The Mercury News described a typical crosswalk sting. Santa Clara County deputies went to Saratoga recently to enforce a law they made up.
They say if a deputy steps into the street 90 feet in front of a moving car, the driver must stop. 89 feet, don’t have to stop. 90 feet, have to stop. That distance is not in the Vehicle Code. The sergeant in charge justified it by saying “for a car traveling at 27 miles per hour, perception, reaction and stopping distance is 91 feet.” That distance isn’t in the Vehicle Code either, and it isn’t correct.
According to the Caltrans highway design manual, drivers should be given 150 feet to stop from 25 mph. Of this distance, the first 92 feet are reaction time, the time it takes a driver to start braking.
A Caltrans-approved driver’s foot touches the brake pedal just as the deputy is starting to launch over the hood. Jumping in front of a car and getting hit is a violation of Vehicle Code §21950(b): “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.” By walking back and forth the deputy also violated the next sentence, which reads “No pedestrian may unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.”
Crosswalk stings are a game some departments play, as if they were testing a simple computer program instead of a human.
Humans do not require precisely 1.0 seconds to react. Most drivers under most conditions will hit the brakes within a second. Some drivers under some conditions take over two seconds. It’s not simply a “good driver” vs. “bad driver” distinction. Any driver might be slow to react. A crosswalk ahead is only one of many things demanding attention on a city street. If you look to see if that car beside you is really trying to change into your lane, that’s a second of time you aren’t watching the crosswalk. There was an article in the news recently about a driver who was distracted by an ignition interlock and had an accident.
The answer to “how long does it take to stop?” is not a number, but a graph of probabilities. You should ask instead, “how many drivers do you want to stop?”
Road designers want drivers to be able to stop. Most likely there isn’t anything around the blind curve, but if there is a boulder in the road almost all drivers should be able to stop before hitting it. Some of those who can’t stop will swerve around it.
Crosswalk stings have the opposite attitude. They want violations. They aim to maximize the number of drivers forced to stop and make it less likely that drivers can stop.
I have been on the road where they ran the sting. It’s a typical business district. Lying between the urban hell of the valley and the fun driving of the mountains it’s more of a place you drive through than to. Which may be the source of complaints leading to police enforcement.
We stopped for gas there on the way up to the fun part. 100 octane. I wonder if police appreciate the irony of trying to slow drivers down by standing in front of a gas station that sells racing fuel.
The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.