The Wash

Drivers in Arlington who fail to stop for pedestrians could face $500 fines

crosswalk guy

The Arlington County Board fixes a discrepancy between Arlington’s traffic laws and Virginia’s, and now drivers who zoom past pedestrians in crosswalks might have to pay.

Arlington drivers now need to make a complete stop for pedestrians in crosswalks or face up to $500 in fines. 

The Arlington County Board updated its traffic code this summer to conform with Virginia’s state traffic code. Now, drivers in Arlington County could face $100 to $500 fines if they do not completely stop for pedestrians within a crosswalk on roads with a speed limit under 35 miles per hour. 

Virginia lawmakers changed the state’s traffic code in early March. The former code required drivers to yield to pedestrians, meaning that a rolling stop for pedestrians in crosswalks was allowed.   

“For a moment’s time, technically there was an inconsistency between our law and the state law. Just to get in conformity we changed it,” said David Barrera, communications and policy manager for the Arlington County Board. 

According to Ashley Savage, the Arlington County Police Department communications director, the code requires drivers to stop, even if they have a green light. Traffic Attorney Alex Taylor confirmed this interpretation. 

The code also states that a driver approaching from an adjacent lane or from behind a car stopped for a pedestrian cannot go past the stopped car. 

Barerra said the law requires people to fully stop.  

“When we say yield, anybody can just roll and then go,” Barerra said. “But if a police officer sees you, obviously you’re eligible for a fine.” 

Applies on roads with a 35-mph limit

This part of the code–requiring drivers to stop instead of yielding to pedestrians–only applies on roads that have less than a 35-mph speed limit, which includes most of Arlington’s roads.  

Traffic Attorney Alex Taylor said there is a legal reason behind this. 

“The speed limit is that low so that you can have the ability to stop,” Taylor said. “It doesn’t say that, but that’s why it’s that way.” 

Taylor said even a five-mile-per-hour difference in a driver’s speed can change the outcome of dangerous pedestrian crossing situations. 

“If you’re driving less than 35 miles per hour and a person is in a crosswalk, you have enough time to be able to stop,” Taylor said. “If a person is going 40 miles an hour, and if a person is in the crosswalk, you aren’t going to have enough time to slow the car down enough to avoid hitting them.” 

The speed limit on Clarendon Boulevard is 25 miles per hour, meaning that cars have to completely stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. (Lauren Spiers/The Wash)

Barrera said the change aligns with Arlington’s goal of Vision Zero. 

Aligns with Vision Zero

Vision Zero is a strategy adopted by neighborhoods all over the world to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries. In Arlington, this looks like completing construction on streets, managing speed, improving signage and managing curb space. 

Since the Arlington County Board adopted a Vision Zero policy in 2019 and adopted a five-year Vision Zero action plan in 2021, it has targeted pedestrian safety. Barrera and Baker said this law supports Arlington’s Vision Zero goal: to completely eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2030.  

Christine Baker, Arlington County Vision Zero manager, said the law aims to “bring awareness to drivers who might not otherwise be paying attention to pedestrians or who are going really fast.” 

According to data from Vision Zero, there have been 38 critical crashes in Arlington so far this year. Ten of those 38 crashes were crashes in which pedestrians were involved. Nine of those pedestrians suffered severe injuries, and one died.  

“The code is kind of nuanced,” Baker said. “But by stopping, drivers are making it less likely for a pedestrian to be hit.” 

Dee Mots, who works in Arlington and is an Arlington resident, said she was not aware of the code change, but she thinks it is a good thing.  

“People here are very impatient, so I think the full stop would be more helpful than yielding,” Mots said. 

Mots said some of her work clients have been struck by cars while riding their bikes, and she said she’s nearly been hit on her way to work.  

“I’ve almost gotten hit before,” Mots said. “I’m only focusing on the little man that says ‘walk,’ I’m not really paying attention to cars, and I know that sounds bad.” 

Mots said she has almost been hit several times at this intersection between Clarendon Boulevard and N Fillmore Street. Cars are given a green light to turn right from N Fillmore Street onto Clarendon Boulevard, while the pedestrians crossing Clarendon Boulevard have a walk sign. (Lauren Spiers/The Wash).

Another resident, Marcia Basler said she always fully stops for pedestrians, so she feels like she does not need to change her driving.  

“You really don’t need to have a big commotion about it,” Basler said. “I’m sure people get killed because they’re doing the wrong thing.” 

AAA Mid-Atlantic agrees that the new code will improve pedestrian safety. 

“Virginia’s new law is consistent with AAA’s position on pedestrian safety,” said Ragina Cooper Ali, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson. “Requiring drivers to stop, not yield, for pedestrians in crosswalks or on a roadway approaching a crossing pedestrian, will help ensure adequate crossing protection.”  

Savage from the police department said the only way a citation would be issued, however, is if a police officer directly sees a driver roll through a crosswalk with an approaching pedestrian. Even then, Savage said a driver will not necessarily face a citation.  

“They could,” Savage said. “An officer still has discretion, and we do use other means, we do traffic stops, through education, through warnings, but they could be subject to a traffic citation.” 

Attorney Taylor said even though a citation is not guaranteed, it is still the law.  

“The way the law is interpreted to begin with–if you have the ability to see that pedestrian prior to hitting them–then you’re supposed to stop,” Taylor said.  

Traffic cameras?

Savage said the state law does not permit enforcement via traffic cameras for this offense, but Baker said it should.  

“Moving to enforcement by red light cameras and traffic cameras is critical to Vision Zero’s mission,” Baker said. 

Enforcing these laws through police officers is not a guarantee that the law will be enforced, which is why Baker said Vision Zero is trying to update the code so that enforcing these laws by video camera is allowed. 

“By using traffic cameras, we aren’t trying to be like ‘gotcha,’ you know,” Baker said. “We just want to decrease police officer and driver interaction due to recent events.” 

Baker said this is because Vision Zero wants to prevent potential conflicts between drivers and police officers so the code can be enforced peacefully. 

Baker said the state has been diligent about changing the code’s enforcement rules, so for now, the code will remain unchanged.  

 While they wait, Vision Zero is striving to change signs that say “yield to pedestrians” to “stop for pedestrians.” 

Sign in Arlington reads “Yield Here to Pedestrians” at the intersection of Clarendon Boulevard and N Danville Street. (Lauren Spiers/The Wash).

Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services is collaborating with the Department of Transportation to put up the signs, according to Baker. The signs will be at crosswalks, reminding drivers of the fines associated with failing to completely stop for pedestrians.  

Lauren Spiers

Before pursuing my master’s in journalism from AU, I interned at WTVR-CBS 6 where I wrote scripts and worked on the assignment desk. I developed TV news packages as a broadcast reporter at VCU. My articles were published in the blog and magazine at non-profit The Borgen Project.

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