When Do Pedestrians Have the Right-of-Way?

The rules relating to drivers yielding to pedestrians and vice versa.

The adage that pedestrians always have the right-of-way is perhaps a good rule for drivers to follow so as to not endanger pedestrians. But this rule is, of course, an oversimplification. The laws of each state specifically provide the rules that apply to pedestrians and drivers sharing the road. This article generally outlines these right-of-way rules.

Pedestrian Right-of-Way at Intersections

Intersections are the most common place for cars and pedestrians to meet, so the applicable rules are well-established. However, it can't be overemphasized that drivers must always exercise caution and avoid endangering pedestrians regardless of who has the right-of-way.

Intersections with traffic signals. When traffic signals are present at an intersection, pedestrians may cross only on a green light or specific signal indicating the pedestrian right-of-way (many intersections have a walk signal for pedestrian crossing). Turning vehicles must yield to crossing pedestrians. If a crosswalk signal is present, pedestrians can't enter the intersection on a flashing or solid stop signal (often a red hand) but can continue to cross if already in the intersection.

Intersections without signals. At intersections that aren't controlled by traffic signals, drives must yield to crossing pedestrians, especially if a marked crosswalk is present. However, pedestrians must always use caution (as must drivers) and are prohibited from entering the intersection when an approaching vehicle would not have reasonable time to stop. Some states also require pedestrians to yield to cars in high-speed areas (for example, where the speed limit is over 35 miles per hour).

Pedestrian Right-of-Way Outside of Intersections

Outside of intersections and crosswalks, pedestrians are generally prohibited from crossing roadways and must yield to vehicle traffic. But again, drivers must always be vigilant and avoid endangering pedestrians.

Crosswalks. A marked crosswalk on a roadway—such as a school crossing—grants pedestrians the right-of-way and cars must yield.

Sidewalks and road shoulders. When sidewalks are present, pedestrians are required to use them. When the roadway has only a shoulder, pedestrians must be on the shoulder, as far to the right as possible. On roadways that have sidewalks or shoulders, pedestrians must be on the far-right part of the road.

Particularly vulnerable pedestrians. Regardless of signage, crosswalk markings, and other right-of-way rules, the laws of most states specifically require drivers to take precautions and yield to particularly vulnerable pedestrians such as children and blind persons. In other words, the law requires drivers to anticipate that one of these particularly vulnerable pedestrians could unexpectedly step into the road without warning.

Jay Walking and Pedestrian Right-of-Way Violation Penalties

A jaywalking ticket is generally less than $100. But a driver who fails to properly stop for a pedestrian can be fined up to $500 in some states, and the penalties can be even more severe for right-of-way violations at school crossings.

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