Yield to the blind at all times

Dear Street Smarts, Q: According to the California Driver Handbook, "pedestrians using canes must be given the right of way at all times." The other day, we were driving north on Front Street and saw a pedestrian with a white cane on the curb across from Cathcart Street. We had a green light. My husband hit the brakes and she then stepped off the curb and crossed the street. I contend he should not have stopped since we had a green light and would have gotten rear-ended had a car been behind us. He believes a blind person has the right-of-way at all times. Who's right? Thank you. Marilyn Clark, Santa Cruz A: “If you placed a wager, you’ll have to pay up on this one,” said Steve Clark, deputy chief of the Santa Cruz Police Department. Section 21963 of the California Vehicle Code states that blind pedestrians “shall” have the right-of-way and drivers who fail to yield the right-of-way or take “reasonably necessary precautions to avoid injury” to blind pedestrians is guilty of a misdemeanor, he said. “This section is not just an infraction traffic ticket, but a misdemeanor – the same as a DUI,” Clark said. Right-of-way is defined in CVC section 525 as "the privilege of immediate use of the highway," Clark explained. “Notice the terms in these two statutes, 'shall' and 'immediate,' noted Clark. “The legislature is pretty clear about their intent when it comes to protecting the sight impaired. Situations, such as a blind pedestrian simply walking down a sidewalk, are not cause for traffic to stop but anytime that blind pedestrian looks to be crossing, they own the right-of-way.” As for if you were struck by a following vehicle who did not expect you to stop at a green light, Clark said that driver would be cited – not you. That citation might be for following too closely, suggested officer Sarah Jackson of the California Highway Patrol, whom Street Smarts also asked to weigh in on the situation since you noted a family member asked the question of the San Diego Police with an opposite answer. “Just because you have the technical right-of-way doesn't mean you should take it at the expense of someone else's safety,” she said. “And I wouldn't count on anyone being able to hear a car coming and react quickly. Some cars are quieter than others and the perception-reaction gap may not afford enough time for them to move. We all have our responsibilities. Why not just cede your right-of-way and let someone by? Doing something nice – not to mention the right thing to do – feels good! If the car behind you rear-ends you, they would likely be at fault for following too closely. ”
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