California DMV written permit test tips for dealing with pedestrians

This article is part of a series of articles to help drivers practice for and pass the California DMV written permit test. Most, if not all, of the driving issues discussed in this series also apply to the rules of the road throughout the US.

As you know, pedestrians are people walking on or near a road. It’s important for drivers to learn how to deal with pedestrians, especially in urban areas, where interactions between vehicles and people out walking are commonplace. For a pedestrian, cars are fast-moving projectiles that weigh thousands of pounds. In a collision involving a pedestrian and a vehicle, the pedestrian will always lose. On or near roads with traffic, pedestrians are both fragile and vulnerable. As drivers, it’s our obligation to look out for and protect pedestrians from the dangerous weapons we’re driving around in. Here are three tips for handling driving situations that involve pedestrians.

Tip #1: Yield to pedestrians that intend to cross the road at any intersection.

Most drivers are able to recognize a pedestrian crosswalk when they see one. Crosswalks are usually placed at the intersections of busy arterial roads. They’re bounded on the left and right sides by wide white lines.

Sometimes crosswalks are made up of a series of parallel white bands, kind of like a plank bridge. These “striped” crosswalks often appear on commercial streets with a lot of foot traffic. You may see these “striped” crosswalks in areas where there isn’t an intersection. They’re meant to signal to drivers that they should yield to pedestrians who are crossing the road, even though there’s no intersection or crossing signal nearby.

What most drivers don’t realize, though, is that they’re legally obligated to yield to pedestrians crossing the road at any intersection, whether that intersection is controlled or not. A controlled intersection is one that has a stop sign or stop signs leading up to it or that is controlled by a traffic signal light. Uncontrolled intersections have neither stop signs, yield signs, or traffic lights. But an intersection is an intersection, whether it’s controlled or not. Furthermore, at every intersection, controlled or uncontrolled, there is an implied crosswalk for pedestrians, even if the crosswalk isn’t marked.

As a driver, when approaching an uncontrolled intersection without a marked crosswalk, if you see a pedestrian who shows by her position and body language that she intends to cross the road in front of you, you must yield. Slow down and stop. Let the pedestrian pass. In my experience, few drivers do this. Because they don’t see a marked crosswalk or a crosswalk signal, they assume they have the right of way. They don’t. As I said, every intersection has an implied crosswalk, even if it isn’t marked.

Tip #2: Don’t pass a vehicle in an adjacent lane stopped at a “striped” crosswalk.

Here’s another way that drivers often break the laws that relate to pedestrians. If you’re driving and you see a vehicle ahead of you stopped in front of a crosswalk, it’s illegal to pass that car. Why? Because, in all likelihood, a pedestrian is crossing the road. But because your view is blocked by the stopped vehicle, you may not see the pedestrian. By driving past the stopped vehicle, especially at the speed limit, you risk hitting a crossing pedestrian who suddenly appears right in front of you. Slow down and stop beside the other stopped vehicle. When the crosswalk is safely clear, then proceed across it.

Drivers at controlled intersections with crosswalks and crossing signals who intend to make a right turn on red often make the mistake of creeping into the crosswalk to get a better view of traffic approaching from the left. This is illegal. The legal stop at an intersection with a marked crosswalk is behind the crosswalk. If you don’t have a clear view of oncoming traffic in the lane you intend to make a right turn into, then you must wait for the light to turn green. “Right turn on red” always means right turn on red when it’s safe and legal to do so.

Tip #3: Make a “safety stop” at uncontrolled crosswalks to get a clearer line of sight.

On the other hand, when driving, if the intersection you’re approaching doesn’t have a crosswalk control signal, then once you make the legal stop behind the crosswalk, you’re allowed to creep forward into the crosswalk to get a better view. This is called a “safety stop”. While a legal stop is at the edge of the crosswalk, the safety stop is at the edge of the intersecting road. This gives you a much better view of oncoming traffic to the left and right, especially when your line of sight is blocked by fences, bushes, or other vehicles in adjacent lanes.

Sometimes pedestrians will cross a road at a place where there’s no marked or implied crosswalk. To be sure, this is a risky move on the part of the pedestrian and not recommended. As drivers, what should we do when we see a pedestrian crossing the road in front of us? We should yield the right of way. If safe to do so, slow down and stop. Where I live, in Oregon, it’s illegal not to yield to a pedestrian crossing the road like this. If a pedestrian is in your lane or near your lane, you’re obliged to stop. Not only is it legal, it’s the courteous thing to do.

Drivers who expect pedestrians to yield to them are a bit like bullies. Just because you’re piloting a big metal box doesn’t give you a special status that trumps people on foot. We can all learn to share the road amicably.