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California law and pedestrian accidents

Readers may have heard that in California, motorists must always yield to pedestrians. This implies that drivers are at fault whenever they hit somebody crossing the street. But is that really the law? In fact it is not.

In general, the law requires motorists to yield whenever they encounter a pedestrian using a marked or unmarked crosswalk, but pedestrians also have a duty not to enter after it is safe to do so, or to put themselves in a position of peril. At a controlled intersection, a pedestrian must obey the walk and wait advisories. An uncontrolled intersection, a pedestrian may enter into a marked or unmarked crosswalk only when it is safe to do so.

All motor vehicle drivers are expected to “exercise due care” to avoid hitting pedestrians under any circumstances.

The general rule which applies requires both motor vehicle drivers and pedestrians to exercise due care. For instance, pedestrians crossing a roadway at night are not allowed to “suddenly” step off the curb and into the path of a vehicle close enough to “constitute an immediate hazard.”

How close is that? As it so often is, the law is ambiguous on this point. So the answer depends on the particular situation. In some cases, a car could be 50 feet away and too close to cross in front of. Other times, the car could be 15 feet away and it would be reasonably safe to step off the curb.

Because of the absence of a “bright line rule” following an accident many pedestrians are found by investigating police officers to be “at fault” when they have done nothing wrong. Automobile insurers then use such police reports to deny liability and responsibility when faced a personal injury claim from an injured pedestrian. Such pedestrian crash victims often suffer severe injuries, and need the help of a personal injury attorney to get their rightful compensation.

Source: San Diego Uptown News, “Do pedestrians always have the right of way?” Joshua Bonnici, Jan. 16, 2015