In our car crazy culture, drivers often forget that people on foot have rights too, especially when they cross the street.
Officially, cars must stop for pedestrians at the prolongation of the curb line, otherwise known as the crosswalk, whether marked or unmarked, according to the California Vehicle Code.
Still, pedestrians don’t own the crosswalk.
The same vehicle code that grants pedestrians the right of way in a crosswalk cautions them to “use due care” when crossing the street and warns them not to “unnecessarily stop or delay traffic .”
“Just because you have the right away, you can’t just jump out in front of a car,” said Matthew Mitchell, who is the traffic sergeant for the Coronado Police Department (CPD).
A car has to have time to see you and room to stop for you. As a general rule, that requires at least 100 feet of stopping distance for a car, and even more than that for a truck.
Even if the car is way down the street you still have to consider “whether the driver saw you or not,” Mitchell said.
If you are unsure of the distance or if the driver knows you exist, Mitchell recommends that you stay on the curb.
Once a pedestrian safely steps off the curb, with no cars bearing down on him, he owns it. Cars are not allowed to enter it until the pedestrian reaches the other side or has traveled from “place of safety to place of safety.”
From a traffic officer’s perspective, even this rule has some flexibility. If the pedestrian is only a few feet from the curb opposite the car, “few officers would cite a vehicle for entering the crosswalk,” Mitchell said.
He stresses, though, that this does not mean “that you can cut the corner and be fine.”
While pedestrians may grumble about cars not stopping for them and drives might grumble about having to stop for a pedestrian, accidents involving cars and people are rare. Mitchell could only think of a small number of collisions in his 12 years with CDP.
“The biggest complaint we receive are in the business district during summer when Orange Avenue is a parking lot and people walk in between the cars,” Mitchell said. “People should walk to the nearest crosswalk to cross the street.”
In this as in all traffic matters Mitchell believes people should follow one basic rule. “Be safe and never assume the right of way.”
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