Our roadways will perhaps be a little safer after California lawmakers passed several bills recently that make safety on our roadways for drivers, pedestrians, passengers, and bicyclists a priority.
Five bills in particular now await a signature from Gov. Gavin Newsom to become laws. You can learn more about each one of the new California traffic safety bills below.
“We all want to know we’ll make it home safe when we hit the road, whether it’s on foot, bicycle, or in a vehicle,” said David Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “We hope these bills and potential laws make our streets a little safer for all.”
AB 43 – SPEED LIMIT REFORM
This bill gives California cities more control to set speeds based on safety. Currently, the state largely has authority over speed limits and sets them based on the movement speed of 85% of traffic on any given street. AB 43 would allow cities to reduce speeds by increments of 5 mph by letting local officials factor the safety of pedestrians and cyclists when conducting the speed traffic surveys California uses to determine streets’ speed limits. The bill requires that cities take into account the presence of vulnerable groups, including children, seniors, the unhoused and persons with disabilities when setting speed limits, and would permit cities to reduce speed limits on streets with a track record of traffic safety issues, including school zones, according to Natural Resources Defense Council.
AB 1238 – JAYWALKING REFORM
This bill would eliminate fines for crossing the street outside of a crosswalk, better known as jaywalking. It follows other states striking jaywalking as a primary offense in which police can no longer stop pedestrians specifically for jaywalking. The crime of jaywalking historically has often a pretext to stop and search people of color. Data from the California Racial and Identity Profiling Act shows Black people in California are over five times more likely to be stopped for a walking infraction than white people. AB 1238 still requires pedestrians to use due care for their safety and the safety of other road users, and those who cross the street when it’s not safe can still be cited. The bill merely decriminalizes safe crossing when there is no immediate hazard. It would be a pilot through 2028, and law enforcement will collect data on pedestrian-involved crashes until then.
UPDATE: Gov. Newsom vetoed the bill, stating he was committed to working on legislation “that addresses the unequal enforcement of jaywalking laws in a manner that does not risk worsening California’s pedestrian safety.”
AB 773 – CITY ‘SLOW STREETS’
The goal of this bill is to make it easier for cities to make the “slow streets” created during the COVID-19 pandemic permanent, and turn streets into safe outdoor spaces for transportation and recreation. Several cities during the COVID crisis have instituted local variations of “slow streets” programs, including barricades to slow traffic or prohibit cut-through traffic to create safe places for people to exercise, recreate, move or just be outside. AB 773 adds more to those specific circumstances under which a street closure is allowed, and could allow one to be permanent if cities determine “that closure or traffic restriction is necessary for the safety and protection of persons using the closed or restricted portion of the street.” In short, it would make it easier for cities to lower speed limits and even do permanent closure of local streets if the closure would make streets safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other non-motorized road users.
AB 122 – BIKES YIELD
This bill allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs when it’s safe to do so. In fact, AB 122 would specifically require people riding bicycles to yield at stops signs if the intersection is clear. This practice, though extremely common, has been technically illegal. Other vehicles would have to yield the right of way to the bicyclist if they had already yielded. Traffic officers would still be allowed to cite people biking if they blow through stop signs in a way that endangers others.
“Research and common sense make clear that complete stops at all stop sign-controlled intersections make bike trips slower and require more energy from the rider,” stated author Assemblyman Boerner Horvath of Encinitas. “Studies on cyclists’ stopping behavior also find that these full stops do nothing to improve, and can even reduce, rider safety — attributed mainly to the increased time cyclists spend in the intersection after a full stop compared to the safe yielding alternative.”
AB 122 would only be a six year pilot program with an end date of Jan. 1, 2028 with a report on the program due that year and would also not affect driver liability if there is an accident.
UPDATE: Gov. Newsome vetoed the bill, stating he feared that the legislation intended to increase bicyclist safety would have “the opposite effect.”
AB 917 – AUTOMATED BUS LANE ENFORCEMENT
This bill would allow buses to install cameras that can take and use images of bus-lane and parking violations to enforce them. This is building on a program already in place in San Francisco County. AB 917 argues that drivers who park in bus lanes delay essential workers who take transit. And blocked up bus lanes cost transit agencies money by keeping bus drivers tied up in traffic, which drains local and state transit funding. Transit agencies will have to broadly announce a new bus lane enforcement program and only issue warnings for 60 days. Consistent automated enforcement will keep bus lanes free of parkers in a way that doesn’t create unnecessary interactions between law enforcement and the public, according to authors.
If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form, text, or chat with us at chainlaw.com.