Petitioning Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jerry Wray and 2 others

Ohio Department of Transportation and Ohio legislature: Restore pedestrian rights of way in traffic signal laws

The pedestrian laws were changed effective June, 2012 with Ohio House Bill 349 to incorporate changes related to an update of the Ohio Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices. In particular, Ohio Revised Code 4511.14 was updated to remove the requirement that pedestrians facing a WALK signal "shall be given the right-of-way by operators of all vehicles", replaced with the requirement that "the pedestrian shall yield the right-of-way to vehicles lawfully within the intersection at the time that the walking person signal indication is first shown." Similar changes were made in Ohio revised code 4511.13 regarding right and left turns on red and requiring pedestrians to yield at the start of the green signal and yellow flashing arrow (a new signal type).

Children are taught to walk when they see the WALK signal. Pedestrians who are blind expect to be given the right of way when they hear the audible signal. Vehicle operators should always yield the right of way to pedestrians lawfully in the intersection.

Pedestrian fatalities have increased by 10% each year since 2008. 115 pedestrians were killed on Ohio roads in 2012. Pedestrian right-of-way must be restored in our traffic laws. 

Letter to
Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jerry Wray
Ohio Senate Transportation Committee Chair Gayle Manning
Ohio House of Representatives Transportation, Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee Chair Rex Damshroder
We are writing to express our concern with changes that were made to Ohio traffic laws as they pertain to pedestrians when the laws were updated in Ohio HB 349 and SB 252 of the 129th General Assembly.

The traffic laws affected were those that define the laws for traffic signals and pedestrian signals. The new 2012 Ohio Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) includes changes to the traditional traffic signals and new signals called pedestrian hybrid beacons and warning beacons. The traditional traffic signal is now permitted to have a new flashing yellow arrow signal phase and the pedestrian hybrid beacons and warning beacons behave differently than the traditional traffic signals. Therefore, the laws for traffic signals were changed to define the rules for these new phases and beacons.

Our concern is regarding the changes to the yielding requirements placed on drivers and pedestrians. In the past, the signal laws required drivers to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks (both marked and unmarked) when the pedestrian had a green traffic signal or a WALK pedestrian signal. The new law still requires drivers to yield to pedestrians, but now the pedestrian is required to yield to vehicles lawfully in the intersection when the signal first changes to green, flashing yellow or WALK. We understand that pedestrians are advised to make sure the intersection is clear before beginning to cross the street, but this change to the traffic law lessens the rights of pedestrians to the roadway.

An example of the change in the law is the following change to the rules for a WALK signal.

The previous version of Ohio Revised Code 4511.14 (prior to June, 2012) stated:
4511.14(A) “Walk” or the symbol of a walking person: Pedestrians facing such signal may proceed across the roadway in the direction of the signal and shall be given the right of way by operators of all vehicles, streetcars, and trackless trolleys.

The new version of ORC 4511.14 (effective June, 2012) states:
4511.14(A) A steady walking person signal indication, which symbolizes “walk”, means that a pedestrian facing the signal indication is permitted to start to cross the roadway in the direction of the signal indication, possibly in conflict with turning vehicles. The pedestrian shall yield the right-of-way to vehicles lawfully within the intersection at the time that the walking person signal indication is first shown.

The changes above show that the right-of-way has shifted from the pedestrian to the driver at the start of the WALK signal.

The following sections outline the problems that pedestrians face with the laws as they stand.

· The 2012 Ohio MUTCD and HB349/SB252 changed the definition of intersection. The intersection used to be the area between the extensions of the curb at all four corners of the intersection. The new definition of intersection extends from the near side stop bar to the far side crosswalk line of each leg of the intersection. Since the pedestrian is now required to yield to vehicles lawfully in the intersection, he/she must look in a larger area to see if there are conflicting vehicles before beginning to cross the street. Drivers often encroach on crosswalks while waiting at stop signs and traffic signals.

· Pedestrians who are blind expect to be able to start crossing the street when they hear the audible signal. They cannot see whether there are vehicles in the intersection before beginning to cross. They can sometimes hear traffic that is moving, but they cannot hear traffic that is stopped in the intersection or electric and hybrid (quiet) cars.

· Children are taught that they can walk when they see the WALK signal or the green light if there is no pedestrian signal. Since children do not know all the rules of traffic, including the many types of signal phases including the turn-only arrows and the new flashing yellow arrow phase, they may not understand when vehicles are lawfully in the intersection when the WALK signal begins.

· Distracted driving is becoming more prevalent with the increased use of cellphones, GPS systems and other electronic gadgets in cars. The traffic laws should be clear that motorists must yield to pedestrians lawfully in crosswalks at all times.

· The WALK phase is often very short (the Ohio MUTCD allows as short as 4 seconds), and the intersection may not clear before the DON’T WALK phase begins. The pedestrian law forbids a pedestrian from starting to cross after the DON’T WALK phase begins (even if there is a countdown timer), so the pedestrian may be unable to lawfully begin crossing.

· Vehicles turning left or right at a green or flashing yellow arrow light are required to cross crosswalks on which pedestrians also have a green or WALK signal. If the pedestrian is waiting for the intersection to clear before beginning to cross, the drivers with green or flashing yellow arrow lights may begin turning into the crosswalk before the pedestrian begins to walk.

· The laws as they stand imply that if a pedestrian is hit by a motor vehicle, that the driver may not be liable if they claim that they were already in the intersection when the pedestrian received their green or WALK signal. It shouldn’t matter where the motor vehicle is located, the driver should always yield to pedestrians lawfully in the crosswalk.

· In addition to the changes to the rules for yielding, I recommend that the laws use the term “marked and unmarked crosswalks”, which will reinforce the law that drivers must yield to pedestrians at intersections regardless of whether the crosswalk is marked.

· The rules for right and left turn on red now state that the rules for a stop sign are applicable. Since the crosswalk law 4511.46 states that it only applies when traffic control signals are not in place, then the stop sign law should also be revised to indicate that drivers must yield to pedestrians before proceeding.

For all these reasons, we ask that the traffic signal laws and pedestrian signal laws be updated to restore the right of way to pedestrians. Our proposal for changes is attached to this letter. We ask that these changes be incorporated into Ohio HB 35, which is correcting the problem with the left turn on red from a one-way street.