Highway Traffic Act to enhance protections for pedestrians. Specifically, this legislation mandated that drivers make a complete stop and yield the entire roadway at pedestrian crossovers and school crossings where there are crossing guards.

Pedestrian crossovers are distinct from regular crosswalks, featuring pavement markings illuminated lights or signs, and pedestrian buttons to activate crossing signals.  To learn more about the differences between crossovers and crosswalks, click here.

Despite the legislative strides for safer crossovers, challenges remain in ensuring comprehensive pedestrian safety at crosswalks – the most common form of pedestrian crossing in Ontario. So far this year, there have been 9 pedestrian fatalities as well as 41 pedestrians who have been seriously injured in the City of Toronto alone, demonstrating the need for further protection.[1]

Bill 31 does not extend to standard crosswalks, but, there are important lessons to be learned from the creation of crossovers, and their established safety standards. Crosswalks often lack adequate signage, proper lighting, and enforced complete stops, but these are crucial considerations. For safer roadways, both drivers and pedestrians must understand the importance of these factors and maintain vigilance while approaching crosswalks.

Following the Signs

Specific signs have been mandated for different levels of crossovers in Ontario by O. Reg. 402/15, while standard crosswalks are typically only governed by “walk” and “don’t walk” indicators.[2] Pedestrians are only permitted to cross within marked areas and must obey the pedestrian control signs at crosswalks. In the same way, drivers are required to stop at designated signs or markings and yield to pedestrians lawfully in the crosswalks. Importantly, drivers are required to stop until it is safe to drive through the crosswalks.

Pedestrian walk indicators and green traffic lights cannot always be trusted. It is important to double-check your surroundings before following the “go” signals. Drivers and pedestrians both respond better in situations that match their expectations, and unexpected changes can lead to mistakes and accidents.[3] Pedestrians and drivers should always expect each other’s presence around crosswalks, fostering a shared responsibility for safety.

Lack of Visibility

At night, visibility at crosswalks can be poor, making these areas prone to risk for pedestrians. Luminescent markings and LED-lit crosswalks have been introduced to increase visibility and reduce accidents, but not all areas have these innovations. Unlike pedestrian crossovers, which often have lights requirements and auditory alerts for drivers, standard crosswalks may lack such features, emphasizing the importance of pedestrian visibility. Therefore, it is crucial for pedestrians to enhance their ability to be seen by staying in well-lit areas and by wearing reflective or light coloured clothing.

Inconsistent Vehicular Stops

Drivers are not required to stop at crosswalks or yield the entire roadway in the same way that they are at crossovers. In fact, some drivers may not stop at all. Where a driver is not paying close attention to their surroundings, is in a rush, or is distracted, they may approach crosswalks at high speeds. We know that the higher the vehicular speed at the time of impact, the higher the probability of fatality of pedestrians. Even small changes in speed can have a large impact on the severity of pedestrian collisions. For example, a pedestrian struck by a car travelling 50 km/h is almost six times more likely to be killed than a pedestrian struck at 30 km/h.[4]

Pedestrians must be vigilant, looking both ways and assessing the speed of approaching vehicles before crossing any street. Similarly, drivers should exercise caution by reducing their speed, especially when making turns at intersections with crosswalks. Good practice for drivers is to follow the standards of crossovers and make full stops at crosswalks, and yield to pedestrians from curb-to-curb, ensuring that no one is hit.

Inconsistent Pedestrian and Driver Behaviours

It’s unrealistic to expect uniform behavior from every pedestrian and driver. Pedestrians vary greatly in terms of mobility, speed, and their ability to perceive and react to potential conflicts, as well as their understanding of traffic control devices. Drivers, too, exhibit variability in attention levels and may misjudge the time pedestrians require to safely cross crosswalks. This variability underscores the importance of comprehensive road safety measures that accommodate diverse user behaviors and capabilities, promoting safer interactions between pedestrians and drivers.

In Conclusion

While some efforts have been made to improve pedestrian safety at crossings in Ontario, unique challenges still persist due to varying driver and pedestrian behaviours and inherent risks associated with inadequate infrastructure at crosswalks. There are important lessons to be learned by the creation of crossovers, and pedestrians and drivers should strictly follow crosswalk rules and exercise caution at all times while approaching crosswalks.

Drivers must be extra vigilant for pedestrian at all times and in all circumstances (regardless of who may or may not have the right of way).  This is due to the vulnerabilities of a pedestrian who is not protected by air bags or two tons of steel around them.  A small dent to a car cannot be compared to the dramatic injuries suffered by the pedestrian.  This power imbalance has been recognized under the law and therefore there is a reverse onus that applies against the driver when they strike down a pedestrian.   In these circumstances, a driver must prove they were taking reasonable care in the event they hit a pedestrian.  Simply stating “they did not see them” is simply not enough.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a pedestrian accident, it is important to contact experienced legal counsel for advice. Here at McLeish Orlando, we have over 25 years of experience navigating pedestrian claims. Contact a personal injury lawyer at McLeish Orlando for a free consultation today.




[3] (at page 15)


Patrick Brown


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