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Assault on pedestrian - what should I have done?

Original post made by resident, Old Palo Alto, on Dec 14, 2012

I witnessed a disturbing incident yesterday afternoon. A pedestrian was crossing Bryant Street in a crosswalk and was about half way across the street. An older man in a car came up behind the pedestrian and started blasting his horn, presumably because he thought the pedestrian was not walking fast enough across the street. The car was not there when the pedestrian started crossing the street. The pedestrian was obviously startled and stopped and turned and for a moment, I thought that he was going to put his fist through the driver's (closed) car window. But the pedestrian apparently decided not to, and continued across the street.

12 hours later, this incident is still bothering me. What should I have done? Unfortunately, I do not recall the make or model of car or the license plate number. Should I have called 911 immediately to report an assault on a pedestrian? If I had the license plate number, would the police have arrested the driver?

Comments (29)

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Posted by Law
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 14, 2012 at 9:29 am

Resident,

What you described isn't an "assault" as listed in California Penal Code 240. An assault is an "unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another." Neither a driver honking a horn nor a pedestrian stopping and staring at a driver would qualify as an assault. Instead what you witnessed was a disagreement which happens all the time and requires no action from you. Short of accusing the driver of violating California Vehicle Code 27001(a) which states a driver can only use his horn when "reasonable necessary to insure safe operation" of his vehicle, there was no crime committed. The driver could even argue that he believed it to be reasonable to use his horn because the pedestrian was violating Vehicle Code 21950(b) which states "No pedestrian may unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk."


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Posted by resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2012 at 9:43 am

The driver did not honk his horn when the pedestrian was stopped. The driver honked when the pedestrian was walking at a normal pace, and from behind when the pedestrian likely did not know he was there. Seems like an obvious attempt to intimidate the pedestrian to me, and from his reaction, I believe that the pedestrian felt the same way. If this happened to me (as a pedestrian), I would be very upset.


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Posted by Walker
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2012 at 10:25 am

I had a somewhat similar incident happen to me the other day, while I was crossing El Camino. I had the white man to walk, but as I was in the cross walk a car drove in front of me to do a left turn, and wagged his finger at me like I was making a mistake. Never mind that it was a crosswalk and I was walking when the stoplight told me to!


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Posted by anon
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 14, 2012 at 11:09 am

California does a poor job educating their drivers on the rules of the road. Hence you get clueless horn blasters and finger waggers riding around endangering lives yet thinking they know it all! That written test should be required to be taken every time a license gets re-newed.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2012 at 11:26 am

How do you know that these two people did not know each other and were just messing around?


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Posted by Palo Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 14, 2012 at 11:44 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Eccles
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 14, 2012 at 11:53 am

There are times for everything, this was probably a time to walk away.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Eccles - do you mean I was right to ignore what I saw and not call the police?


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2012 at 12:51 pm

What can you do? To start with, stop exaggerating - it wasn't an assault. In the future, using caution, you can always check in w/the person harassed, ask if they're ok & if you can help.


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Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Dec 14, 2012 at 12:52 pm

There is a great u tube video of this happening to an old lady - she is walking slowly, the driver gets angry and decides to sit on his horn (he is is something like a Mercedes). The lol (little old lady) gets annoyed and swings her purse into the front fender and that sets off the airbag whch engulfs the driver. Very funny video!


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Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 14, 2012 at 12:53 pm

California drivers, generally speaking, as there also some very good and safe drivers on the road, otherwise most of us would be in the hospital or under the ground, seem to have received their license without ever passing a written or driving test.

The incident mentioned above isn't an isolated one. Cars often try to go through a crosswalk while a pedestrian is crossing and the drivers seem very annoyed at the pedestrian who is actually doing everything right and has the right of way.

