Jaywalking - Cross at Your Own Risk

No JaywalkingI read the Victoria Times Colonist on line each morning and a story about jaywalking caught my attention. After reading the story all I am left with is the feeling that the situation was poorly explained and readers might decide that the police should have been doing more important things than enforcing pedestrian bylaws.

A spokesperson for the City of Victoria says that jaywalking is allowed in the area under discussion because of an exemption to the traffic bylaw used to promote a pedestrian friendly area.

image of women jaywalking

History of Jaywalking

The practice was born from the continuing evolution of the motor vehicle and the streets that it ran on. In the beginning when vehicle speeds were 16 km/h or slower, one simply walked across wherever they wished to. As vehicle speeds increased, this became a dangerous thing to do if a pedestrian didn't exercise some caution. The power of shame was applied to people who had the audacity to cross anywhere other than at the intersection.

Jaywalking is something that everyone does and it isn't always a bad thing to do.

The Law

The two sections in the Motor Vehicle Act that regulate pedestrians not in a crosswalk only do so when the pedestrian has either failed to yield to vehicular traffic or stepped off the curb at a time when the driver could not yield to them even if they tried to. Both of these situations are dangerous, interrupt traffic flow and potentially result in injury or death. The adults being dealt with in this story for failing to yield that feel put upon definitely know better and have no room to complain.

Jaywalking may be prohibited on streets within municipal boundaries, but only if the municipality has created a bylaw to discourage it.

Mid Block Crossing May Be Safer

Mid-block crossings can be safer than crosswalks at intersections because drivers have fewer demands on their attention and are more likely to see and react to pedestrians. Whether this extends to random crossings rather than a marked mid-block crossing depends on the level of risk that a pedestrian is willing to take.

Crash Data

In 2020, I.C.B.C. collision statistics report that 1,600 collisions injured 1,500 and killed (in 2019) 49 people in our province. This is a significant decrease from previous years. About 40% of these collisions resulted from the pedestrian doing something that involved them in the collision rather than being the fault of the driver.

Pedestrians Are Responsible Too

It's not reasonable to only deal with the drivers. Pedestrians must shoulder their share of the responsibility and perhaps need a refresher on how to cross the road safely.

Reference Links

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I live in West Vancouver and - last I heard - crossing mid-block is not illegal. I’ve even observed cops doing it and they would never break the law: Would they? However, if the pedestrian is struck, it’s their fault.

Personally, as a driver or pedestrian, I’ve never had a problem with this. Matter of fact, if one crosses at an intersection there are four directions from which a driver can kill you. But, if one crosses mid-block there are only two directions to be killed from.

One of my little peeves dates back to my life in Ontario. There, they have an excellent crosswalk system for which the rules are strictly enforced. Firstly, the pedestrian must indicate by an outstretched arm their intent to cross the road. (How many times have you come to an intersection with somebody standing as inert as a fire hydrant and you, as driver, have no idea what their purpose is ) Also, driving lanes are clearly marked by big ‘X‘s 50’(?) either side of the crosswalk. Any vehicle travelling through but outside the ‘X’ is obligated to stop when a pedestrian has signalled.

Simple, clear & unambiguous. Why can’t BC adopt such a system?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Interesting point on the outstretched arm. My experience was from years ago and that’s what we were taught at the time. Apparently, Ontario changed the rules in 2016.  From my review, there is no longer any explicit mention of outstretching one’s arm however it is incumbent on the pedestrian to “clearly indicate they intend to cross”.

If you check the first ‘how to’ video in this link put out from Hamilton, Ontario the presenter does suggest exactly that: Extending one’s arm to indicate to the driver they intend to cross.


Another key difference from BC, I notice, is that the Ontario rules for pedestrian crossovers require the vehicle to fully stop until the pedestrian has completely crossed and off the roadway.

Unfortunately now, I have to adjust my own behaviour on this. I also noticed the rules in BC require my vehicle to remain stopped while the pedestrian is in my half of the roadway. Oops! I usually figure it’s Ok to drive on once the pedestrian is at least 6’ past my car. My bad!

That was good, eh?

