Question: I regularly witness drivers nearly causing rear-end collisions because they are slamming on the brakes to stop for pedestrian/bicyclist cross-flow simply approaching an intersection, marked or not. In these incidents, the pedestrian/bicyclist has not entered the lane of vehicular travel when the incident begins.
The RCW 46.61.235 states nothing about the sidewalk or cross streets; only "upon or within" lanes of vehicular travel. Now with all the "new-style" sidewalk ramps at intersections nearly protruding into the vehicular travel lane, drivers are jamming down on the brakes all over town just because a single person leisurely approaches the roadway intending to cross, and in many situations, not.
My question is directed to the RCW below when it refers to "half of the roadway." Has the "half of the roadway" line of code socially morphed into a policeable action or been legally coded to include the sidewalk ramp (and the approaching intersecting street of the ped/bicyclist flow) as being "within the roadway"?
RCW 46.61.235 Crosswalks. (1) The operator of an approaching vehicle shall stop and remain stopped to allow a pedestrian or bicycle to cross the roadway within an unmarked or marked crosswalk when the pedestrian or bicycle is upon or within one lane of the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling or onto which it is turning. For purposes of this section "half of the roadway" means all traffic lanes carrying traffic in one direction of travel, and includes the entire width of a one-way roadway.
Answer: If a pedestrian or a bicyclist is on the sidewalk approaching the intersection/crosswalk and appears to be planning to cross the street, the car(s) nearest to the pedestrian/bicyclist need to stop to allow them to cross. Once they have started across, the rest of RCW 46.61.235 applies. If we look at the RCW as written and didn't look at the approach to the roadway, a pedestrian would never be able to cross the street.
We also need to look at subsection (2) of the same RCW: (2) No pedestrian or bicycle shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk, run, or otherwise move into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to stop.
I have seen drivers stop to allow bicycles to cross the road when the driver had the right of way and the bicycle was on a cross street with a stop sign. If the bicycle is using the roadway, not the sidewalk, then the bicycle is subject to the same rules as a vehicle and must wait for traffic to clear before leaving the stop sign.
As to the "slamming on of brakes," it should not need to happen. If the driver is paying attention to the surroundings, he/she should see the pedestrian approach in time to slow and stop. The following driver should also see the vehicle ahead stopping and have time to act, unless they are following too closely or not paying attention to their driving.
The final part of this is the pedestrian/bicyclist. They also need to pay attention to the traffic on the roadway to make sure it is safe for them to cross. The way we were taught - Stop, Look and Listen - still applies. They may have the right of way, but they will ultimately lose in a collision.
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DAVID WRIGHT is a retired officer from the Bellingham Police Department who is now on the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force.