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How long must drivers wait for pedestrians at crosswalks?

I grew up in Alberta, and when I learned how to drive, we were taught that all cars have to stay stopped in both directions until someone has finished crossing. Now, I start crossing with my kids in a crosswalk and I'm lucky to have anyone stop at all, even after we've walked out into the crosswalk with our arms out. Once we're in it, cars breeze through the second we cross, sometimes right behind us. Have the rules changed? – Matt, Toronto

In Alberta, cars have to stay stopped at a crosswalk until pedestrians make it to the other side, police said.

"By the letter of the law, traffic has to stop in both directions," said Insp. Ken Thrower, traffic commander with the Calgary Police Service. Section 41 of Alberta's Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulations doesn't specifically mention both directions.

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It does say "a person driving a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk."

Since 2016 in Ontario, drivers and cyclists have to stop and wait until pedestrians have completely crossed at pedestrian crossovers and at normal crosswalks, if there's a school crossing guard there.

So what's a crossover?

"The crosswalk is at an intersection and the crossover is usually mid-block with the yellow lights overhead and the cross symbols on the roadway," said Ian Law, president and chief instructor of ILR Car Control School. "[Before] traffic had to stop until the pedestrians were halfway across; the new rule now says all vehicles must stop and stay stopped until the pedestrians have left the roadway."

It's confusing, and when the law was first announced, there was worry that it would apply at every intersection, and drivers wouldn't be allowed to turn right at any intersection until the crosswalk was clear.

So, you have to wait at a crossover – which doesn't always have flashing lights – but not at a normal stop sign or red light with painted lines (again, unless there's a school crossing guard there.)

"If there's a crossing guard with their sign out, you can't turn right, even if there's no pedestrians in your way," said Const. Clint Stibbe, with Toronto Police traffic services.

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Fines range from $150-$500, and drivers could also face three demerit points. Fines are doubled in community safety zones.

And everywhere else?

In British Columbia, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island, drivers must only yield half the road to pedestrians, said the Canadian Automobile Association.

While Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Saskatchewan have specific laws about school crossing guards, there's no specific wording about when drivers can proceed after stopping.

Right of way can be wrong

Just because the law says cars have to stop, it doesn't mean they will.

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"You've got the right of way as a pedestrian, but if you walk out without looking, you could end up getting hit," Thrower said. "It's very wise to look both ways and make sure you engage the driver; somebody might be looking down at their laps at their phones or be creeping ahead without realizing it. We've had people get run over at one mile an hour."

Sticking out your hand or pushing that button doesn't magically make drivers stop, Law said. "Never, ever assume any vehicle will stop. Red lights and stop signs do not stop cars and trucks – people do, and they are notoriously unreliable."

A 2015 French study found that when pedestrians at a crosswalk didn't make eye contact with drivers – instead, just looking at the car – only 45 per cent of drivers stopped.

When pedestrians stared directly at the driver's eyes, 68 per cent of drivers stopped.

But pedestrians need to pay attention, too. As of May 31, Toronto had 10 pedestrian fatalities. "In seven of them, the pedestrian had made an error," Stibbe said.

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com. Canada's a big place, so please let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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