Don’t Start Crossing When the Pedestrian Countdown Has Commenced!

Posted January 6, 2020
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Did you know that it is illegal to start crossing an intersection once the pedestrian countdown has started? I bet you didn’t.

Many of us consider the pedestrian countdown or the associated flashing “don’t walk” pedestrian hand signal as an alert to cross quickly or to speed up as the light is about to change.

But section 144(27) of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act stipulates that it is illegal to start crossing an intersection in these circumstances. While pedestrians may continue crossing after the pedestrian countdown commences (or the “don’t walk” pedestrian hand signal starts flashing), you are not legally allowed to start crossing.

Intersections countdowns are fairly long (some over 20 seconds) providing most of us plenty of time to cross an intersection within the countdown period. In almost all circumstances, there is enough time to cross safely, especially for pedestrians that pay close attention to oncoming traffic.

More and more defence lawyers are taking issue with pedestrians starting to cross intersections during the countdown suggesting that pedestrians crossing in these circumstances face large contributory negligence reductions. In other words, pedestrians hit by vehicles in these circumstances are being accused of crossing illegally and are being told that their lawsuit against the alleged at-fault driver faces liability hurdles as a result.

Any time a pedestrian is hit by a motor vehicle the driver is presumed to be legally responsible. A reverse onus applies, meaning that the driver is assumed to be responsible unless they can establish otherwise. Defence lawyers are now arguing that the reverse onus has been met by establishing that the pedestrian crossed illegally if they started to cross when the pedestrian countdown or the associated “don’t walk” pedestrian hand signal started flashing.

When trauma lawyers help accident victims there are two issues in a lawsuit: legal responsibility (called liability) and damages. When a pedestrian is hit by a vehicle, a trauma lawyer generally assumes that the vehicle is responsible because at law they are presumed to be responsible. The law prohibiting pedestrians from starting to cross late on a green light has gained more traction with defence lawyers trying to shift some legal responsibility to the injured pedestrian.

Pedestrians should avoid late crossing of intersections for their own safety and because of the illegal nature of the crossing.

Next time you approach an intersection and see the countdown commence, simply stop and wait for the next cycle to occur rather than hastily crossing the intersection on what is otherwise a green light.


Darcy Merkur is a highly regarded Ontario trauma lawyer helping accident victims such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, who have sustained catastrophic injuries. 

Darcy can be reached at 416-868-3176 or by EMAIL.