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California Crosswalk Laws and Right of Way Issues

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California Crosswalk Laws and Right of Way Issues

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Daily, the California Highway Patrol office receives numerous inquiries about the CALIFORNIA CROSSWALK LAW (CCL). To assist with the dissemination of the CCL, the following information was compiled from the San Bernardino County District Attorney's office, reviewed and edited by Mark Vos, lead Deputy District Attorney, Appellate Services Unit:

Drive, or don't drive; this topic aims to reconcile divided opinions on how to properly enforce California crosswalk law. Although pedestrian safety is of paramount importance, pedestrians in crosswalks do not have an unlimited right-of-way, but only a qualified one. For example, motorists need not wait for pedestrians to finish crossing before they pass through a crosswalk, if drivers do so at a reasonably safe distance from the pedestrians at a reasonably safe speed. Moreover, pedestrians must be mindful of their own duties toward motorists. Practically, enforcement of crosswalk law depends upon officers' sound judgment and expertise.

DRIVERS' CROSSWALK DUTIES:

CALIFORNIA VEHICLE CODE 21950 STATES THAT:

(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 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) Subdivision (b) does not relieve a driver of a vehicle from the duty of exercising due care for the safety of any pedestrian within any unmarked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.

Notice these subdivisions do not necessarily require a motorist to wait for a crossing-walking pedestrian to completely leave the crosswalk and step onto the curb before a driver may lawfully pass. Instead, the statute requires only that a driver yield the right-of-way to pedestrians [subsection (a)], and to exercise "all due care," [Subsection {c}. Vehicle Code 525 defines right-of-way as "the privilege of the immediate use of the highway."

In People vs. McLachlan (1939) Cal. App. 2d Supp. 754, the defendant driver approached a crosswalk after two pedestrians had already passed in front of them. While the defendant was approaching, the pedestrians leaped backward into defendant's path. Defendant braked but was unable to avoid hitting them. 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. 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 pedestrian. Please note - This understanding is consistent with the California Drivers Handbook which has some 26 references to "crosswalks," but nowhere warns motorists that they must wait for pedestrians to completely cross.

Thus, the practical rule requires officers to assess the facts at hand in light of their training and experience. When a pedestrian crossing a roadway on a crosswalk is so far from the path of an approaching automobile and proceeding in such a manner that no interference between them is reasonably to be expected, the motorist is not required to wait under Vehicle Code 21950.

In People vs. Hahn (1950) 98 Cal. App. 2d Supp. 841, the motorist was lawfully stopped at a signal when the pedestrian was lawfully crossing the crosswalk. The signal for the motorist then turned to green, which means, "proceed when safe." The driver then proceeded to pass into the crosswalk but was cited for failure to yield the right-of-way to the pedestrian. This conviction was upheld because the defendant had a duty to wait for the pedestrian in order to avoid interference with him.

Hahn explained it would be alright for a motorist to pass where the crossing pedestrian is so far from the vehicle that "the latter can proceed to make use of that portion of highway lying within the crosswalk without interfering with the right of the pedestrian to use it when he reaches it." In such a case, reasoned the court, "the duty upon the driver is not so expressed that he is required to wait until the crosswalk is clear; his duty is to wait only if necessary to avoid interference with the pedestrian. Thus the standard is "reasonable expectations." If interference between the driver and the pedestrian is not reasonably expected, the driver is not required to wait for the pedestrian.

Hahn said the two key factors are (1) distance that the pedestrian is from the path the vehicle will take, and (2) the speed of the vehicle. "In some cases the pedestrian will have been so close to the waiting motor vehicle that beyond any speculation the vehicle could not proceed without interfering with the pedestrians's right-of-way. In other cases, the pedestrian will have been so far away that no doubt exists that the vehicle's movement did not interfere with that of the pedestrian." Finally, there are the in-between situations where police will have to make and justify reasonable judgment calls based on their observations in light of their training and experience.

PEDESTRIANS' CROSSWALK DUTIES:

Pedestrians also have a duty to exercise due care. [Vehicle Code 21950 (b)]. The statute prohibits pedestrians from suddenly walking or running into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard, and from stopping or delaying traffic in a crosswalk. As Sgt. Billy Tyler of the Temecula Police Department correctly said in a recent news article, "in order to have the right-of-way, someone must yield." At a crosswalk, "when a pedestrian has the green light to walk, they have the right-of-way. However, if the vehicle has the green light, the pedestrian must yield to the vehicle and must obey the pedestrian signal. When there is no light, the pedestrian must use caution and wait for traffic to clear or stop before crossing. Common sense has to come into play."

A pedestrian crossing the street on a crosswalk must use ordinary care to prevent injury from automobiles. "The care required must be in proportion to the danger to be avoided and the consequences that might be reasonably anticipated...Pedestrians must be alert to the fact that vehicular traffic approaching in multiple lanes, ebbing and flowing with signals, is always dangerous, and doubly so in the night time." [Mendelson vs. Peton (1955) 135 Cal. App. 2d 390.]

Furthermore, pedestrians are required to yield the right-of-way tovehicles already in the intersection when the "walk” signal is first shown. [Vehicle Code 21451(c); Myers vs. Carini (1968) 262 Cal. App. 2d14]

STATISTICAL INFORMATION:

Nearly one-half (48 percent) of all pedestrian fatalities occurred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday: 17 percent, 18 percent, and 13 percent, respectively. (Stats provided from the National Center of Statistics & Analysis, Washington D.C.)

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By Jeff Perez
CHP

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