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The Truth About Pedestrians
in California

A question continuously comes up regarding the ticketing of drivers who proceed without waiting until pedestrians are on the curb. I humbly offer the following information regarding this ongoing debate:

First, some basic truths:

1) The word “yield” does not automatically require “stop”.
2) “Right-of-Way” is something all drivers and pedestrians have on public roadways.  The Vehicle Code never tells us that someone has the right-of-way. It only tells us which party must yield the right-of-way. After a collision or citation the question is never “Who had the right-of-way?”, but “Was anyone required by law to yield their right-of-way?”
3) Statements such as "He/she/it had the right-of-way" are sloppy talk and should be changed to "He/she/it should have yielded to..."
4) Vehicle Code sections which refer to pedestrians in crosswalks having to be yielded to do not mean that the motorist cannot proceed until the pedestrian is on the opposite curb, but that the pedestrian has no rights unless they are in the crosswalk and entered the crosswalk when it was legal to do so.

What? You don't believe me? Well, then...

In the case of The People, Respondent, v. Charles McLachlan, Appellant, (Crim. A No. 1599, Appellate Department, Superior Court, County of Los Angeles – August 14, 1939.)
In the following decision, the 1939 court referred to “Section 560 of the Vehicle Code”. This is currently section 21950.
The following are the pertinent sections of the court decision:

“[3] – Questions of right of way arise between two users of the highway only when there is danger of a collision between them if both proceed on their respective ways without delay, and when a pedestrian crossing a roadway in a crosswalk is so far from the path of an approaching automobile and proceeding in such as manner that no interference between them is reasonably to be expected, the driver of the automobile need not wait for it to develop.
"[4] – While section 560 of the Vehicle Code requires a driver to yield the right of way to a pedestrian in a marked crosswalk, a driver who allows a pedestrian to proceed undisturbed and unhurried in front of him and to reach a place of safety out of the way of his car, with no apparent further danger of conflict between them, may proceed and need not continue to wait until the pedestrian has cleared the roadway, nor need he anticipate that the pedestrian will suddenly change his mind and reverse his course of travel in the absence of circumstances reasonably suggesting such a course.
"[6] – While subdivision (a) of section 560 of the Vehicle Code does not require a driver to stop in all cases when a pedestrian is crossing the street in a crosswalk, the driver must stop whenever that course is necessary to the discharge of his duty to yield the right of way…

Confirmation of the validity of this court’s decision appeared in the case of Giles v. Happely (123 C.A.2d 894; 267 P.2d 1051) in which the Appellate Court upheld jury instructions utilizing the wording of the decision in People v. McLachlan.

Additionally, in the current Investigator’s Course for the State of California, the following wording is found in Learning Domain 28, Chapter 2: Rules of the Road on page 2-19 under the heading Pedestrian Right-of-Way [28.02.E06]:

Just as with two vehicles, the question of right-of-way only arises when there is danger of a conflict or collision. If there is no possibility of a conflict between a vehicle and a pedestrian, there is no question of right-of-way.”
“For a question of right-of-way to arise, the pedestrian must be compelled to move out of the way, slow, stop, or increase speed in order to avoid a collision.”
“It is not necessary for the driver of the vehicle to wait until the pedestrian has completely cleared the crosswalk to the other side before proceeding. Once the pedestrian has moved far enough out of the way of the vehicle that the possibility of conflict no longer exists, the vehicle can continue.

Bottom Line? Pedestrians and drivers, including bicyclists, are each "users of the highway" and each have the responsiblity to act according to the law. Drivers should avoid hitting pedestrians and pedestrians should avoid being hit by drivers. When such a collision occurs, the law will determine who is at fault. It will sometimes be the pedestrian; it will sometimes be the driver.

The pedestrian does not always have the right to require drivers to yield to them.

But, always remember, school crossing guards are not pedestrians -- they are traffic control devices and, as such, must be obeyed.

Thank you for your time.