California pedestrian and crosswalk laws govern when and where people can legally walk in public. The basic rule in Vehicle Code 21950 requires motorists to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians crossing the road within any marked or unmarked crosswalk.
Here are five key takeaways about California pedestrian laws:
- Pedestrians lose right-of-way at crosswalks whenever traffic lights or law enforcement officers signal for them to remain on the curb.
- Jaywalking is no longer illegal in California as long as it is done safely and with no oncoming traffic.
- Pedestrians must stay out of bike lanes when a walking path is available.
- Vision-impaired pedestrians with a cane or a guide dog have right-of-way at all intersections.
- The term “pedestrian” applies to people walking on foot and people wearing skates or riding skateboards.
Crosswalk laws are significant to personal injury cases after a pedestrian accident. Breaking one of these laws can change who is liable for the crash. It can reduce a pedestrian’s compensation through California’s comparative fault rules.
It can even amount to negligence per se, which can make a pedestrian liable for the crash.
In this article, our Los Angeles pedestrian accident lawyers explain:
- 1. What are the California crosswalk laws?
- 1.1. CVC §467: Who is considered to be a pedestrian?
- 1.2. CVC §275: What is a crosswalk?
- 1.3. CVC §21966: No pedestrians in bike lanes
- 1.4. CVC §21950: Pedestrians crossing a street at a crosswalk
- 1.5. CVC §21955: Pedestrians have to use crosswalks at an intersection
- 1.6. CVC §21456: How are pedestrians supposed to use crossing lights?
- 1.7. CVC §21954: When can pedestrians cross the street outside of a crosswalk?
- 1.8. CVC §21970: Can drivers stop their cars and block a crosswalk or sidewalk?
- 1.9. CVC §21952: Do vehicles have the right-of-way when they cross a sidewalk?
- 1.10. CVC §21963-65: Special rules for blind pedestrians
- 2. How can these laws affect a pedestrian crash?
1. What are the California crosswalk laws?
California crosswalk laws are the rules that dictate when and where people can legally walk in the state. These rules were made to keep pedestrians safe. However, they also aim to not encroach too much on vehicle traffic.
There are dozens of important laws that apply to pedestrians. Some of the most important are:
- California Vehicle Code (VC) 467, which defines what it means to be a pedestrian,
- VC 275, which defines a crosswalk,
- VC 21966, which tells pedestrians where they can walk,
- VC 21950, which covers pedestrians crossing the road at a crosswalk,
- VC 21955, which requires pedestrians to use crosswalks at intersections,
- VC 21954, which tells pedestrians who want to cross the street outside of a crosswalk to yield the right-of-way to vehicles,
- VC 21970, which forbids drivers from stopping in a crosswalk and blocking it,
- VC 21456, which tells when pedestrians can cross the street using a crossing light,
- VC 21952, which covers situations where a driver is pulling into a driveway and would have to cross a sidewalk to get there, and
- VC 21963 through §21965, which focus on special circumstances to take when there is a blind pedestrian.
Several state laws in California allow cities and municipalities to create their own rules.1
1.1. VC 467: Who is considered to be a pedestrian?
VC 467 defines what it means to be a pedestrian in California. This is a very important definition because it determines who has to abide by California pedestrian laws.
A pedestrian is anyone who is:
- Riding a motorized assistive mobility device because they cannot walk, or
- Riding something that is propelled by their own efforts, other than a bicycle (so bicyclists are not pedestrians).
People who are using the following devices to get around are considered to be a “pedestrian” under CVC §467:
- Scooters, so long as it is not an electric scooter or E-scooter,
- Roller skates,
- Ice skates,
- Motorized wheelchairs, or
People riding the following devices, though, are not pedestrians:
- Motorized bikes,
- Hoverboards, or
1.2. VC 275: What is a crosswalk?
Under CVC 275, a crosswalk can be either:
- A portion of the road painted with the distinctive white lines that people are familiar seeing, or
- Where 2 roads meet at approximately right angles, the extensions of the sidewalks through the intersection.
