Q: Gov. Gavin Newsom has legalized jaywalking in many cases. In light of the change in this law, Carl Taylor asked, what happens to a driver who hits someone that ran out across the street? “Are we liable for their injuries?” he asked.

A: A new law taking effect Jan. 1 decriminalizes jaywalking in California, as long as there’s no danger of colliding with a vehicle. On Sept. 30, Newsom signed a bill allowing Californians to legally cross the street outside of designated intersections and crosswalks without being ticketed for jaywalking unless a reasonably careful person realizes there’s an immediate danger of colliding with a moving vehicle. So, if you can safely cross in the middle of the road and no vehicles are coming that could hit you, jaywalking is legal as of New Year’s Day.

Greg Matthews, a detective with the Riverside Police Department Traffic Unit, said this new law doesn’t change the responsibility of drivers and pedestrians in the roadway. Vehicle Code section 21954(a) states that, “Every pedestrian… shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon a roadway so near as to constitute an immediate hazard.” In other words, Matthews said, “The law recognizes that a driver can’t stop a 5,000 pound vehicle if a pedestrian suddenly steps out in front of them when they’re only a short distance away – the laws of California acknowledge the laws of physics.” On the other hand, 21954(b) states the code, “Shall not relieve the driver of a vehicle from the duty to exercise due care of the safety of any pedestrian upon a roadway.”

Matthews said drivers have a responsibility to avoid colliding with all pedestrians regardless of where they choose to cross, just as pedestrians have the responsibility to not place themselves in danger.

Unfortunately, drivers generally expect pedestrians to cross at intersections and are not always “on alert” for pedestrians crossing midblock.


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