Something I'm keenly aware of is that many drivers don't bother to turn their headlights on during heavy fog or poor light accompanied by heavy rain, when visibility is extremely poor. In many countries drivers would lose their license for a long period of time, and pay very heavy fines if caught driving without lights when visibility and weather conditions are poo, but in California the cops don't seem to be even aware that they are supposed to ticket such terrible and dangerous drivers.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2012 at 1:07 pm

"Hmmm" - blasting your horn to intimidate a pedestrian definitely is assault. If the driver intentionally injured the pedestrian, that would be assault and battery or assault with a deadly weapon or attempted murder.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2012 at 1:09 pm

No, it's not assault. Please, show me the legal, enforceable definition of assault. Oh, wait, you can't - someone else already did & what you witnessed doesn't qualify. Sheesh.


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Posted by Annie A
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 14, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Many years ago I witnessed a drunk driver weaving through traffic with a child in a carseat in the back seat. I wrote down the license plate number and called the police when I got home (about one minute later). They told me that there was nothing they could do unless the guy crashed the car or caused an accident!

That is no longer true, thank God. If I had observed this incident, I would have whipped out the celli and called 911 with the license number and told them that a vehicle was harassing a pedestrian without provocation. At the very, very least, there would be a record of it, and very likely the driver would get a visit from an officer.


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Posted by Eccles
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 14, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Given your description, yes, you were right to walk away. They both walked away from the confrontation and anything you did during it could potentially escalate the situation.

However, if you felt the situation was that bad, what you should have done is talked to the pedestrian after the incidence to make sure they were OK and offer to be a witness if they wished to take any further action.

Your description doesn't indicate a 911 situation but I wasn't there so it would be your call. Since you consider the driver's behavior unacceptable, you should note the number/make/model of car and submit a traffic complaint. Here's the link to the city's police department traffic complaint form: Web Link


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Posted by resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2012 at 4:07 pm

I looked it up. Blasting your car horn to intimidate a pedestrian is road rage and assault. CVC 13210.


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Posted by EggMan
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 15, 2012 at 4:30 am

resident. No, _I_ looked it up. Here is the vehicle code you referenced:

"13210. In addition to the penalties set forth in subdivision (a) of
Section 245 of the Penal Code, the court may order the suspension of
the driving privilege of any operator of a motor vehicle who commits
an assault as described in subdivision (a) of Section 245 of the
Penal Code on an operator or passenger of another motor vehicle, an
operator of a bicycle, or a pedestrian and the offense occurs on a
highway. The suspension period authorized under this section for an
assault commonly known as "road rage," shall be six months for a
first offense and one year for a second or subsequent offense to
commence, at the discretion of the court, either on the date of the
person's conviction, or upon the person's release from confinement or
imprisonment. The court may, in lieu of or in addition to the
suspension of the driving privilege, order a person convicted under
this section to complete a court-approved anger management or "road
rage" course, subsequent to the date of the current violation."

So yes, they mention "road rage", but they go to great lengths to define assault in section 245 sub. a. of the Penal code

