What the law change means for California pedestrians
You probably didn’t know it, but if you live in California, there’s a good chance that you’ve been breaking the law when you walked across intersections with countdown signals. It’s easy to break this traffic law without even thinking about — especially in busy, crowded San Francisco, where it can seem that drivers and pedestrians are at war with one another.
Before January 1st, 2018, it was illegal to cross the street after the signal had begun counting down. No matter how many seconds are left in the countdown, it was against the law to start crossing the street while it was running. The original concept was that the countdown clock gave people who had already started crossing during the white “Walk” sign some information about the remaining time. Most people interpreted it differently, though, and didn’t hesitate to start crossing when the countdown was on.
Before the new law, a pedestrian could be blamed for being hit in a crosswalk
At many intersections in San Francisco, the “Walk” sign was set to display for a very short time, followed by a long countdown period. I think this shows that the City of San Francisco realized how people were interpreting the signs. But the effect was to very sharply limit the time that you could start crossing legally, sometimes to just a few seconds. This disconnect between what most of us perceived to be the law, and what it actually was didn’t cause any problem for most of us until an accident occurred. There are very few tickets written for jaywalking in a marked crosswalk in San Francisco. But when a pedestrian was hit by a vehicle and made a claim, the law on the signals gave the vehicle’s driver a trump card to play in many cases: the pedestrian had entered the intersection illegally, and thus could be held at least partially responsible for the accident.
AB 390 makes it legal to begin crossing during the countdown signal
Now, however, the law is changed to what most of us thought all along: it is legal to begin crossing the street while the countdown is running. Governor Jerry Brown signed into effect AB 390, which states that it is legal for a pedestrian to begin crossing the street during a countdown signal if there is a reasonable amount of time left in which to cross. The issue of whether people should be penalized for breaking a law that seems unreasonable and counter-intuitive to so many was at the center of the push to change the law. State Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, who authored the bill, said “People shouldn’t be punished for being safe and using good judgment.” Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin argued that “it defies common sense to ticket someone who is entering a crosswalk as the countdown begins when they still have time to cross the street safely without disrupting traffic.” The section that prohibits pedestrians from beginning to cross after the orange hand appears was written in 1981, at a time when the countdown did not exist.
What the new law means for pedestrian accident cases in California
This may seem like a trivial change in the law, but its effect on pedestrians has the potential to be significant. It will put an end to insurers’ ability to shift some or all of the blame for injury accidents to pedestrians who did nothing wrong.
Changing this law will affect nearly everyone in big cities across California, such as San Francisco or Los Angeles. It’s a step towards changing laws to fit reasonable public perception. The new countdown crosswalk law will prevent people from being penalized for laws they did not know exist.
Contact us if you’re a pedestrian who’s been hit in a crosswalk
If you’ve been involved in a traffic accident that was not your fault, please don’t hesitate to contact our San Francisco attorneys through phone or email. We’re always happy to answer questions. If you’ve been injured crossing the street, feel free to ask for a free case review.