This week’s question comes from Anthony T. in Bernal Heights, who asks:
Q: “I am a skateboarder, not a criminal! I use my skateboard as a way of getting around because Uber is expensive, because busses are slow and I live on a hill. It’s fun and good for the environment, right? I was skateboarding down the sidewalk on my way down Market to meet a friend to board a bit in Justin Herman Plaza. Some guard at one of the office buildings said I couldn’t board on the sidewalk or in the plaza. I told him it was a free country and he should mind his own business. He said he was going to call the cops and we saw a cruiser coming up so we split. Can I get busted for skateboarding?”
A: Anthony, I have unfortunately learned about skateboarding law through the misfortune of my clients. We have represented dozens of skateboarders who have been hit by cars, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles. Because skateboards have no lights they are especially vulnerable (and illegal) when ridden at night. Personal injuries on skateboards are often very severe, with head injuries and broken upper extremity (arms, legs, shoulders) being the most common injuries we see.
San Francisco has its own transportation Code provision governing skateboarding within The City. Under San Francisco Transportation Code Section 7.2.13, “Non-Motorized User Propelled Vehicles (NUV),” it is prohibited to ride a skateboard upon any sidewalk in any “business district” within the City. It is also unlawful to ride a skateboard on the city streets within any “business district.” The SFGOV website describes the downtown Financial District as follows: The area is bounded roughly by Market Street to the south, the San Francisco Bay to the east, Chinatown and Taylor Street to the west, and Bush Street (between Taylor and Kearny) and Washington Street (between Kearny and the Bay) to the north. There is no reference to other “business districts” on the SFGOV website, but I believe that the term might be broadly interpreted to cover commercial streets like Union, Clement, Valencia and other areas with high commercial density. This is a matter open to interpretation and potentially legal determination, but the sidewalk along Market Street to Justin Herman Plaza is very likely to be considered within a “business district.”
There are several other locations where skateboarding is prohibited by state and municipal laws. California law prohibits the riding of a skateboard inside any transit facility such as Muni Underground, Bart, CalTrain, etc. stations. San Francisco Municipal Codes further prohibit skateboarding in: any Park or Plaza within the city except where expressly permitted (Administrative Code Chapter 94); Yerba Buena Gardens and the new Transbay Rooftop Deck (Park Code Article 11); South Beach Park, Rincon Park, or any Port park located within the Mission Bay North or Mission Bay South Redevelopment Plan Areas (Port Code Article 7); the Japanese Tea Garden, the Arboretum and Conservatory Valley areas of Golden Gate Park (Park Code Article 3). Pursuant to these regulations, skateboarding is prohibited in Justin Herman Plaza, where you were planning to “board.”
Skateboarding in restricted areas may be punishable by a fine not to exceed $250 and by community service for a total time not to exceed 48 hours over a period not to exceed 30 days, during a time other than during the violator’s hours of school attendance or employment.
You are legally allowed to ride a skateboard outside of these proscribed areas, so long as you do not ride on the sidewalk between the following time periods: ½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise. When riding a skateboard during daylight hours, you must ride in the same direction as traffic and you must yield to pedestrians or bicyclists approaching from any sidewalk within a marked or unmarked crosswalk. Transportation Code Section 7.2.13(b)(3) also requires skateboarders to yield “to any bicyclist or motor vehicle approaching on the street.” Therefore, if you are riding in an area permitted for bicyclists, motor vehicles or pedestrians, the law requires you to yield to them.
While skateboarding you are always prohibited from wearing earplugs, headphones or headsets, and you cannot carry any object that impairs your vision in any direction. Pursuant to California Vehicle Code Section 21212, children under the age of 16 must wear a helmet when skateboarding or face a $25.00 fine for non-compliance.
Despite all of these restrictions, a skateboarder injured by the fault of another is not without recourse. California personal injury laws hold drivers responsible for harms caused by their negligent acts. However violation of any skateboarding regulations may be considered comparative fault in a legal proceeding, thereby reducing any amount you may be entitled to recover by your percentage of fault.