"245. (a) (1) Any person who commits an assault upon the person of
another with a deadly weapon or instrument other than a firearm shall
be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or
four years, or in a county jail for not exceeding one year, or by a
fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both the
fine and imprisonment.
(2) Any person who commits an assault upon the person of another
with a firearm shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison
for two, three, or four years, or in a county jail for not less than
six months and not exceeding one year, or by both a fine not
exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000) and imprisonment.
(3) Any person who commits an assault upon the person of another
with a machinegun, as defined in Section 16880, or an assault weapon,
as defined in Section 30510 or 30515, or a .50 BMG rifle, as defined
in Section 30530, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state
prison for 4, 8, or 12 years.
(4) Any person who commits an assault upon the person of another
by any means of force likely to produce great bodily injury shall be
punished by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four
years, or in a county jail for not exceeding one year, or by a fine
not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both the fine and
imprisonment.
(b) Any person who commits an assault upon the person of another
with a semiautomatic firearm shall be punished by imprisonment in the
state prison for three, six, or nine years.
(c) Any person who commits an assault with a deadly weapon or
instrument, other than a firearm, or by any means likely to produce
great bodily injury upon the person of a peace officer or
firefighter, and who knows or reasonably should know that the victim
is a peace officer or firefighter engaged in the performance of his
or her duties, when the peace officer or firefighter is engaged in
the performance of his or her duties, shall be punished by
imprisonment in the state prison for three, four, or five years.
(d) (1) Any person who commits an assault with a firearm upon the
person of a peace officer or firefighter, and who knows or reasonably
should know that the victim is a peace officer or firefighter
engaged in the performance of his or her duties, when the peace
officer or firefighter is engaged in the performance of his or her
duties, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for
four, six, or eight years.
(2) Any person who commits an assault upon the person of a peace
officer or firefighter with a semiautomatic firearm and who knows or
reasonably should know that the victim is a peace officer or
firefighter engaged in the performance of his or her duties, when the
peace officer or firefighter is engaged in the performance of his or
her duties, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison
for five, seven, or nine years.
(3) Any person who commits an assault with a machinegun, as
defined in Section 16880, or an assault weapon, as defined in Section
30510 or 30515, or a .50 BMG rifle, as defined in Section 30530,
upon the person of a peace officer or firefighter, and who knows or
reasonably should know that the victim is a peace officer or
firefighter engaged in the performance of his or her duties, shall be
punished by imprisonment in the state prison for 6, 9, or 12 years.
(e) When a person is convicted of a violation of this section in a
case involving use of a deadly weapon or instrument or firearm, and
the weapon or instrument or firearm is owned by that person, the
court shall order that the weapon or instrument or firearm be deemed
a nuisance, and it shall be confiscated and disposed of in the manner
provided by Sections 18000 and 18005.
(f) As used in this section, "peace officer" refers to any person
designated as a peace officer in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section
830) of Title 3 of Part 2."

***These are the laws. Please point out which subdivision above equates honking of a horn with assault.
Everyone can read that it does not, but I'm curious which area you thing does. You can simply copy and paste the law which you think applies to "assault with car horn"


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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 15, 2012 at 5:53 am

It is entirely possible that the driver inadvertently hit their horn,
or meant to tap it and it came out louder than he meant.

I find it very frustrating to drive in Palo Alto. People are so busy
doing other things while they drive that:

1. They do not see the lights change and just sit their playing with their cells phones until the light changes back to red again. Very irritating when there is a long line of cars and a short turn cycle.

2. When they do drive they are all over the road, or driving very slow to make up for playing with cell phones.

I look forward to the day when we can get in our cars and just punch in the destination and sit back and sleep or read or watch TV instead of the nonsense that goes on these days while driving.


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Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 15, 2012 at 6:49 am

I have noticed that many drivers don't realize that when a pedestrian is crossing in a crosswalk they are not allowed to turn until the pedestrian has finished his/her crossing. it happens to me often at the Stanford Dish. I would cross Junipero Serra on a green pedestrian light and an impatient driver who wants to turn right from Stanford Ave is crawling inches behind me, already in the crosswalk. I have had drivers honking their horns to make me walk faster, although I tend to walk through that crosswalk pretty fast..


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Posted by local
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 15, 2012 at 2:00 pm

@daniel,
You bring up a really important point. I think it's patently unsafe that the crosswalk go and the left turn green happen at the same time, especially since if the pedestrian is crossing from the same side of the street, their back is turned to the car turning left across their path. This is not the same everywhere, adding to the potential for mistakes.

The majority of pedestrians who are injured or killed in collisions with vehicles are in crosswalks, on sidewalks, or otherwise where they are supposed to be.

I really wish we would rethink how we plan for traffic control. Pedestrians and bikes are not treated equally by planners, they are treated as lesser "vehicles", and the result is that it is more dangerous to be a bike or pedestrian than it needs to be.


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Posted by local
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 15, 2012 at 2:01 pm

P.S. When I say "this is not the same everywhere" I don't mean in town, I mean in the world.


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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 15, 2012 at 6:13 pm

> I have noticed that many drivers don't realize that when a pedestrian is crossing in a crosswalk they are not allowed to turn until the pedestrian has finished his/her crossing.

