We can read about pedestrian crossings in Star Tribune editorials and letters to the editor, and even the Minnesota Driver’s Manual, yet remain ignorant of an essential law for pedestrian safety. It reads: “When any vehicle is stopped at a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk 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.”
Yes, drivers must stop not only for pedestrians, but also for drivers stopped for pedestrians. Complicated? No. If you’re approaching a stopped car blocking your view of a crosswalk, don’t blindly zip by it. There might be pedestrians about to enter your lane.
Another misconception is that the law makes safe crossing entirely a driver responsibility. Pedestrians have responsibilities, too: “No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield.” “A place of safety” is any place you won’t be hit, which includes in a traffic lane with cars stopped for you. You can’t enter the next lane without assuring that doing so is safe.
A better known (but not universally so) part of the crossing law is that it doesn’t kick in until the pedestrian is in the crosswalk. Standing on the curb doesn’t require drivers to stop. The law applies only to “a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a … crosswalk.” Note that the law may not include someone standing in a crosswalk who isn’t crossing the street. If you want traffic to stop for you, be serious about crossing, be visible and be clear about your intensions.
Enforcement is essential, and it should include pedestrians who don’t comply with the pedestrian law. Traffic safety is based on everyone cooperating, behaving responsibly, knowing the laws they are required to know and recognizing that all of us have the right to use the streets.
John Kaplan lives in St. Paul.