Regardless of the time of day that I am on patrol, there is one traffic infraction I am sure to see: pedestrians crossing F Street outside the confines of a clearly marked crosswalk. You’ve seen it, too. Referred to as “jaywalking,” it is clearly unsafe. Everyone has jaywalked at some point in their life. Many think of this as a “victimless” crime. However, in 2009 there were 17 pedestrians injured in traffic accidents in Oakdale, two of which I personally investigated. Just last month, a man lost his life crossing the highway near downtown Oakdale. “Victimless?” I don’t think so.
Although enforcing traffic laws is among the many duties of an Oakdale police officer, safety is the primary duty of every pedestrian and motorist. There are too few officers to protect everybody on the roadway.
Allow me to share with you section 21950(b) of the California Vehicle Code. It states in part: “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. No pedestrian may unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.”
As you may recall, Oakdale Police officers filled in as crossing guards during the first six months of the school year. (An agreement was struck in December with Oakdale Joint Unified School District to share the costs of reinstating four of the former part-time crossing guards to relieve the officers of this duty.) Officers helped students across F Street at three separate crosswalks before and after school. I remember working each of the assigned intersections. There were numerous incidents where students (mostly high school) not only failed to press the pedestrian crossing signal button, but didn’t even look before stepping onto F Street. I was surprised to find that elementary school-age students acted more responsibly than many of their high school counterparts. They used the pedestrian crossing signal, waited for traffic to stop, and then looked in all directions to make sure it was safe to cross.
Oakdale High students enjoy an “open campus” during lunch hour where students are allowed to leave campus to eat lunch. Many of these young adults travel in large groups and typically congregate near local fast food restaurants and convenience stores along F Street. Students chat with friends, talk on the phone, or “text” with little regard for their safety as they cross the busy highway. Often a steady stream of vehicles approaches from both directions and, periodically, people cringe as they hear the squeal of tires as drivers attempt to avoid a rear-end collision. If only our students knew what happens to the unfortunate pedestrian who is struck by a 3,000-pound automobile or, worse yet, a 22-ton commercial truck. I cannot emphasize how important it is for pedestrians to be careful when entering a roadway.
Motorists must be as vigilant as pedestrians, and must travel at a speed that is safe and reasonable for the conditions present — especially when pedestrians are nearby.
Inexperienced student drivers tend to put their fellow classmates at risk. They appear more focused on maintaining a “cool” appearance than being diligent. I have seen numerous teenagers driving large lifted pickup trucks and SUVs. These vehicles are typically equipped with high-end stereo systems, loud exhausts, and tinted windows. These vehicles are often packed with friends, most of whom use this travel time to practice their cellular phone skills. (NOTE: A teenage driver typically has a provisional driver’s license with strict guidelines. Among the restrictions are that the provisional driver cannot transport any person under the age of 20. However, if a passenger is 20 or older and has a valid driver’s license, then the provisional driver is operating within the parameters of his or her license.) A word of caution here: there are vehicle code sections designed to deal with each of these issues and for good reason. Far too many serious traffic collisions have been the result.
Mature motorists and pedestrians are often just as preoccupied, facing distractions that are just as dangerous. Adult drivers are often in a hurry to get to work, pick up their children, etc. and may drive at speeds that are faster than they realize. Often there are pedestrians nearby. Sometimes these drivers are aware of pedestrians, but often, when asked, they are not.
There are incidents where I have contacted pedestrians jaywalking during hours of darkness, often dressed in dark colored clothing, and hardly visible to approaching motorists. I’ve asked why they didn’t even check to see that the street was clear before crossing. Most have told me they weren’t paying attention, although there are some incidents when pedestrians have been too intoxicated to adequately judge the distance of approaching vehicles. Oakdale police officers take appropriate measures in each of these situations.
Every police officer has the duty to preserve life and enforce public safety. The Oakdale Police officers take this duty seriously. However, on any street or highway, regardless of a person’s age or method of transportation, traffic safety is also the responsibility of all Oakdale citizens and everyone who passes through town.
Cop Corner is a monthly column provided by officers of the Oakdale Police Department, offering a variety of information and safety tips.