Pedestrians on the Highway

Pedestrian Crossing"Don't pedestrians have to use the sidewalks?" asks a reader. The concern expressed here is that when a safe place is provided for pedestrians away from traffic flow, some people choose not to use it. The reader observes that these people make life difficult for drivers by adding one more hazard on the roadway.

Highways Are Not Just for Drivers

First, a pause for thought. A highway is not the exclusive domain of drivers. It is a public way meant for all, pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. Over time rules have evolved to define how we share this community resource. When we follow these rules we know what to expect from each other in terms of how to share safely.

What is a Roadway?

The term roadway is an important one to this discussion. The roadway is the part of a highway between the yellow center line and either the solid white line at the right edge of the pavement, or if there is no solid white line then the right hand edge of the pavement.

What is the Shoulder?

The shoulder is the area to the right of that solid white line or to the right of the pavement edge, depending on whether the line is marked or not.

What is a Sidewalk?

Finally, a sidewalk is the area between the side of a roadway and the adjacent property lines improved for the use of pedestrians. It does not have to be paved or concreted, simply improved in some fashion to facilitate walking there.

Drivers must not drive on and must not park on a sidewalk. The exceptions to this are when driving over it to leave the highway or when it is permitted through a bylaw.

Pedestrians Must Not Walk on the Roadway

pedestrians belong on sidewalks

When a passable sidewalk is present beside the highway, a pedestrian must not walk on the roadway. This does not force the pedestrian onto the sidewalk, but does require that they use either the sidewalk or the shoulder area if there is no sidewalk present on the side that they choose to walk on.

No Sidewalk or the Sidewalk is Impassible

If there is no sidewalk or the sidewalk is not reasonably passable, the pedestrian must walk on the shoulder if the roadway is marked with a solid white line on the right or the extreme left side of the roadway if there is no white line.

Drivers Must Share the Roadway

Drivers take note, when there is no sidewalk you must be prepared to share the roadway with pedestrians. In addition, the pedestrian must walk facing the oncoming traffic.

Driver Must Not Collide With Pedestrian

Ultimately, it is up to the driver not to collide with a pedestrian on the highway. The definition of the word highway used here is very broad.

Forbidden Pedestrian Actions

Pedestrians must not be on the roadway to hitch hike, solicit employment or to conduct business with the occupant of a motor vehicle.

Collision Statistics

In 2022, 51 pedestrians were killed and 1.989 injured in 2,705 collisions in British Columbia. Clearly, it is dangerous to walk beside or cross a highway. Following the rules will not guarantee that you will always be safe but it will certainly reduce the risk.

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When I was a kid all highways had signs "Walk on left facing traffic". In school it was drilled into us to always walk towards the traffic. Why is this not enforced? I can think of cases over the last few years, the woman jogging, the wedding party. In each case people lost their lives. The thing is they were all breaking the law. The were walking or jogging going in the direction of traffic. In these cases the blame is always put onto the driver but at the same time should not the pedestrians take some of the responsibility?

In this space tonight I read how many people lose their lives each year. I would like to know how many were walking on the correct side of the road?

I was taught that when driving, if you encounter a pedestrian on the paved surface of the road (i.e., where sidewalks and shoulders are not available) that you slow down and check for oncoming cars before moving over to the left to pass the pedestians safely. This does not seem to be the case with many drivers these days as they barely break speed and give the barest amount of room as they pass pedestrians.

So, while I completely understand that 'in theory' it is safest for pedestrians to walk facing traffic, I have to say that when I'm on the roads in the neighbourhood where I live, there are several sections where it feels safter to walk on the wrong side. This is because the roads here are narrow (often the paved surface is barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass), have no shoulder, (usually) no sidewalk, frequent blind corners, and drivers are going too fast (not leaving enough response time to come face-to-face with a pedestrian, on the pavement, around a blind corner).

