Kokua Line
June Watanabe

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Modified crossing laws
spark new questions

Question: The new law on crosswalks has everyone arguing at work, primarily drivers vs. pedestrians on who has right of way and under what conditions. I'm saying that at marked crosswalks at intersections, such as the ones at Vineyard Boulevard and Aala or Liliha streets, that once the pedestrian light says "walk," and you start to cross the street, drivers attempting turns must stop and allow all pedestrians to clear the crosswalk before completing their turn. If it's in a marked crosswalk without traffic lights, once a pedestrian has stepped off the curb, traffic in both lanes must stop to allow the crossing. Of course it's the responsibility of both pedestrians and drivers to use common sense when approaching a crosswalk, regardless of who has the "right of way," and use some aloha. The argument here seems to be what exactly the flashing red "walk" light means to the pedestrian and the driver. I say it means if you are in the crosswalk when it starts flashing, continue to cross the street; drivers must stop. If it's flashing or continuous red, then you must stay on the curb. Drivers can proceed through the crosswalk but use common sense and watch out for pedestrians.

Answer: It's not just drivers, but pedestrians, who should use common sense and "aloha" when out and about.

The change in the law aimed at increasing pedestrian safety is causing a lot of confusion, but it basically was a matter of changing "yield" to "stop" for pedestrians at any crosswalk.

The part about the pedestrians crossing the halfway point "was always in the statutes," said Lt. Jeffery Bruchal, of the Honolulu Police Department's Traffic Division.

The pertinent part of Act 73, which took effect this year, says: "The driver of a vehicle shall stop and yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is upon the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger."

The law previously required drivers to yield the right of way, slowing down or stopping if needed to yield. Also, the law previously specified situations where traffic-control signals are not in place or operating. Now, stopping for pedestrians in a marked crosswalk is required whether there are traffic-control signals.

Taking your statements/questions one by one:

» In a situation such as at Vineyard and Liliha, where there is a median strip: If a motorist is turning left from Liliha into the Diamond Head-bound lanes of Vineyard, he would have to wait until a pedestrian has crossed to either the median or the sidewalk, Bruchal said.

» Your statement that "in a marked crosswalk without traffic lights, once a pedestrian has stepped off the curb, traffic in both lanes must stop to allow the crossing," is "correct in a general sense," he said.

The law also requires that "pedestrians cannot just suddenly enter or run into a crosswalk in a manner that would not allow motorists enough time to slow down and stop. ... The laws also impose conditions on pedestrians. They cannot just go out into the road in an unreasonable manner that would not give enough time to the motorist to come to a complete and safe stop."

» Regarding what the flashing red walk light means, Bruchal said you've "got that mostly right."

"A pedestrian cannot enter the crosswalk when the flashing 'Don't Walk' signal is indicated or when the steady 'Don't Walk' signal is illuminated," he said. Doing so means a possible citation.

If the flashing "Don't Walk" signal goes on after a pedestrian has entered the crosswalk, he is allowed to complete the crossing.

Bruchal reiterated that "there are conditions on both sides" and that's always been the case.

"I guess, over time, because of congestion, people take short cuts and more short cuts," he said. "People just squeeze by to get to where they want to go and forgot what the actual laws are."

The best guide, he said, is to "just approach each situation with as much common sense as we can."

Q: I would like to know how the recent law on stopping for pedestrian reads for the disabled and the elderly walking slowly in a crosswalk with a median strip, such as at Vineyard Boulevard or Nimitz Highway. While walking toward the other side, the white "Walk" light changes to the red "Don't Walk" halfway at the median strip. Should they proceed or wait for another cycle?

A: There's nothing in the law specifying slow walkers.

Once the "Walk" signal changes to "Don't Walk," the pedestrian would have to stop at the median and wait for the next signal, Bruchal said.

If there is no pedestrian signals at a crosswalk, the pedestrian would have to obey the traffic light signals, stopping at the median if need be, he said.

Q: If a pedestrian is not in a crosswalk, are cars still supposed to stop if the pedestrian is in their half of the road until the pedestrian reaches the sidewalk? Does the crosswalk law still apply in this case?

A: No, motorists are not required to stop and yield if a pedestrian is not crossing within a crosswalk.

"Pedestrians have the right of way only when they are within a crosswalk," Bruchal explained.

Furthermore, the law states that "pedestrians shall yield the right of way to all vehicles" when crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk, or in an "unmarked crosswalk" at intersections, he said.

Unmarked crosswalks are usually at intersections on smaller streets not controlled by a traffic signal. One example, he said, is on Waimanu Street where it intersects with Ward Avenue.

There is no marked crosswalk there, but pedestrians crossing Waimanu Street there are afforded "the same protection as if crossing within a marked crosswalk," Bruchal said.

Q: If a pedestrian is crossing in a crosswalk when it is not their turn to cross, are cars still supposed to stop if the pedestrian is in their half of the road until the pedestrian reaches the sidewalk? For example, if a car is turning left, on a green arrow, onto Ala Moana Boulevard from Ward Avenue and a pedestrian is crossing Ala Moana on the Diamond Head side (same side the cars are turning into), does the crosswalk law still apply?

A: Yes, even though the pedestrian is breaking the law, Bruchal said.

Section 291C-72 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes -- "Pedestrian's right of way in crosswalks" -- does not place conditions that would require motorists to yield only when pedestrians are crossing with the pedestrian walk signal or green light, he said.

"Therefore, motorists must stop and yield to pedestrians even when they choose to cross against the walk signal," he said.

A motorist who fails to yield in that situation could be cited for failing to yield to the pedestrian, while the pedestrian could be cited for disobeying the pedestrian cross signal.


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