Va. pedestrian protection push could mean changes for rules of road

WASHINGTON — Virginia laws meant to protect people walking around are not as specific as the laws requiring drivers to stop for pedestrians in Maryland and D.C., so there is another push for changes planned this winter.

In Virginia, drivers are generally required to yield to people walking across a road in a crosswalk or intersection on roads where the speed limit is 35 mph or less.

In Maryland and D.C., drivers are required to stop for pedestrians.

“With stop, you absolutely have to stop when there’s a pedestrian in a crosswalk, so there’s no gray area,” said Virginia Bicycling Federation President Champe Burnley.

In Maryland, drivers are required to stop when someone is crossing their half of the street or walking into their half of the street from an adjacent lane on the other side of the road. In the District, a driver is required to “stop and remain stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross the roadway” when the person is walking across their lane or the lane next to the one the car is in.

With the Virginia law, Burnley said there is significant wiggle room for drivers who dangerously swerve around people walking across the street.

“With stop, it’s pretty black and white. With yield, we’ve often seen drivers try to go around to the left [or] to the right and that can set up potentially a very dangerous situation,” Burnley said.

Virginia also generally only requires drivers stop for a person who has begun to cross the street, not someone waiting safely on the sidewalk to be able to cross.

Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties, and the cities of Fairfax, Falls Church and Alexandria, have special permission to require drivers yield to people just attempting to cross the road at specifically signed intersections.

Bills pushing for changes to require drivers to stop until pedestrians have safely crossed that section of the roadway have been introduced and voted down for the last decade or so.
This past year, a bill introduced by freshman Del. Lee Carter was killed in a transportation subcommittee on a 5-4 party-line vote, with Republicans opposed and Democrats supporting the measure.

“The number of pedestrian and bicycle crashes, unfortunately, is up, and we think laws like this will help reduce those numbers,” Burnley said.

He also expects another push for laws that crack down on distracted driving. A bill to ban handheld cellphone use failed at the end of this winter’s session.

Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors is again set to support the push to require drivers to stop for pedestrians as a small part of a broader legislative agenda for this winter’s General Assembly session in Richmond.

Other issues in a draft package being considered by a committee Tuesday include a push for more K-12 education funding, new state funding to replace the money shifted to Metro earlier this year from other transportation projects, a state fix to a fiscal cliff for bus transit services, and protections for local community services boards to be sure Medicaid expansion does not leave them overburdened.

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