About a month ago, I was in a line of traffic with three vehicles inside the diamonds indicating a pedestrian crossing. Without warning, a lady pushing a pram walked straight across the road without looking, almost causing a three-car pile-up. Who is in the wrong, the motorist or the pedestrian? I was under the impression that if motorists are between the crossing and the diamond, they have the right of way.
John Brough, Auckland.
The Road Code states that when you are approaching a pedestrian crossing you must slow down and be ready to stop for any pedestrians stepping on to, or already on, the crossing. This includes people who are clearly waiting to use the crossing. The code also exhorts pedestrians not to step out suddenly on to a pedestrian crossing if vehicles are so close to the crossing that they cannot stop. In the situation you describe, Mr Brough, I would be inclined to think that the lady with the pram was at fault.
As a motorist you do not have automatic right of way at a pedestrian crossing as there is what's called a duty of care. You may not mow down pedestrians just because you think you are in the right. Most crossings have signs that you are approaching a crossing, such as fluorescent orange discs, or round yellow lights that flash at night. White diamonds are generally painted on the road before the crossing and a white limit line shows you where to stop.
And in a similar vein ...
Recently a friend of mine was crossing the road to a safety island in the middle. There was stationary traffic backed up on her side past the island due to an intersection holdup and no zebra stripes across the road, as is often the case with a safety island. As she walked through the traffic to get to the middle, a driver deliberately drove his car into her and yelled abuse. Could you clarify the rules regarding the use of the safety island if there is traffic backed up?
Lynette Kilgour, Auckland.
Ouch. Not only is that not nice, it's illegal. I'm not sure of the exact term but I think assault with a vehicle might cover it. A motorist must never deliberately drive into a pedestrian.
If there were no zebra stripes, it is not a pedestrian crossing. Pedestrian refuge islands are placed in the centre of busy roads to allow pedestrians a safe place to cross.
Without excusing the driver, for whom there is no mitigation, a pedestrian does not have the right of way at a refuge. They must be sure that they are not in danger if they cross.
In this situation, if the traffic was stopped and your friend could see that it was not going to start moving while she was crossing, I can see no reason why she should not cross, at least as far as the refuge.
The old Auckland City Council website has a nice little animated video on the use of pedestrian refuges. Visit aucklandcity.govt.nz.