Do pedestrians always have the right of way in California?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Aug 30, 2019 | 0 Comments

pedestrians crossing california street

Pedestrians do not always have the right of way in California.

Vehicle Code 21950 is the California statute regarding the right of way for pedestrians. This law states that drivers must yield the right of way only within:

  • any marked crosswalk, or
  • any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.

Further, the code section imposes a duty on pedestrians in that they must use due care when crossing a street.

Note, though, that the law does impose a similar duty on drivers. It says that a driver approaching a pedestrian, within any marked or unmarked crosswalk, must:

  • use due care, and
  • reduce the speed of the vehicle.

A driver that violates VC 21950, and fails to properly yield, will receive two penalties. These are:

  1. a fine of $238, and
  2. one point assessed to the driver's DMV driving record.

What is required of drivers under VC 21950?

VC 21950a states:

“The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.”

VC 21950c places additional responsibilities on motorists in that it requires drivers to exercise due care when approaching pedestrians.

That section states:

“The driver of a vehicle approaching a pedestrian within any marked or unmarked crosswalk shall exercise all due care and shall reduce the speed of the vehicle or take any other action relating to the operation of the vehicle as necessary to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian.”

So, for example, a motorist that speeds up to beat a pedestrian to a crosswalk would violate VC 21950c. This is a violation since the driver would not be using due care.

What is required of pedestrians under VC 21950?

Vehicle Code 21950 does not leave pedestrians free from responsibilities when crossing a street or walking within a crosswalk. VC 21950b specifically states that:

"This section does not relieve a pedestrian from the duty of using due care for his or her safety."

Under VC 21950b, pedestrians may not run in front of approaching vehicles so as to cause a hazard.

Further, pedestrians must continue walking when in a crosswalk. No pedestrian may unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.

What are the penalties if a motorist fails to yield to a pedestrian?

A motorist that breaks the law under Vehicle Code 21950 will get:

  1. a ticket for the violation, and
  2. one point assessed to his DMV driving record.

Note that a ticket for failing to yield will cost a driver $238.

Also note that points assessed on a motorist's record are reported to that person's insurance carrier. The result is typically an increase in the driver's insurance rates for several years.

Also, if a person accumulates a certain number of points within a 1-,2- or 3-year period in California, the DMV can declare that person a negligent operator. If this is done, the DMV can suspend or even revoke that person's driving privileges.

Do people have to plead guilty to tickets for violating Vehicle Code 21950?

People do not have to automatically plead guilty to driving tickets. They can always raise a legal defense to challenge the ticket. A good defense can work to reduce a charge or even dismiss one altogether.

Two common defenses to accusations of failing to yield to a pedestrian are:

  1. the officer issuing the ticket was mistaken for the driver did sufficiently yield, and
  2. the pedestrian was in the wrong.

The latter defense challenges a violation on the grounds of Vehicle Code 21950b. Recall that this section requires pedestrians to exercise due care. It's a solid legal defense, therefore, for a motorist to convey that a pedestrian did not use the requisite due care under VC 21950b.

Please note that drivers can represent themselves when fighting a California ticket for failing to yield to a pedestrian. But it's recommended that anyone charged with this violation hire an experienced lawyer for help.

It's advantageous to hire an attorney for three main reasons. These are:

  • 1. prosecutors tend to offer better deals to defendants with lawyers,
  • 2. defense attorneys are knowledgeable on how to get charge reductions and dismissals, and
  • 3. defendants with defense lawyers do not have to go to court.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.


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