Reader seeks knowledge on pedestrian right-of-way laws

Dear Street Smarts, Q: What is the law regarding vehicles stopped for pedestrians in a crosswalk? I always thought cars had to stay stopped -- not rolling, edging through, etc. -- until the pedestrian reached the sidewalk, with the possible exception of divided roads that have pedestrian islands in the middle. What is the law on that? It really bothers me to see impatient drivers stomping on the gas the minute a pedestrian crosses in front of them, so close sometimes the pedestrian can feel the rush of air from the passing vehicle. I've also experienced a heart-stopping moment when a child tore loose from his mom to go back to retrieve something he dropped, and a car was already crossing the intersection right near him. So, what's the law? Thank you. Gale Geurin, Capitola A: According to California Vehicle Code section 21950: "(a) The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, except as otherwise provided in this chapter. (b) This section does not relieve a pedestrian from the duty of using due care for his or her safety. No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. No pedestrian may unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk. (c) The driver of a vehicle approaching a pedestrian within any marked or unmarked crosswalk shall exercise all due care and shall reduce the speed of the vehicle or take any other action relating to the operation of the vehicle as necessary to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian. (d) Subsection (b) does not relieve a driver of a vehicle from the duty of exercising due care for the safety of any pedestrian within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection." “You will find no requirement of the driver of a motor vehicle to completely stop, or remained stopped until the pedestrian reaches a certain point,” said CHP Officer Sarah Jackson, spokeswoman. “The motorist is responsible to yield the right-of-way until the pedestrian is no longer reasonably endangered by the vehicle. Conversely, the pedestrian is responsible to wait until reasonably safe to begin crossing, and to not unnecessarily impede traffic.” In the scenario of a child running back in front of the proceeding vehicle, the child would be at fault, Jackson said while citing the following case law. “In People vs. McLachlan (1939) Cal. App. 2d Supp. 754, the driver of a motor vehicle --the defendant motorist -- approached a crosswalk which crossed a north/south aligned, four lane road” she said. “He was traveling at approximately 25 miles per hour, in a northerly direction, in the left lane. Two pedestrians were crossing the road within the crosswalk, from west to east. The pedestrians were walking within the lane to the immediate right of the defendant motorist when another motorist approached the pedestrians in that right lane, at a high rate of speed.” Thinking it was safe to proceed and unaware of the speeding vehicle in the other lane, the defendant motorist began to move forward, Jackson said. However, in an attempt to avoid being struck by the fast approaching vehicle in the right lane, the pedestrians ran back into the defendant motorist’s path, Jackson said. The defendant driver hit the brakes, but could not avoid striking the pedestrians. “The court held that defendant did not have a duty to stop before reaching the crosswalk, and he was not required to anticipate that the pedestrians would turn around,” said Jackson. “Although the crossing pedestrians were still in the crosswalk, the motorist had a right to pass at a safe speed and at a safe distance from the pedestrians.” Here’s another view on the subject from Santa Cruz Police Capt. Steve Clark: “The crux of the section depends on each circumstance and how the safety of the pedestrian was safeguarded and what was reasonable,” he said. “Before the vehicle can proceed, the pedestrian has to be appreciably clear from any danger, so much so that the driver would be failing to safeguard the pedestrian and thus violating their right-of-way.” There is no requirement in the statute that requires drivers “to wait until the pedestrian is on the other sidewalk just to ensure their ‘right-of-way’ is not violated,” said Clark. “Locally, the courts have ruled that on two lane roadways, the driver needs to wait until the pedestrian is across the street on the opposing sidewalk. On divided or four lane roadways, it suffices to wait until the pedestrian in crossing the opposing lanes. In any case, if it is remotely close, the pedestrian gets the benefit of the doubt and drivers risk citation if they fail to properly yield. “An interesting side note here is a common belief that the pedestrian has a ‘carte blanch’ right-of-way,” Clark said. “In fact, they do not. Pedestrians have a responsibility to ensure it is safe to do so before they venture out into the street. This scenario plays out regularly in downtown traffic, where pedestrians will simply cross streets without regard for vehicle traffic in the road. Under these circumstances, pedestrians are required to “wait their turn” and occupy the roadway when it is safe to do so. Once they have met that obligation, then they have the right-of way and cars must yield to them.” Q: The electronic sign board on northbound Highway 1 between 41st and Soquel avenues exit has been a major concern since day one. Drivers slow down to read to the message and then traffic backs up to Bay Avenue. It seems to be more of a hindrance than a help. Dan Young, via the online Sentinel Reader Forum A: The electronic message sign isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, said Bernard Walik of Caltrans District 4, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, which operates the signs. “The sign was located to provide information for the Highway 1/17 interchange,” he said. “As you are aware, there are many incidents along the Highway 17 that can lead to long delays. The primary purpose of the Changeable Message Sign was to give motorist ample warning about these conditions so they may alter their travel.” The sign also is used for "Child Abduction Messages," Walik said. As for its placement, “the most appropriate locations for installing or placing a Changeable Message Sign is in advance of major decision points such as interchanges or intersections, where motorists can respond to specific information displayed,” Walik said. “Depending on the motorist, the amount of sight distance and the offset of the sign from the edge of roadway can influence the time it takes to read and understand the sign. These signs were designed to be read quickly to minimized traffic disruption.” Moving this sign “would undermine the purpose of the sign,” he said. Relocating it also would be costly. “I estimate it would cost around $100,000 to $250,000 to relocate the sign,” said Walik. “The cost is depends on the cost of new sign foundation, moving the steel frame truss, the cost to supply electricity to sign and the cost to connect phone services to sign.” Gaining driving knowledge Senior citizens who would like to brush up on the rules of the road, learn how aging impacts their driving abilities and save up to 10 percent on their car insurance can sign up for driver education classes offered through the AARP Driver Safety Program. The schedule for January and February is 12:30-4:30 p.m., Monday and Tuesday:
  • Jan 25 and 26, at the Watsonville Adult School, 294 Green Valley Road, Watsonville.
  • Feb. 8 and 9, at the Louden Nelson Community Center, 301 Center Street in Santa Cruz.
Participants must attend both days of instruction, which adds up to eight-hours of learning, to earn the discounted insurance rates. Meanwhile, drivers who have already the AARP’s class and would like to renew their certification can attend a session 12:15-4:45 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20 at the Louden Nelson. For information about classes taught at the Louden Nelson, call Fred Dunn-Ruiz at 426-6472. For those offered in Watsonville, call 786-2160.
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