California Pedestrian and Crosswalk Laws

California's pedestrian and crosswalk laws dictate when and where people can legally walk in public. They 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 California personal injury lawyers explain:

pedestrians walking across street, according to California crosswalk laws
California’s pedestrian and crosswalk laws dictate when and where people can legally walk in public

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.

There are also several state laws in California that 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 the state's pedestrian laws.

A pedestrian is anyone who is:

  • Walking,
  • Riding a motorized assistive mobility device because they cannot walk, or
  • Riding something that is propelled by their own efforts, other than a bicycle.

People who are using the following devices to get around are considered to be a “pedestrian” under CVC §467:

  • Skateboards,
  • Scooters, so long as it is not an electric scooter, or E-scooter,
  • Roller skates,
  • Roller blades,
  • Skis,
  • Ice skates,
  • Wheelchairs,
  • Motorized wheelchairs, or
  • Crutches.

People riding the following devices, though, are not pedestrians:

  • Bikes,
  • E-bikes,
  • Motorized bikes,
  • Hoverboards, or
  • E-scooters.

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 crosswalk 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.

a pedestrian zone sign on the ground
Motor vehicles have to yield to pedestrians who are crossing the street in a crosswalk.

1.4. VC 21950: Pedestrians crossing a street at a crosswalk

Perhaps the most important pedestrian and crosswalk law is VC 21950, which deals with crossing a street at a crosswalk. This law is at the heart of many pedestrian accidents.

VC 21950(a) creates a general rule: Motor vehicles have to yield to pedestrians who are crossing the street in a crosswalk. This requires slowing down and taking other precautions to keep the pedestrian safe.2 It also creates a legal duty for motorists to exercise due care for the safety of walkers.3

However, section (b) explicitly says that pedestrians still have a legal duty to safely cross 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.

These conflicting legal duties 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 or police. This prevents pedestrians from crossing straight to the opposite corner of the intersection, unless there is a crosswalk that allows it.

Violations of §21955 are a common source of jaywalking tickets. These tickets are not crimes. Instead, they are an infraction that carries a fine of around $200.

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
  • Blinking red letters spelling “don't walk.”

When the crossing light tells pedestrians to walk, VC 21456 requires pedestrians to let cars already in the crosswalk to 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.4 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 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.

1.8. VC 21970: Can drivers stop their cars and block a crosswalk or sidewalk?

Drivers can only stop their car 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 those that are unmarked 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. CVC § 21952 says that they have to yield to passing pedestrians.

This rule applies whenever cars turn into driveways and pass over a sidewalk on the way. Drivers have 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.

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.

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 crash.

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 is the legal doctrine that uses laws or regulations to establish someone's negligence. Because negligence can make someone liable for an accident, showing that a rule or regulation was broken can be strong evidence of liability. It is a shortcut in 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.

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 held liable for the crash caused by the violation.

Example: Bob is driving his car into his driveway when he hits Mary and her daughter Susie on the sidewalk.

2.2. California's comparative fault rules

A violation of California's pedestrian 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. The victim's recovery is then reduced by their percentage of fault.

Example: Mary crossed the street outside a crosswalk and got hit by Mac, who was speeding. Mary suffered $10,000 in damages, but was found 30% at fault. She can recover $7,000.

Call us for help…

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Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

California's pedestrian and crosswalk laws are important to know. They can drastically influence a personal injury lawsuit involving a hurt pedestrian. Our California personal injury lawyers can help. Contact us online today to get started on your case. (For cases in Nevada, please see our article on crosswalk laws in Nevada).

Legal References:

  1. See Vehicle Code 21969 (allowing local governments to regulate where people can roller skate), CVC §21967 (allowing localities to regulate where people can ride E-scooters), and CVC §21961 (allowing local governments to enact ordinances dealing with where pedestrians can cross the street.

  2. Vehicle Code 21950(c).

  3. Vehicle Code 21950(d).

  4. Vehicle Code 21456(b).

  5. Vehicle Code 21456(c).

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