Friday, February 08, 2008
House Bill 1270, seeks to clarify a law that originally said vehicles had to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, language that legislators have said was too vague to enforce.
Del. Adam Ebbin (D-49th, Arlington/Fairfax County), the chief patron of the bill, said this was the second time in three years that the bill has made it out of the transportation committee, the last time in 2006. It is a bill that county politicians have fought for in the past. Ebbin said he was happy that the measure made it out of the committee, but he did not know what chance it had in the Republican controlled House.
Del. Al Eisenberg (D-47th, Arlington), a patron of the bill, said it was “important” that the bill passed through the transportation committee, which gave him hope that it would pass the House. A vote can always, “slip on the ice,” he said in an interview this morning.
He compared the voting process on some bills in the House as a knit sweater with a loose thread. It all unravels when someone pulls the thread, and delegates might not know where the thread is or who is pulling it.
In this case, he said the thread might just be the problem of who has the right of way. Although the bill states that cars “must stop and remain stopped,” it also states, “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 stop, nor shall any pedestrian cross an intersection in disregard of traffic control devices.” Del. Ebbins said this was a significant change that clarified the pedestrian’s role, and that it is clear in the legislation that cars cannot enter a crosswalk when a pedestrian is present.
However, these portions of the bill gave Del. Manoli Loupassi (R-68th, Richmond) a reason to vote no. He was one of eight delegates to vote against the bill in the transportation committee; 11 delegates from both parties voted for it.
A former prosecutor and defense attorney who said he has spent a lot of time in traffic court, Del. Loupassi said he believes the bill is unworkable in court because, “there’s a burden of proof that cannot be met.” He said it will not always be clear who had the right of way.
“I just think it’s a situation that’s going to get someone killed,” Del. Loupassi said. He said he thinks the bill could “mature” to his liking but that it would have to be simplified for clarity.
The problem with enforcing the law as it stands is that “yield” could mean to stop the car and wait for the pedestrian, or to allow the pedestrian to go first, but then slide just behind them in the crosswalk, officials have said.
“The police say it’s extremely difficult to enforce the law as it is written,” said Virginia Senator Mary Margaret Whipple, last July.
As early as today, the House of Delegates could vote on the bill. It would modify and amend a number of rules on the books regarding vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The first 11 pages of the 16-page bill define various terms, amending some.
An identical bill is being debated on the Senate floor today, with Arlington Sen. Patricia Ticer (D-30th, Arlington/Alexandria) as the chief sponsor. A vote in the Senate's transportation committee was largely along party lines, nine to six, with Republican John Watkins (10th, Midlothian) joining the Democrats.
In both bills, “Crosswalk,” originally relegated only to intersections with plain markings, is split into “Marked Crosswalks” and “Unmarked Crosswalks.”
The unmarked variety extends through an intersection parallel to one road, and crossing the other road where the sidewalk would meet the intersection, if there is a sidewalk.
Marked crosswalks are not defined solely at intersections, but include “any portion of a roadway at an intersection or elsewhere distinctively indicated for pedestrian crossing by lines or other markings on the highway surface.”
The bill also states that pedestrians crossing outside of marked or unmarked crosswalks must yield right of way to vehicles, and that vehicles must always use care around pedestrians.
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