Pedestrian safety 101

Dear Street Smarts, Q: The general impression I have received from your column, and other sources, is that a driver must stop at an intersection if a pedestrian has stepped off the curb and wait till they've completely crossed the street before continuing on. Not so. California Vehicle Code 21950 covers pedestrian crossing and People v. Hahn (1950) adds some clarification. I suggest Googling 'California crosswalk laws' and select the 'best syndicate' article. This gives a pretty clears explanation of the law along with its intent and application. I taught traffic school in the 1990's and there was a lot of confusion on this, as well as entering an intersection when the light is changing – you are legal if the front of your car passes the first limit line entering the crosswalk during the yellow. I think a thorough explanation of the crosswalk law would be of value to your readers. I am also interested in some of your police sources interpretations of the law and its application. I look forward to your weekly column and wish it was more frequent. Keep up the good work. Norm Clark, Scotts Valley A: Thank you for your email. First off, Street Smarts has reported in the past that drivers simply must make sure pedestrians are a safe distance from their car before proceeding on their way. Here's more on the pedestrian safety law and its interpretation from Officer Sarah Jackson, spokeswoman for the California Highway Patrol: “The driver of a vehicle is required to 'yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection,' according to CVC 21950(a). “Also, the (b) section states that, '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.' “Then, the (c) section reads that 'The driver '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.' “So what does all that mean? The safety of a pedestrian is first and foremost with the pedestrian. They need to determine a safe time to begin crossing the road. Once in the roadway, both the pedestrian and the driver of a vehicle are tasked with due care for the pedestrian's safety. A pedestrian may not leave a place of safety and run into the path of a vehicle. A driver must slow or stop to allow a pedestrian to reach a place of safety. “Does a driver need to wait until the pedestrian has reached the other curb? No. The pedestrian must simply no longer be in the path of the vehicle or be so close as to constitute a hazard. “Can a driver 'buzz past' a pedestrian? No. Drivers must act as necessary to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian. “Really, it all goes back to what we learned as youngsters. Look both ways before you cross the road. Be careful and look out for others.” Meanwhile, you can read Street Smarts five days weekly online at
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