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Pedestrians: Something you didn't know is illegal may soon be made legal

FILE: The California Legislature has voted to change a law that makes it illegal for pedestrians to enter a crosswalk once the countdown timer has begun.
FILE: The California Legislature has voted to change a law that makes it illegal for pedestrians to enter a crosswalk once the countdown timer has begun.
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The California Legislature this week passed a bill that would make it legal for pedestrians to enter the crosswalk during the flashing countdown, something many didn't know was illegal under current law.

The law, which prohibits pedestrians from starting to cross once the signal begins to flash, was written before countdown timers became common. They are now mandatory in California on all signals that give walkers longer than seven seconds to cross a street.

Whenever it seems like there’s time, many walkers make a dash — like Sam Morrissey did crossing a street in downtown Los Angeles a couple years ago.

"I saw the sign flashing — I think it said seven or eight seconds. I’m a pretty fast walker, so I said I can do this. I can cross three or four lanes pretty quickly," he said.

But once he did, he found a police offer waiting to write him a ticket.

"I was shocked that it was a $200 ticket," Morrissey said.

Morrissey was one of almost 20,000 pedestrians ticketed around downtown L.A. between 2011 and 2015 for stepping into the crosswalk while the signal was flashing.

But after an uproar over the pedestrian stings, the Legislature reacted, and on Monday passed A.B. 390 that would change the law.

Some law enforcement officials oppose the proposed change because they say the bill doesn’t clearly lay out when a walker is in violation and leaves too much to individual discretion.

Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to review the measure in the next 30 days. If he signs it into law, folks like Morrissey can start crossing during the countdown — so long as they can make it to the other side in time.