Jaywalk no more: New law ends penalty for crossing street during signal countdown

Whether you’re quick or not, the principle is the same: If you step into a crosswalk after the countdown begins you’re putting yourself at risk — at risk of a costly fine, that is.

Or at least that’s been the case as long as section 21456(b) of the California Vehicle Code has been around. Once the red hand appears on the crossing signal, “No pedestrian shall start to cross the roadway in the direction of the signal,” the law states.

Thousands of Los Angeles pedestrians have learned the hard way of this counter-intuitive — some say unjust — point of state law.

During a four-year period examined by The Times, Los Angeles Police Department records showed that more than 17,000 citations were issued under that code section in downtown alone, at $197 for the basic violation.

But now redemption is coming for those scofflaws who can’t help doing what seems right to them.

Earlier this week, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill to amend the code. AB 390 will make it legal for a pedestrian to enter a crosswalk during a countdown signal if there is sufficient time to reasonably complete the crossing safely.

The law will take effect Jan. 1.

“I am thrilled that the Governor signed my bill to ensure pedestrians are not preyed upon and burdened unnecessarily,” said Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), who authored the bill. “This is a small but crucial step towards encouraging and reinforcing pedestrian-friendly communities such as Downtown Los Angeles.”

Santiago called the existing law outdated. It makes no reference to the countdown clocks that have been proliferating electronic pedestrian signals as a safety improvement. The law prohibits walking when “Don’t Walk,” “Wait” or the “upraised hand” are either flashing or steady.

On signals in Los Angeles, a flashing hand appears at the same time the countdown starts. The hand switches to steady when the clock hits “0.”

Santiago’s bill will make it legal to step into the crosswalk with the hand flashing, as long as the pedestrian clears the intersection before the hand turns steady.

Santiago said there is no evidence that relaxing the crosswalk law in other states and cities has led to an increase in risky behavior by pedestrians.

doug.smith@latimes.com

@LATDoug

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