a prudent driver

700. Basic Standard of Care: A person must use reasonable care in driving a vehicle. Drivers must keep a lookout for pedestrians, obstacles, and other vehicles. They must also control the speed and movement of their vehicles. The failure to use reasonable care in driving a vehicle is negligence.

Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions, 2019

The term ‘prudent driver’ does not exist in law or case law for California, though it does for some other states. The concept is useful enough that I’d like to explore it here. The term is closely related to other concepts such as a ‘reasonable person’, ‘prudent man‘, ‘prudent person’, ‘duty of care’, and ‘standard of care’. The Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) document, excerpted above, is often referred to a ‘case law’, instructions for how to interpret legal codes, based on court findings. Many terms in California Vehicle Code are left intentionally fuzzy, but case law removes much of, but not all of, this fuzziness. In civil law, which is what this document covers, the three criteria for establishing liability are negligence, causation, and harm, meaning that the person acted in a negligent way, and harm was caused by the negligence.

Of the two issues most relevant to people walking, speeding and failure to yield are the most significant.

706. Basic Speed Law (Veh. Code, § 22350): A person must drive at a reasonable speed. Whether a particular speed is reasonable depends on the circumstances such as traffic, weather, visibility, and road conditions. Drivers must not drive so fast that they create a danger to people or property.

Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions, 2019

Section 706: Basic Speed Law (and sections 707 and 708), presents the idea that violation of the speed limit is not, per se, evidence of negligence on the part of the driver, but that the test is whether the speed was reasonable. In most European countries, violation of speed limits is negligence, but unfortunately that is not the case in the US. But the document does lay out pretty clearly that the driver is responsible for controlling their vehicle and anticipating the presence of other users on the roadway.

710. Duties of Care for Pedestrians and Drivers in Crosswalk (Veh. Code, § 21950): A driver of a vehicle must yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian who is crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection. When approaching a pedestrian who is within any marked or unmarked crosswalk, a driver must use reasonable care and must reduce his or her speed or take any other action necessary to ensure the safety of the pedestrian.

A pedestrian must also use reasonable care for his or her own safety. A pedestrian may not suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. A pedestrian also must not unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.

The failure of a pedestrian to exercise reasonable care does not relieve a driver of a vehicle from the duty of exercising reasonable care for the safety of any pedestrian within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.

Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions, 2019

Section 710 covers the failure to yield to pedestrians violation, CVC 21950. The case law does have some interesting quotes:

“While it is the duty of both the driver of a motor vehicle and a pedestrian, using a public roadway, to exercise ordinary care, that duty does not require necessarily the same amount of caution from each. The driver of a motor vehicle, when ordinarily careful, will be alertly conscious of the fact that he is in charge of a machine capable of projecting into serious consequences any negligence of his own. […]”

“It is undisputed that defendant did not yield the right of way to plaintiff. Such failure constitutes a violation of the statute and negligence as a matter of law in the absence of reasonable explanation for defendant’s conduct.”

To summarize, my interpretation of the judicial guidance is:

  1. Drivers must control the speed of their vehicle, no matter what the posted speed limit, in recognition that they must always be aware of other users of the roadway and take all reasonable precautions to ensure that crashes do not occur.
  2. Drivers must yield to pedestrians who are exercising reasonable care in crossing the street, and the pedestrian has a presumption of right-of-way in the absence of other evidence.

So, a prudent driver would not be negligent, and a negligent driver would not be prudent.

Next post, more about how a prudent driver behaves.

Walkable Sacramento #8: enforcement

Street redesign is the ultimate solution to the epidemic of serious injury and fatality of walkers, and intimidation of walkers by drivers, however, in the interim, while streets are being redesigned, enforcement can save lives and increase walking.

There are real equity issues with the enforcement of vehicle codes violations. Given that I do not have a way of automating enforcement of failure to yield, that must happen with traffic stops. These stops should be closely monitored to reveal and correct bias.

  • Enforcement will be focused on the three violations that most affect walker safety, in order of priority:
    1. Recognizing that failure to yield to pedestrians both leads to higher serious injuries and driver intimidation of walkers, failure to yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk (CVC 21950) will be the top traffic enforcement priority for the police department. The goal will be elimination of this violation within three years.
    2. Recognizing that speed directly affects the likelihood of serious injury and fatality, make speed enforcement (CVC 22348) will be the second priority. Use automated speed enforcement whenever possible to eliminate the proven racial and income bias in enforcement.

21950 and Vision Zero

California Vehicle Code 21950, failure to yield to pedestrians, is in my opinion the most important violation as it applies to implementing Vision Zero in Sacramento. The Vision Zero Sacramento Action Plan (draft) says “Launch high-visibility enforcement campaigns against speeding, failure to yield to pedestrians, distracted driving, and impaired driving. Campaigns will focus on HIN corridors.” The state code says:

21950.
  (a) 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, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.
(b) This section does not relieve a pedestrian from the duty of using due care for his or her safety. No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. No pedestrian may unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.
(c) The driver of a vehicle approaching a pedestrian within any marked or unmarked crosswalk shall exercise all due care and shall reduce the speed of the vehicle or take any other action relating to the operation of the vehicle as necessary to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian.
(d) Subdivision (b) does not relieve a driver of a vehicle from the duty of exercising due care for the safety of any pedestrian within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.

