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Open Access Publications from the University of California

What They Don’t Know Can Kill Them


Traffic safety researchers have long argued that driver behavior outweighs physical elements (such as road design) as a causal factor in motor vehicle collisions. A fundamental causal component of pedestrian-vehicle collisions is also behavior—that of the driver and that of the pedestrian. One determinant of this behavior may be whether the driver, the pedestrian, or both understand the motor vehicle code, which demarcates right-of-way in pedestrian-vehicle interactions. That is, inappropriate or unlawful behavior may occur because the law is not understood or is misunderstood. Previous studies have shown that drivers and pedestrians have a limited knowledge of pedestrian right-of-way laws. This research expands on these studies by specifically considering knowledge of right-of-way laws related to marked and unmarked crosswalks. Driver and pedestrian knowledge was assessed through intercept surveys and focus groups conducted in the San Francisco Bay Area. Results confirm that a substantial level of confusion exists with respect to pedestrian right-of-way laws. This confusion was exacerbated by intersections which had unstriped, or unmarked, crosswalks. Implications for engineering, education, and enforcement countermeasures in light of these findings are discussed and areas for further research are proposed.

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