Then there's the individuals who stand around on the corner (or the pedestrian bulge, even), yacking into their cell phone, and it's challenging to tell if they're wanting to cross the road or just stand in the way of everyone else while they screw up traffic. Especially at 4-Way stops ... 

I lived in Toronto in the 1980s, which at the time had a high tolerance for crossing mid-block, even on major 4-lane roadways.  Drivers simply trusted that pedestrians would stay put on the curb or centreline until there was a break in traffic allowing them to proceed across the road.

When I moved to the Maritimes I was shocked (embarrassed?) at the driver culture: drivers would come to a halt mid-block to allow pedestrians to cross in front of them, and would wave me across - even if I wasn’t planning to cross.  I took to standing with my back to the road to avoid such situations.

BC is somewhere in the middle?

Likely a good thing...

in general I’ve never found the news media to be a great source for information about laws, of any type.

First off,, What is “Jaywalking” ? The Wikipedia link you posted states: “Jaywalking occurs when a pedestrian walks in or crosses a roadway that has traffic, other than at a suitable crossing point, or otherwise in disregard of traffic rules”.

Wikipedia should have defined “suitable”, but “that has traffic” isn’t relevant to Jaywalking in any bylaw in BC that I’ve seen, and “otherwise in disregard to traffic rules”, could and would include a pedestrian disobeying a traffic light, which is NOT jaywalking, it a different offense.

Like Wikipedia, some think jaywalking is “any illegal crossing of a roadway”, including crossing at an intersection while the traffic light regulating your direction of travel is red.

Others think it’s “crossing a roadway mid block”.

Any legislative authority can define an offense. So “jaywalking” could be defined in a municipal bylaw as anything the municipality wanted, however generally the way in which the City of Vancouver in it’s Street and Traffic Bylaw has defined it, is generally accepted as the definition of “jaywalking”

From the City of Vancouver Street and Traffic Bylaw 2849 -

"Jaywalk" means to cross a roadway, not being a lane, at any place which is not within a crosswalk and which is less than one block from an intersection at which traffic control signals are in operation.

In other words if an intersection with a traffic light is less than a block away, you must cross at that intersection, the exception is if there is a crosswalk where you are crossing even if there is a traffic light within one block.

So you want to cross a street, you a mid block, and although the street may be wide and busy if you are more than a block from an intersection CONTROLLED BY A TRAFFIC LIGHT you can legally cross the roadway. Taking into account the two rules in the Motor Vehicle Act, that you cant just step out and fail to yield to a vehicle or without giving vehicles a chance to stop.

Pretty simple.

Why do municipalities need a Jaywalking Bylaw ? Because the provincial traffic laws don’t provide for that circumstance.

The glaring problem,,,, let’s take a fairly large city in the interior of BC, Kelowna. They don’t have a Jaywalking Bylaw. So you are downtown, standing at a major intersection controlled by a traffic light, you get fed up waiting for the light to turn green, or the “walk” signal to come on. If you cross against the red light or the “don’t walk” signal you a subject to a ticket for being a pedestrian disobeying a traffic control device BUT if you move to the area just outside the intersection and cross there, you have not committed any offense as long as you yielded to any vehicles. The same goes for anywhere on that street in Kelowna, and most smaller cities. Five feet from the intersection or mid block, you are not committing an offense.

That’s why jaywalking bylaws are required. I guess as small town grow and grow at some point they outgrown the bylaws that were in place when there wasn’t the traffic volume.

Thank you for an excellent overview of the pedestrian/vehicle conflict and how it is addressed in traffic law. It is unfortunate that so many people, both drivers and pedestrian, have inadequate understanding of their rights and responsibilities in this regard. The consequences are tragic. As with so many areas of traffic safety, ignorance is lethal as it shapes how individuals behave.

Perhaps the best laws to pay attention to are the laws of physics, in which mass times velocity generates the energy that is so lethal to pedestrians. The old expression “look before you leap” should be prominent in our consciousness on the road, either in our vehicles or on foot. It doesn’t matter who is supposed to be yielding to the other party – don’t put your body at risk in front of oncoming vehicles. It’s really that simple.