No one could have imagined the war that would arise between driver and pedestrian. Drivers want pedestrians to stay out of their way, and pedestrians want to live to hit the other side of the curb. This never-ending battle has resulted in two recent crosswalk stings in Santa Barbara County: one on February 25 in Goleta and the second on February 26 in Buellton.
“Pedestrians have been complaining that cars aren’t yielding for them in the crosswalks,” explains Kevin Huddle, the traffic sergeant for the City of Goleta (where, like Buellton, police services are contracted out to the Sheriff’s Department). He said that community members have brought numerous complaints to the Goleta City Council and to the Sheriff Department’s traffic divisions in Goleta and Buellton.
Huddle organized the Goleta sting, which placed two plainclothes deputies at three different locations. Their first stop was at North Fairview and Berkeley roads. School safety was a priority on their list, so they also patrolled Hollister and Orange avenues. And the deputies were also seen in front of the Goleta Valley Community Center on Hollister, where there is a blinking light crosswalk. According to Goleta’s public safety director Vytautas Adomaitis, “This enforcement effort is consistent with the high emphasis on traffic and pedestrian safety.”
The purpose of the sting was to enforce the vehicle code and to educate the public about proper yielding procedure. “To the people that we do stop, we explain to them the law,” Huddle explained. “We want to reaffirm to the motorists that are doing it correctly to continue to do it correctly.” Those exemplary motorists weren’t few and far between - most drivers observed the law and yielded to pedestrians at the designated crosswalks.
In Buellton, Win Smith, that city’s traffic sergeant, has been organizing these stings on Highway 246 since 2007. Their first sting involved a woman crossing the street holding a large balloon bouquet and the most recent one last week resulted in 12 citations. Smith said some of the ticketed will bring up charges of entrapment, but he explained that because the plainclothes deputies were legally crossing the street, they were not inciting people to break the law.
As in Goleta, Buellton residents have also voiced their concerns about crosswalk safety and speed. “Residents complain that their kids can’t cross [the street] to go to school,” said Smith. Motorists are refusing to give pedestrians the right-of-way, and are whizzing past pedestrians at high speeds, which makes it hard to cross the highway. According to Smith, one woman recently attempting to cross the street “got stuck in the middle of the highway” because drivers would not yield. Buellton’s traffic division plans to continue these stings in hopes of reducing speeds and making the highway safer to cross. But that doesn’t mean “the only time we’re enforcing these laws is when we have these [stings],” explained Smith, assuring that their commitment to safety is ongoing.
While most motorists passed the crosswalk test, even good drivers could still slip up and receive a citation if they are not familiar with the laws. Vehicles have to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians at both marked and unmarked crosswalks. When two roads come together at an intersection, the curb serves as the crosswalk if it is not marked. This doesn’t mean that pedestrians can just enter a crosswalk without taking proper precautions, as crossers must make sure that motorists have enough time to stop. Pedestrians are also not allowed to unnecessarily block traffic. Drivers can proceed after the pedestrian has left the center median. People in violation of Vehicle Code 21950 - the basic law against not stopping for a crosswalk - can expect a fine of $175. An infraction of Vehicle Code 21951, which states that a driver cannot pass a vehicle that is stopped at a crosswalk, will get a heftier fine of $400. Although not explicitly outlined in these codes, drivers can receive a ticket for following and stopping too close to other cars, making it difficult to see pedestrians. Meanwhile, pedestrians can receive citations for signaling vehicles to drive in front of them. Stings will go on in hopes of reducing these infractions.
“Pedestrian safety is paramount in the City of Goleta. It’s one of the reasons for the creation of the traffic division in the Sheriff’s Department,” said Huddle. “We hope people will always yield at crosswalks.”
So violators beware, because plainclothes deputies may soon be coming to a crosswalk near you.