This means there can be a pedestrian crossing at an intersection even if there are no white lines on the pavement.
1.3. VC 21966: No pedestrians in bike lanes
VC 21966 tells pedestrians to stay out of bike lanes wherever there is an “adjacent adequate pedestrian facility.” This includes sidewalks or designated walking paths. If a sidewalk is blocked, though, pedestrians can turn to bike lanes to get around the obstruction.
1.4. VC 21950: Pedestrians crossing a street at a crosswalk
California Vehicle Code section 21950 VC gives pedestrians the right-of-way while crossing the street at an intersection whether the crosswalk is marked or not. Therefore, drivers approaching crosswalks must slow down and yield to pedestrians so they may cross.
VC 21950 is the most important pedestrian and crosswalk law. It lies at the heart of many pedestrian accidents and fatalities.
By giving pedestrians the right-of-way at crosswalks, VC 21950 requires drivers to exercise caution to keep pedestrians safe.2 It also creates a legal duty for motorists to exercise due care for the safety of walkers.3
1.4.1. Pedestrians have a duty of care at crosswalks, too
VC 21950(b) explicitly says that pedestrians still have a legal duty to use caution when crossing the street. It expressly says that pedestrians cannot:
- Leave the curb suddenly,
- Walk or run into the immediate path of an oncoming vehicle, or
- Unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while crossing the street.
Example: Penny is about to cross an intersection when she sees and hears a motorcycle accelerating towards her. Although she has right-of-way, she should let the motorcyclist pass to avoid an accident.
If Penny did go onto the crosswalk and was hit by the motorcyclist, the court would award her fewer money damages than it would otherwise. This is because she contributed to the accident by stepping into the path of an oncoming vehicle.
These conflicting legal duties between motorists and walkers at crosswalks can pose problems. They make the specific details of a pedestrian accident matter.
Those details can determine who was liable for the crash. The person found liable can be made to pay for the costs of the accident.
1.5. VC 21955: Pedestrians have to use crosswalks at an intersection
VC 21955 requires pedestrians to stick to the crosswalks when they cross at intersections where there are traffic lights, traffic signals, or police officers. This prevents pedestrians from crossing straight to the opposite corner of the intersection, unless there is a crosswalk that allows it.
As of January 1, 2023 in California, violations of §21955 – “jaywalking” – will no longer be against the law as long as it is done safely (for example, there is no oncoming traffic at the time of the crossing). Prior to 2023, jaywalking was prosecuted as an infraction carrying a fine of around $200.4
1.6. VC 21456: How are pedestrians supposed to use crossing lights?
Crossing lights are the electronic signals for pedestrians to cross an intersection. They show either:
- A green walking man, or the word “walk” in green letters,
- Steady red letters spelling “don’t walk,” or “wait” or showing an upraised hand graphic,
- Blinking red letters spelling “don’t walk” or “wait” or showing an upraised hand graphic. Sometimes there is a countdown timer.
When the crossing light tells pedestrians to walk, VC 21456 requires pedestrians to let cars already in the crosswalk pass through.
Crossing lights that blink come in 2 types:
- Those that include countdown signals telling pedestrians how long they have to finish crossing, and
- Those that do not include these countdown signals.
Where a crossing signal has this countdown clock, VC 21456 allows pedestrians to begin crossing when the light is blinking. They just have to reach the other side before it turns steady. If there is no countdown clock on the signal, though, pedestrians are not supposed to enter the crosswalk once the signal begins to blink.5
1.7. VC 21954: When can pedestrians cross the street outside of a crosswalk?
When pedestrians are not at a marked crosswalk or an intersection, they can still cross the street under the terms of CVC §21954. This statute requires walkers to yield the right-of-way to all vehicles that are close enough to be an “immediate hazard” to the pedestrian.
Where there are no vehicles close enough, pedestrians can cross the street. This is in spite of the lack of a crosswalk.
