New Connecticut law requires vehicles to stop when pedestrians at a crosswalk raise their hand

Starting next week, vehicles must stop when pedestrians at a crosswalk raise their hand under a new law that takes effect Oct. 1.

The new law is part of a new set of rules seeking to further protect pedestrians and cyclists under a yearslong effort to address traffic safety in the state.


The so-called “pedestrian rules” grant greater protections to pedestrians intending to cross at crosswalks, and from “dooring,” which refers to when a driver or passenger opens their door into oncoming moving traffic like cyclists, pedestrians or other vehicles.

Both rules are part of an omnibus traffic safety bill signed by Gov. Ned Lamont in June and will take effect on Oct. 1. The bill also allows cities and towns to establish their own speed limits and pedestrian safety zones without state approval, provided they meet certain criteria.


What are the new pedestrian rules?

Under the new rules, drivers must yield at crosswalks to pedestrians who signal their intent to cross by raising their hand toward oncoming traffic, or by moving any part of their body (including a wheelchair, walking stick or other extension) into the crosswalk’s entrance.

Pedestrians previously had to enter the crosswalk or step off the curb in order to be legally granted the right of way.

Those limited conditions were particularly problematic for people with disabilities or walking with young children, according to Amy Watkins, director of Watch for Me CT. The organization is an educational campaign supported by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and focused on pedestrian and cyclist safety.

Drivers who fail to yield to a pedestrian under these circumstances will be subject to a $500 fine, as under current law.

“It’s a very subtle change, but it will make a difference for people,” Watkins said.

“Often, pedestrians think a driver sees them when they actually don’t,” Kafi Rouse, director of communications for the Connecticut Department of Transportation, wrote in an email statement provided to the Courant. “The new pedestrian safety laws will give the driver and the person ready to cross the opportunity to confirm the intent to cross,” Rouse wrote.

The law also prohibits drivers or passengers from opening their doors into moving traffic, an act known as dooring and from leaving their doors open “longer than necessary to load or unload passengers” when close to moving traffic. Violations will count as an infraction.

Connecticut was one of just nine states that didn’t have a dooring law as of 2018, according to the League of American Bicyclists.


What is the state of pedestrian safety now?

Drivers traveled less frequently and for shorter distances during the COVID-19 pandemic, when offices closed and stay-at-home orders were enacted. But even as some limited their trips to essential travel, automobile fatalities stayed about the same.

Watkins said that the number of multicar crashes decreased during the pandemic, but there was a surge in single-car and high-speed crashes, which are more likely to be fatal.

“With the wide-open streets, people started driving very fast, very recklessly,” Watkins said.

8,730 people were killed in automobile fatalities in the U.S. between January and March of 2021 — an alarming 10.5% increase over the same period in 2020 — even though road miles traveled decreased by 2.1%, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Pedestrian deaths increased nationwide by an “unprecedented” 55% between 2009 and 2018, Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti said when he announced the state’s campaign to raise awareness for the new laws.

“And although we are seeing a small recent decrease, pedestrian fatalities recorded in 2018 and 2019 have not been this high since 1990,” Giulietti added.


Automobile accidents killed 63 pedestrians in Connecticut in 2020, up from 54 the year before, according to data provided by the transportation department. Accidents have killed 35 pedestrians through August this year.

How will it be enforced?

As under current law, legal enforcement of the pedestrian rules will depend on a witnessing police officer or traffic authority. Their effect will still be dependent on the degree to which drivers and pedestrians follow them.

Watkins said these sorts of rules are often brought in only once an accident or injury has occurred, and are added onto other charges and fines.

“Pedestrians now have more power than ever before,” the state said in its tweet announcing the rule changes, but not everyone online agreed. Some expressed doubt that drivers would acknowledge the hand gestures and yield when they’re supposed to.

Others suggested the rules place an even greater burden on drivers, and feared for reckless pedestrians throwing themselves in front of vehicles.

Watkins conceded that “our driving culture in New England is very much a ‘get out of my way,’ very rushed, sort of driving culture.” Still, Watkins hopes that the rule changes concurrent with the state’s awareness campaign will help to reinforce the importance of pedestrian safety.


“Even doing the education around the law will maybe open people’s eyes and make them think more about the other people on the road, and maybe change their behavior that way,” Watkins said. “But it’s a heavy lift, behavior change.”