VEHICLE CODE – VEH, DIVISION 11. RULES OF THE ROAD,CHAPTER 5. Pedestrians’ Rights and Duties; http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=VEH&sectionNum=21950; retrieved 2018-12-15

So, how is the Sacramento Police Department doing on enforcing this code against drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk? Well, from the ‘Sacramento Police Vehicle Stop Data’ (http://data.cityofsacramento.org/datasets/sacramento-police-vehicle-stop-data) of the last two years, there were 101 violations of 21950 recorded, out of 61,151 violations. This is 0.17 percent, or, other violations were 582 times more common.

Anyone spending more than 10 minutes standing on the corner of any busy pedestrian intersection could count a hundred violations of this law. I know this because I do it. It is part of my job and it is also part of my advocacy. In two years the police only wrote 105 citations? I will also add that I have seen Sacramento Police Department officers in motor vehicles violating this very code hundreds of times, on myself and on others. Even the bicycle mounted officers are frequent violators. I will say that officers have yielded to me in the crosswalk, but it is much more common that they don’t. I’m not saying that they are trying to run me down, rather than they don’t wish to be slowed or inconvenienced, and so will cross through the crosswalk when I’m in it. They are, in this sense, just like other drivers.

So what is this disconnect between what is important and what officers do? I’m going to be blunt here. The police not partners in achieving Vision Zero, in fact they are the main impediment to Vision Zero. If they persist in their windshield perspective that pedestrians are the problems and drivers don’t mean to cause harm, pedestrians will continue to die, and drivers will continue to not face consequences for their violations, for their assaults, for their murders.

If you wish to reply that we all need to work together, and consider perspectives, well, please present evidence that this has worked in the part, or some construct that says it will work in the future. I’m not seeing it. In case you think I am picking on Sac PD, things are actually worse in other jurisdictions, but since this is where I live and observe the issue every day, it is the place I focus on.

By the way, thank you Don Kostelec @KostelecPlan for getting me fired up about all the ways in which our entire system is biased against pedestrians, and that those people whose job it is to consider and act on safety are mostly only concerned about drivers and traffic flow. I encourage you to follow his ‘The Twelve Days of Safety Myths‘ series.

Crosswalk removal and CVC

At the community meeting, Ryan Moore kept saying “we followed the law” in removing crosswalks. Though he was not specific, the law he may have been referring to is the section of California Vehicle Code (CVC) below. It remains to be seen if this law was followed, but it may have been since the requirements are minimal. Residents in the neighborhood were uniform in saying that they had not seen any notice, but that does not prove it did not occur. There are additional legal requirements on the city that will be addressed in future posts.

CVC 21950.5. (a) An existing marked crosswalk may not be removed unless notice and opportunity to be heard is provided to the public not less than 30 days prior to the scheduled date of removal. In addition to any other public notice requirements, the notice of proposed removal shall be posted at the crosswalk identified for removal.

(b) The notice required by subdivision (a) shall include, but is not limited to, notification to the public of both of the following:

(1) That the public may provide input relating to the scheduled removal.

(2) The form and method of providing the input authorized by paragraph (1).

Vision Zero and traffic enforcement

Sacramento essentially has no traffic enforcement currently, which has led to significant increase in:

  1. running stop signs (not talking about illegal failure to come to a complete stop, but running at full speed or slowing only slightly)
  2. failure by drivers to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk (actually in the crosswalk, not just waiting to cross).

If these issues of non-enforcement and encouragement of unsafe behaviors is not addressed, the Vision Zero effort will fail, no matter what other actions are undertaken.

I have been watching patterns of driver violation in the central city for seven years, as my profession provides me the interest and skills, while my sense of preservation as a pedestrian gives me the motivation. I can state unequivocally that both violations have increased significantly over that time. While it once felt safe and even a bit welcoming to walk in the central city, it does no longer. Why? That is harder to say, but I think that the lack of enforcement of these laws by the Sacramento Police Department has contributed to the problem. Drivers know they won’t be held accountable for failure to yield, and so they don’t. Of course a few do, but with drivers in the other lanes on multi-lane one way streets failing to yield, pedestrians are at just as much risk as if no one yielded.

I have been wanting to delve into traffic enforcement data for the City of Sacramento and all other locales in the region, but that is a major undertaking I haven’t gotten to. A sampling of data below will provide some context. Traffic stop data for years prior to 2016 is not available online, so I can’t speculate about trends in the data.

California Vehicle Code (CVC) “22450. (a) The driver of any vehicle approaching a stop sign at the entrance to, or within, an intersection shall stop at a limit line, if marked, otherwise before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection.”

Using data from Sacramento Traffic Stops, 2016 had 30001 stops, 2432 of which were for 22450, 8.1%. 2017 had 32267 stops, 2642 of which were 21950, 8.2%. Stand on any single corner in the central city, and you could see this many violations in a day. Clearly, this law is being only lightly enforced.

CVC “21950: (a) 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, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.”

Using data from Sacramento Traffic Stops, 2016 had 30001 stops, 66 of which were for 21950, 0.22%. 2017 had 32267 stops, 43 of which were 21950, 0.13%. Stand on any single corner in the central city, and you could see this many violations in an hour. Clearly, this law is not being enforced.