Right-of-Way for Pedestrians: Crosswalks, Intersections and Blind PedestriansUpdated Oct. 12, 2020
Conflicts between vehicles and pedestrians must be avoided at all costs. When collisions occur, they are incredibly one-sided, with the pedestrian almost always coming off worse. Pedestrian safety depends on both motorists and pedestrians understanding right-of-way rules. Motorists must drive with extreme caution around pedestrians, as their vehicles can be deadly weapons. In 2017, the NHTSA recorded no less than 5,977 pedestrian deaths as a result of road traffic accidents.
Pedestrians often engage in foolish or risky behavior around roadways, simply as they do not fully realize the danger they face. You do not have to pass a permit test or a driving test to become a pedestrian; many do not understand traffic signals or right-of-way laws, which puts even more pressure on motorists to drive cautiously.
We have put together everything you must know about pedestrian right-of-way rules. Remember that you must always yield to pedestrians on the roadway, even if you believe the lawful right-of-way is yours.
Right-of-way at crosswalks
Pedestrian crosswalks exist at practically all intersections where two roads meet at approximately a 90-degree angle. They can also be found mid-block in some areas, for instance, outside hospitals and other emergency service facilities. Pedestrians always have right-of-way on crosswalks, even if the crosswalk is not clearly indicated with pavement markings. Approach pedestrian crosswalks with caution and look out for pedestrians seeking to cross the roadway.
Pedestrian right-of-way at intersections
If you approach an intersection and can see that a pedestrian is waiting to use the crosswalk, come to a full stop at the limit line or prior to the crosswalk. You can then establish eye contact with the pedestrian to let them know you have seen them and are yielding the right-of-way. Do not attempt to hurry a pedestrian across the street by gesturing or using your horn, as they may be waiting to see that traffic is clear in both directions.
You must yield to pedestrians when:
- They are already on the crosswalk.
- They are waiting to cross and there are no traffic lights in place to facilitate the crossing.
- They are occupying or about to step on to a part of the road you wish to drive on.
Jaywalking and illegal crossing
Jaywalking describes the practice of illegally crossing the street between crosswalks. Pedestrians should avoid jaywalking, as motorists will not expect them to be in the roadway and may be forced to stop suddenly. Unfortunately, pedestrians are prone to jaywalking if they are in a hurry, distracted or rushing to get out of bad weather.
Even though jaywalking is illegal, you must yield to a pedestrian if they step out onto the street ahead of your vehicle. Keep a lookout for other vehicles yielding to pedestrians in the roadway too. Stop your car and do not proceed until the pedestrian is safely back on the sidewalk. Drivers can face serious penalties if they fail to yield to a pedestrian in the roadway, regardless of the circumstances. If you collide with a pedestrian you may suffer property damage, though they are likely to be seriously injured or killed.
Pedestrians walking on the road
On some roads which do not have sidewalks, pedestrians are permitted to walk on the far left-hand side of the road. This is the safest way for pedestrians to share the road with vehicles, as they are facing oncoming traffic and can easily be seen by drivers. Watch out for pedestrians walking on the side of the road and reduce your speed as you approach them. Drive cautiously and keep speed to a minimum until you have safely passed the pedestrian.
Children on the roadway
Children playing on or near the roadside are always at significant risk of harm. Younger children tend to have poor judgment skills and do not consider the consequences of dangerous actions. They do not understand traffic laws and may be completely oblivious to cars using the roadway nearby.
From a motorist’s perspective, children present a serious hazard as they are unpredictable and harder to spot than adults. Reduce your speed when you see children near the roadway. If a child suddenly darts out into the road, you are responsible for their safety.
School zones and residential areas
Children are substantially more likely to be near the roadside in school zones and residential districts than they are in any other driving environment. Most states impose lower speed limits around school zones; usually, this is at least 15 mph lower than the standard speed limit in that area. Read your driving handbook to find out school zone speed limits in your state and stick to them rigidly.
Always consider the area you are driving in and whether there are likely to be vulnerable pedestrians seeking to cross the road. Around hospitals and care homes, you have a greater chance of encountering elderly or disabled pedestrians. Drive cautiously around such pedestrians, as they may be confused, unable to move quickly or hesitant to cross the street. Avoid sounding your horn, revving your engine or making sudden maneuvers when elderly or disabled pedestrians are using the sidewalk or crossing the road. These distracting actions could startle and endanger them.
Right-of-way for blind pedestrians
Blind and partially-sighted pedestrians are particularly vulnerable when using the sidewalk or crosswalk, as they cannot see vehicles approaching or drivers making eye contact. They often rely heavily on service animals and the sounds they can hear to help them cross the road safely. If you see a pedestrian with a guide dog or a white cane, they are likely to be blind, visually impaired or disabled.
Blind pedestrians are subject to the same right-of-way rules as all other pedestrians. Though you should bear these additional rules in mind when a blind person wishes to cross the street, as they are at greater risk of harm.
Blind people often use noises to guide them. They may be listening for the sound of your engine when you are stopped at an intersection, to let them know the precise location of the crosswalk. Make sure you stop in the right place, at the limit line or before the first line of the crosswalk.
Do not sound your horn or give verbal instructions to blind pedestrians, as it may frighten and confuse them. All pedestrians have right-of-way on crosswalks and may decide themselves when it is safe to cross the street.
If you see a blind person withdrawing their cane and stepping away from a pedestrian crosswalk, this usually means they do not wish to cross and that you may proceed. Do not linger too long in such circumstances but drive on with caution, just in case you have misinterpreted their action.
Motorists should keep a lookout for blind and partially-sighted pedestrians around bus stops, intersections, business districts and schools for the blind. Make sure you check for blind pedestrians behind your vehicle whenever you are backing up.
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