Last week I was accused of reinforcing ignorance for what I wrote or, more accurately, didn’t write about stopping in a roadway. And the person had a point. In case you missed it, I stated that “If you’re not coming up to a stop sign or traffic light, following the directions of a police officer, or avoiding conflict, you’re not allowed to stop in the roadway.” The problem isn’t that the law doesn’t say that – it does. But there are some exceptions found in other laws that I didn’t address.
Recently we’ve had a tragic increase in traffic fatalities, and the biggest rise was pedestrians killed in crashes. Even though last week’s topic wasn’t specifically about pedestrians, I missed an opportunity to encourage us all to do more to protect the most vulnerable people using our transportation infrastructure.
I hope we all know the law states that drivers are required to stop for people in crosswalks. But I suspect not everyone knows what a crosswalk is. If you think it’s the zebra stripes that go from one side of the road to the other, you’re only partly right. Crosswalks exist wherever two roads intersect, paint or no paint. One is called a marked crosswalk, and the other an unmarked crosswalk. Either way, drivers are required to yield the right-of-way.
What about when pedestrians cross mid-block? The law requires pedestrians to yield to all vehicles on the roadway. That doesn’t give drivers a free pass though. You might think someone who crosses mid-block is taking an irresponsible risk. Sometimes that might be true, but it may also be a calculated risk, pressed on them by a poorly designed transportation system. I can show you places where a person could walk out of their neighborhood and see a bus stop across the street, but have to walk nearly a mile to get to it if they want to use a crosswalk. If you could save 15 to 20 minutes on your commute to work by running across the street, what would you pick? Be honest. As a driver, even if you think you have the right-of-way, the law says (in part), “every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway.” If you’re the biggest and the fastest, you need to be the safest too.
In addition to pedestrians, there’s another group of laws, collectively titled “Special Stops Required.” Drivers must stop at railroad tracks when the crossing gate is down, a flagger gives a signal to stop, there is a train on the tracks (obviously), or a railroad grade has been determined to be particularly dangerous and has a stop sign at the crossing.
Drivers are required to stop when emerging from an alley, driveway, or building and yield to pedestrians on the sidewalk and vehicles in the roadway.
Drivers are required to stop for school buses when the red lights are blinking and the stop sign is extended (with limited exceptions). Same goes for private buses that have lights and a stop sign.
Drivers must also stop for school crossing guards. But you were going to do that anyway, weren’t you? We’ve dug into the particulars here, but if you were going to take away one thing from all of this, I hope it’s that along with respecting the law, our job as drivers is to make sure we’re operating our vehicles in a way that protects others on the road. And if someone (including me) explains traffic law in a way that sounds unsafe, it’s okay to call them out.
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