If there is space on the unpaved shoulder for me to step off of the pavement surface to allow an oncoming car to pass, they are likely passing me within inches - especially if a vehicle is in the oncoming lane. In many places, there is actually no safe space to step off of the paved surface on the left side of the road. For this reason, myself and my neighbours will often cross back and forth - walking on the side of the road where we feel most visible and where there is space to step right off of the paved surface.

If drivers were traveling at safe speeds and prepared to encounter pedestrians, it would not be such a problem, however, few drivers seem to know how to pass pedestrians in situations like this - despite the fact that "it is up to the driver not to collide with a pedestrian".

As someone who also drives on these roads, I have found that if I travel at the advisory speed limit, that I have no problem seeing pedestrians on the road in time to slow down my speed (or come to a stop, if needed) to make sure it is safe (from oncoming vehicles) for me to move over to pass.

Close to my neighbourhood, as well as other places around BC, I’ve noticed that on some secondary roads without sidewalks the yellow directional dividing line is offset from the centre of the pavement in order to mark a shoulder on only one side.  This appears to be an attempt to provide more space for people walking; however, users are still bound by the Motor Vehicle Act to walk facing traffic, as they should in the interest of self-preservation.  In one particularly curious case (Roberton Blvd near French Creek in the Regional District of Nanaimo) this single shoulder is switched from one side of the road to the other at one point and a zebra crosswalk "connects" the two sections.  The road has guide signs indicating a pedestrian and cycling route and some people walking and cycling use the marked shoulder in both directions.  Fortunately, many users are savvy enough to ignore the “design” and cycle on the right, walk on the left as per the MVA.  This does, however, raise the question of responsibility should a collision occur.


Google street view for this area is from 2015 so none of the lines mentioned in the post are there to see. Hopefully it will update one day...

Yes a good set out of what is an international law of driving. Roads can also be used by horse and carriage as in many cities still run such as York in England. Around world same in cities.Driver of a car must give way to horse power and slow down when attempting to pass. Not to scare the poor animal as some motorbikes revel in. They know its wrong so no need to say more. We come to what slows the speed of traffic down ,such as dead policemen bumps in road as so called by all .Not sure what is the real name but a bump set in road at various measurements so vehicles slow down or damage suspension . I have seen and suffered from idiots that care not about the bumps but go fast over and laugh at slow drivers such as me taking my time. Licenses are too easily gained and tests must be much harder to help sort this out .Age for driving should be 21 and hope by then sense is gained by drivers before gaining control of a death machine called a motor car .Only my thoughts I know but aghast to think else seeing the accidents on road today that one would not have seen in 1965 when I stated driving .Drivers used to salute each other as they passed now its is shake the fist and give the screw you finger.

I ride a bicycle to and from work 3 days a week. On one stretch of my route there is a two way rural road with car traffic and many walkers. I encounter 2-3 women walkers every morning who will not yield any room on the lane where I am riding. There is significant room on the shoulder of the road where they can occupy in order to let orderly movement of traffic. Unfortunately, these individuals feel their ability to walk side-by-side across the road so they can continue visiting is more important then not forcing vehicles (including bike traffic) into the oncoming lane. Most recently these individuals have taken to yelling insults at me and demanding I ride into oncoming traffic as opposed to them yielding to traffic and walking closer to the shoulder instead of the entire roadway.

I could relent and ride into oncoming traffic but this is definitely not safe for myself or other motorist who drive this road.

My question: how can I deal with this situation other then detouring on another road which is a substantial detour?

Section 182 of our Motor Vehicle Act essentially limits pedestrians not using sidewalks to walking single file on the roadway or shoulder:

182 (2) If there is no sidewalk, a pedestrian walking along or on a highway must walk only on the extreme left side of the roadway or the shoulder of the highway, facing traffic approaching from the opposite direction.

Any person walking to the right of another would not be "on the extreme left side."

This is where I would usually recommend a complaint to police, but my experience shows that this is likely to be a waste of your time.

Unfortunately, dealing with ignorance can be difficult. You just have to grit your teeth and do the best that you can in the circumstances.