Yeah, that is a nice idea, but there is no way Palo Alto would ever get out of a giant never-ending traffic jam if that is what was actually practiced. Some people are so slow, and the lights are so fast that traffic would never even move.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 15, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Anon - how about a compromise. Do not ever drive your car over a crosswalk if any pedestrian is heading towards you from any direction. If you are certain that all pedestrians are heading away from you in the crosswalks, then it is unlikely that you will hit one of them and the cops probably will not bust you.

But do not ever use your horn against a pedestrian crossing legally in a crosswalk. Never ever. That deserves a jail sentence, not just a moving violation.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 16, 2012 at 10:46 am

Is a pedestrian crossing legally if wearing earbuds and fiddling with full attention on some handheld device?


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Posted by Aquamarine
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 16, 2012 at 12:06 pm

The OP here is being silly to post this at all and by insisting in a lie - that it was an assault.


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Posted by MaybeTheBestSolution
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 17, 2012 at 11:01 am

I like her response:

Web Link


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Posted by litebug
a resident of another community
on Dec 17, 2012 at 1:09 pm

(former resident for 38 years) The difference in the way pedestrians are treated here compared to the Palo Alto area (perhaps most of CA?), was startling when we first moved here. I'm not saying that there has never been a pedestrian struck by a car, but by and large drivers actually STOP for pedestrians! They even stop when the pedestrians are in fault by not using a marked cross walk, when there's no traffic light with pedestrian signals (only a stop sign) and even when the street they are crossing is also a busy state highway that runs through town.

We have a vibrant, historic downtown here (much like downtown Palo Alto and Santa Cruz were when I moved to CA in 1970). There are always a lot of pedestrians because it has been made/left pedestrian-friendly. In addition to intersections for crossing, there are marked crossings mid-block downtown, each with an attractive bench with a little roof, so that pedestrians can rest or wait for a ride out of the rain. In general, people are much more considerate and friendly here, far less dog-eat-dog aggressiveness and the kind of selfish nastiness that seems to accompany concentrations of the extra well-off. The quality of life here is so much better...much like it was in Palo Alto and Santa Cruz in 1970s. Getting the finger and deliberately cut-off by aggressive drivers was an everyday occurrence in CA, making driving a teeth-clenching experience, but it has never happened to me here in over 4 years. It's the CULTURE that either supports community and cooperation or celebrates selfishness and competition.


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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 17, 2012 at 3:05 pm

> litebug, a resident of another community
> The difference in the way pedestrians are treated here compared to the Palo Alto area ...


Well, where?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by DC
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 17, 2012 at 4:52 pm

In response to hmmm/sheesh: According to Findlaw, the legal definition of assault is "...the crime or tort of THREATENING OR attempting to inflict immediate offensive physical contact or bodily harm that one has the present ability to inflict and that puts the victim in fear of such harm or contact." Holding down a car horn is an angrily aggressive, threatening and intimidating act (not to mention self-indulgent and childish).
"Battery" is defined as "...intentionally or recklessly CAUSING PHYSICAL CONTACT OR BODILY HARM not consented to by the victim." Aggravated battery requires the use of a weapon. I believe cars have been used as weapons more than a few times in recent years.
To sum, "assault" is perceived threat of harm, "battery" is physical contact/harm. You can have assault w/o battery. I think the issue for this forum is that the guy holding down his horn because someone had the audacity to get in his way for mere moments was an immature and arrogant jerk. And that Palo Alto could raise significant funds in a hurry by ticketing such "threatening" behavior, and by ticketing everyone who can't be bothered to signal a turn (also dangerous to pedestrians, bicyclists and other drivers). Police visiting people in their homes after hours when they've been turned in - with evidence required such as video? -and handing them a costly ($200+) ticket might prove educational. Or shaming. Either way the city needs money, people are trainable, win-win! And it would probably only take 2-3mos w/ yearly follow-ups!


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