Traffic Cop: Pedestrians, Crosswalks and U-Turns

Monty, when can you legally proceed when you have stopped your vehicle for someone in a crosswalk?

There are a couple of vehicle code sections that pertain to your question. The first states that 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. There are a couple of exceptions, but for the most part I think we all know that if someone is in the crosswalk and walking across the roadway, we need to stop.


This leads to your question. How far away from your vehicle do they have to be before you can go ahead and continue on? There is no magic number of feet or anything that says as long as they are in the roadway, you have to remain stopped. The key word in this section is right-of-way. Generally, when you stop for another vehicle and yield the right-of-way, once that vehicle has proceeded, then you proceed. The intent behind this section is to allow the pedestrian the opportunity to walk across the roadway, without fear of being struck by a vehicle. When children are traversing the roadway, even with a parent, they many times will do the unexpected. Change directions and run back across the street where they just came from. Drop something in the road and reach down to retrieve it. So there are no specific guidelines as to your question, other than treating each crosswalk situation as if it were your kids that were crossing in front of you.

The next vehicle code section that deals with crosswalks states, Whenever any vehicle has stopped at a marked crosswalk or at any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection to permit a pedestrian to cross the roadway, the driver of any other vehicle approaching from the rear shall not overtake and pass the stopped vehicle.

How many times have you stopped to allow the pedestrian to cross the roadway and the guy next to you goes zipping past, nearly missing the person who just passed in front of your vehicle? Scary. This section hopefully will give you more reason to remain stopped for as long as possible, just to alert other drivers that there is someone in the crosswalk.

If you ever just sit there in your vehicle and count to yourself, "thousand 1, thousand, thousand 2 …" as that person is crossing the road, more times than not you won’t reach 15. Fifteen seconds is really not that much time out of our lives. We should be able to spare that to make life a little safer for someone else.

A few years back I made a left turn from Churn Creek Road on to Bond Street. I made a U-turn on Bond so I could get back to Churn Creek Road to go to Circle K. It was at around 11 p.m. and I got a ticket. I have no record and haven't had a ticket in 30 years. I chose to go to the driving school so it wouldn't go on my record.  The instructor said I shouldn't have even gotten a ticket. Couldn't the officer just  have given me a warning? I later learned that Bond Street is a drug street. Is it wrong to make that kind of turn?

Let’s start out by knowing what the vehicle code states regarding U-turns; No person in a business district shall make a U-turn, except at an intersection, or on a divided highway where an opening has been provided. This turning movement shall be made as close as practicable to the extreme left-hand edge of the lanes moving in the driver's direction of travel immediately prior to the initiation of the turning movement, when more than one lane in the direction of travel is present.
No person in a residence district shall make a U-turn when any other vehicle is approaching from either direction within 200 feet, except at an intersection when the approaching vehicle is controlled by an official traffic control device.

In most traffic enforcement stops, the officer always has the option to give a verbal warning to the alleged violator or issue a written citation. I liked to go with the citation, that way you had something to take home with you, but that was me. My purpose for providing various traffic safety information is to refresh our memories as to when we can and when we should not do something, or at least if it was lawful or not.

We have hundreds of pages of vehicle code violations and regulations that tell us what we should and shouldn’t do while we are operating our motor vehicles. It really all comes down to just one thing. Drive like your life depended on it, because it does.

Please remember to stop for those people in the crosswalks, and then enjoy the ride.

Monty Hight is a retired California Highway Patrol officer and Public Information Officer. He is the North State AVOID Campaign's Public Information Officer. He lives in Redding. More information on AVOID can be found here.

Monty Hight
Monty Hight is a retired California Highway Patrol officer and public information officer. He is the North State AVOID Campaign’s spokesman. He lives in Redding.
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7 Responses

  1. Monty, the information you provided about U-Turns seems to be in direct conflict with the California Drivers Handbook – which would be what any driver in the state would be basing their driving on. I remember this because I failed a question relating to this on my license test 10 years ago when I moved to Redding, because common sense tells me not to make a U-turn unless there's a sign saying you can instead of the other way around. If the information in the handbook and the test is misleading, I think it should be changed the driver held harmless in this case.

    This is an excerpt from page 38/39 of the DMV's 2011 publication:

    Legal U-turns

    A U-turn is turning your vehicle around in the street to go back the way you came. To make a U-turn, signal and use the far left lane or the center left turn lane. You may make a legal U-turn:

    • Across a double yellow line when it is safe and legal.

    • In a residential district:

    – If there are no vehicles approaching you within 200 feet.

    – Whenever a traffic sign, light, or signal protects you from approaching vehicles.

    • At an intersection on a green light or green arrow, unless a “No U- turn” sign is posted.

    • On a divided highway, only if an opening is provided in the center divider.

  2. Ron C. says:

    Monty: If I'm traveling on south market street, a divided highway, and a pedestrian starts to cross. I stop. When exactly can I go? When the ped clears just my lane? When the ped gets to the divider? When the ped gets all the way over to the other side of the street?

    • monty hight says:

      Once the pedestrian is no longer a hazard and you will not violate his or her ability to continue to cross the roadway, you can proceed on your way. You don't have to wait until the pedestrian actually leaves the roadway. By staying stationary you do alert other vehicle operators that there is a potential hazard in the roadway, but you are not mandated to remain stopped once the ped has safely cleared your path. I hope this helps.

    • Ron C. says:

      Thank you. I'm thinkin' just gun the engine on my '67 Ford Falcon 289 cubic engine with no muffler and just shave their rear ends as I move forward as a responsible driver! Wait, the Falcon died a couple years ago. Oh, well.

    • JeffG says:

      Not the case in California, but in some states you must remain stopped until the pedestrian has cleared both your lane and the lane adjacent to yours. Something to keep in mind if you do a lot of traveling (the City of Medford, Oregon just did a pedestrian safety sting today)

  3. Monty, did you ever check into the discrepancy between the information you quoted from the vehicle code and the passage I quoted from the California Driver's Handbook regarding U-Turns? If the passage in the handbook is giving out incorrect information, I think it should be removed. If the passage I quoted is correct, the vehicle code needs to be updated to reflect that, don't you think?

    • monty hight says:

      I'm not certain as to what the discrepancy is between what I stated and what you gleened from the DMV pamplet. Please let me know specifically and I will certaining address it. Thanks

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