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Common Questions and Answers About Pedestrian Laws in California

Common Questions and Answers About Pedestrian Laws in California

Of all traffic-related death in California, pedestrians account for over twenty-five percent. Many people rely on their own two feet as a mode of transportation, to get to their job or the store. As personal injury attorneys, we unfortunately see many serious injuries and deaths from auto v. pedestrian cases. In many of these cases, there is a dispute about who is at fault. The law about who has the right of way can be confusing. Below, we answer some common questions about the laws that impact pedestrians.

What happens if a pedestrian is still in a crosswalk when a signal changes from “Walk” to “Don’t Walk” (or green to red?)

Under California Vehicle Code 21456, pedestrians must only cross a crosswalk with the "Walk" signal. But if a pedestrian is already in an intersection when a signal changes from “Walk” to “Don’t Walk,” they may finish crossing to the other side of the road. What pedestrians CANNOT do under the law is start to cross a road when the signal says, “Don’t Walk.”

Of course, drivers must still exercise reasonable caution and try to prevent hitting pedestrians. For example, one of our attorneys won a settlement in a case where a pedestrian crossed a busy intersection in San Jose against a “Don’t Walk” signal and was hit by a driver who had a green light. The driver was driving above the speed limit, and the attorney argued that the driver could have avoided hitting the pedestrian had they driven at the speed limit.

What about crosswalks where there is no traffic signal?

California Vehicle Code (CVC) Section 21950 sets the right-of-way rules for crosswalks without “Walk” signals. These crosswalks are common at intersections controlled by stop signs. Drivers must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians who are lawfully crossing the road within these crosswalks, whether they are marked or unmarked crosswalks. Pedestrians, in turn, must exercise caution while crossing and not suddenly enter the path of a vehicle that is close enough to be an immediate hazard.

An example of a marked, or visible, sidewalk from personal injury attorneys Mercado Kramer LLP

What is an “unmarked crosswalk”?

California Vehicle Code 275(a) defines an unmarked crosswalk. Some roads have sidewalks running along them, but do not have crosswalks marked by painted lines at intersections. These are “unmarked” sidewalks that give the pedestrian the right of way.

An example of an unmarked or "invisible" sidewalk from personal injury attorneys Mercado Kramer LLP

What if someone is crossing a road where there is no marked or unmarked sidewalk?

Pedestrians lose the right-of-way when they are crossing a road outside of a marked or unmarked crosswalk. For example, there might be a long stretch of straight road with no intersections where a pedestrian wants to cross. Under California Vehicle Code 21954, they must yield to traffic. Drivers must still be careful to avoid putting pedestrians in danger. Crossing a road outside of a crosswalk is called “jaywalking.” Up until January 1, 2023, law enforcement could fine pedestrians up to $250 for jaywalking. California passed a “Freedom to Walk” act changing this law. The law (California Vehicle Code 21955) still says that pedestrians should not cross the street unless there is a crosswalk. But as of January 1, 2023, police officers can no longer stop and fine the pedestrian “unless a reasonably careful person would realize there is an immediate danger of a collision.”

I was hit by a car as a pedestrian and was placed at fault. Do I have a case?

Many people think that if they are hit by a vehicle while jaywalking or crossing against a traffic signal that they will have no case. But that’s not true, and you should always talk to an attorney if you’ve been injured as a pedestrian. Vehicles are dangerous instruments against the fragile human body, so drivers must be cautious around pedestrians. Our personal injury attorneys have won cases for many, many pedestrians who were initially placed at fault by the police in an accident. We can use evidence such as black box data from a vehicle, security camera footage, witness testimony, and more to show that drivers did not exercise reasonable caution when they hit a pedestrian.

If you have questions about a pedestrian case, please reach out to our Salinas and San Jose personal injury attorneys to discuss the details. You can call 888 311-4050 24/7. These cases can be a tough fight but are worth it when you are struggling with life-changing injuries due to a careless driver.


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