San Francisco’s Pedestrian Culture

Wade Coye

Wade Coye, Accident Attorney

On a recent trip to San Francisco, I noticed how differently drivers act when they live in a city that is friendly to pedestrians. Not only did they yield to people walking about the city, but they did so even when they had a green light. These drivers will stop at an intersection and wave people across the street even if they are entitled to keep going. The way drivers treat intersections in general caught my attention; there was no rampant red-light running like it seems to be in Orlando.

Was this the effect of the city’s culture, or something else? I asked a local shopkeeper about my observation and he told me that the laws and punishment for running a red light in San Francisco are high. Pedestrians are given the right of way in the city, and even if a driver violates that right of way without hitting anyone or causing serious injuries, the penalties are far-reaching enough to curb this dangerous behavior.

San Francisco Streets

San Francisco Streets

California vehicle code 21950 states that a pedestrian has the right of way if they walk within the marked crosswalk. They must also exercise “due care for his or her own safety” when crossing the road and make sure not to walk into the path of close vehicle. Drivers who violate CA VC 21950 can receive one point on their license in addition to punishment for any other laws they may be breaking at the time, such as speeding, reckless driving, or causing property damage. The fine for violating pedestrian right of way in San Francisco can be as high as $500. A driver could get a $100 fine and a point on their license for running a red light as well.

What does this mean for Florida drivers? Well, since our state has different laws, probably not much unless they are driving in California. But it raises an important concern: how do Florida laws protect a pedestrian hit by a car? It is important to think about. In the United States in 2009, 4,092 pedestrians were killed and 59,000 were injured in car accidents according to the United State Department of Transportation. Some of those accidents could have been prevented by each state’s enforcement of strict punishments associated with breaking certain traffic laws, including violating a pedestrian’s right of way.

Florida’s pedestrian laws are much different than California’s. Florida Statute §316.130 states that pedestrians are only allowed to cross a street in a crosswalk with a permitting signal if one is installed. Drivers need to give pedestrians the right of way when they have signals to cross, but that’s basically the extent of legal protection for pedestrian right of way. When a driver violates a pedestrian law in Florida, they are required to pay only $15, which is hardly a deterrent.

What happens if a person is hit by a car? The driver can face fines, points on their license, and harsher punishment if they violated the law and caused serious injury or even death. Pedestrians may be able claim medical benefits from their car insurance company if they own a car or if someone they live with owns a car. Personal injury protection coverage can provide medical payments if the insured person is injured if they were hit by a car while driving, walking, or riding a bicycle. Unfortunately, some pedestrian accidents end in death. The victim’s family may be able to bring a wrongful death claim against the driver that failed to protect those around them.

Did the law make San Francisco into a pedestrian-friendly city, or did it’s people shape the laws that protect their own right to cross and enjoy the streets on foot? No matter the answer, my trip to San Francisco reaffirmed the importance of vehicle safety. It’s easy for drivers to only consider the cost of a ticket because they were caught speeding or running a red light. These financial punishments are in place to discourage people from endangering the lives of others on the road, whether they are in a car or not.

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