Violations of §21954 are another common source of jaywalking tickets. Though as of January 1, 2023, jaywalking is no longer prosecuted in California as long as the crossing is done safely without oncoming traffic nearby.6
1.8. VC 21970: Can drivers stop their cars and block a crosswalk or sidewalk?
Drivers can only stop their cars in a crosswalk or sidewalk for certain reasons.
VC 21970 forbids drivers from stopping in a crosswalk and blocking it “unnecessarily.” This includes both crosswalks that are marked and unmarked crosswalks at an intersection. It does not prevent a driver from stopping in a crosswalk at a red light before making a right turn.
1.9. VC 21952: Do vehicles have the right-of-way when they cross a sidewalk?
Vehicles do not have the right-of-way when they cross over a sidewalk. Pedestrians have the right of way. CVC § 21952 says that they have to yield to pedestrian traffic.
This rule applies whenever cars turn into driveways and pass over a sidewalk on the way. A driver of a vehicle has to stop and let walkers pass by, first.
1.10. VC 21963-65: Special rules for blind pedestrians
California traffic rules give special protection to pedestrians who are blind, defined as having
- 20/200 vision in the better eye or
- a field of vision less than 20 degrees without glasses or contact lenses as an aid.
VC 21963 gives blind pedestrians who are using a cane or a guide dog the right-of-way at all intersections. Drivers have to yield to blind pedestrians or take extra precautions to keep them safe. If they do not, it can be a crime that carries up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
VC 21964 allows only blind or partially blind people to have a white cane (whether red-tipped or not) on any highway or in any public building, public facility, or other public place.
2. How can these laws affect a pedestrian crash?
These laws can impact a lawsuit stemming from a pedestrian accident because they can determine who was liable for the vehicle accident.
In the state of California, liability for an accident often revolves around who was being negligent. Determining liability is a crucial part of a pedestrian knockdown lawsuit. The person who was liable can be made to pay compensation to the victim. This compensation can be expensive, as it covers:
Violations of pedestrian or crosswalk laws can help determine liability in 2 ways:
- Negligence per se, or
- Comparative fault.
2.1. Negligence per se can make a pedestrian liable for the crash
Negligence per se in California is a legal doctrine that allows a person to be presumed negligent if
- the person violated a law or regulation (such as a traffic/crosswalk law), and
- the victim was a member of the class of people that the law or regulation was designed to protect (such as pedestrians or drivers).
In the context of pedestrian accidents, violations of California’s pedestrian or crosswalk laws can be used to establish negligence per se. If someone violated a traffic law, they are often liable for the car accident that the violation caused.
Normally when there is a vehicle-pedestrian collision, the vehicle driver is at fault. However, pedestrians may be accountable on negligence per se grounds for crashes they cause by either:
- Darting into traffic mid-block,
- Abruptly stepping off the curb,
- Pausing in the middle of a crosswalk, or
- Blocking vehicles at a crosswalk.
Negligence per se is a shortcut to finding fault for an accident. Using negligence per se means you do not have to look for signs of negligence in the minute details of the accident.
2.2. California’s comparative fault rules
Violating California’s pedestrian safety or crosswalk laws can also reduce a victim’s recovery under comparative fault.
When both the victim and the defendant were partially at fault for a crash, a jury has to assign each person a percentage of fault. Under comparative negligence laws, courts lower the victim’s recovery by their percentage of fault.
Example: Mary crossed the street outside a crosswalk and got hit by Mac, who was speeding and ran a stop sign. Mary suffered $10,000 in damages, but was found 30% at fault. She can recover $7,000.
- See Vehicle Code 21969 (letting local governments decide where people can roller skate), CVC §21967 (letting localities to decide where people can ride E-scooters), and CVC §21961 (letting local governments to enact laws dealing with where walkers can cross the street.
- Vehicle Code 21950(c).
- Vehicle Code 21950(d).
- Vehicle Code 21456(b). Vehicle Code 21456(c).