Pedestrians And Right Of Way

traffic light with green light

Do pedestrians always have the right of way out there on the road and at intersections? It’s a question that any experienced car accident lawyer has heard countless times before, but the answer is one that can befuddle your average motorist. 

This isn’t a topic you’ll want to be unsure of, however; in 2017 alone, 5,977 pedestrians were killed in traffic incidents in the United States, breaking down to, on average one pedestrian every 88 minutes. That’s over 16 pedestrian deaths a day, and nearly 115 every week.

While a majority of these accidents did not take place at intersections, those deaths were still avoidable, and it behooves every motorist to know when pedestrians are in the right to help mitigate potential disasters. Read on, as we take closer look at how pedestrians and vehicles should be interacting on the roads.

Do Pedestrians Have The Right Of Way?

Like many of life’s questions, the answer here is both “yes” and “no.” Pedestrians often behave like they have the right of way, and most cautious drivers will treat them accordingly, but the truth is that laws can vary from state to state, and the specific situation will dictate who has the right of way on the road.

Generally speaking, vehicles must yield to pedestrians at both controlled and uncontrolled crosswalks (for reference, controlled crosswalks are those with signs or traffic signals, and uncontrolled crosswalks are those without). 

Outside of a crosswalk, however, general wisdom states that pedestrians must yield to vehicles, and must only attempt to cross when it is safe to do so. Vehicles must still take precautions, of course, and try to alert pedestrians they see in their path. Additionally, motorists must do what they can to reasonably prevent a collision, and know that having the right of way does not negate their responsibility to be reasonable while behind the wheel.

Going further, though, the specific laws that dictate these interactions can vary from state to state. Take Maryland, for example, which states that vehicles “must yield to pedestrians close to or in a vehicle’s half of a crosswalk” and that pedestrians “must not leave a crosswalk in front of a vehicle if the vehicle doesn’t have time to stop.” Now, contrast that with a state like North Carolina, which dictates that “where there are no traffic signals, vehicle’s must yield to pedestrians.”

The specific wording makes a difference in who has the right of way, so, as both a motorist and a pedestrian, it’s important to understand what the law in your state says so that you can remain safe whether you’re on foot or behind the wheel.