Pedestrians do not always have the right of way. Drivers have the right of way when pedestrians do not comply with their state’s pedestrian and crosswalk laws. In some cases, pedestrians can be held liable for the pedestrian accident. They can also be held partially at-fault and lose compensation through comparative negligence rules.
Do pedestrians always have the right of way?
No, pedestrians do not always have the right of way. While they generally do, there are times when they do not. When people violate their state’s pedestrian and crosswalk laws, they do not have the right of way. If they do not have the right of way and cause a car accident, the pedestrian may be held liable. They can also be found partially at-fault and see their compensation reduced by their percentage of responsibility.
California has many laws that deal with pedestrian safety. California Vehicle Code 29150 VC is the main one, though. This statute says that motor vehicles have to yield right-of-way to pedestrians who are crossing the street in a marked crosswalk or an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.1 However, the statute also says that pedestrians have to cross the street safely. It expressly says that pedestrians cannot:
- suddenly leave the curb or place of safety,
- walk or run into the path of an oncoming vehicle to create an immediate hazard, or
- unnecessarily stop in a marked or unmarked crosswalk, or delay traffic.2
Additionally, other California laws prohibit pedestrians from:
- walking in bike lanes where there is a sidewalk or walking path available on the side of the road,3
- going outside the crosswalk at an intersection, like going straight to the opposite corner when there is no crosswalk between those two points,4
- crossing at an intersection against the traffic signal or the don’t walk signal,5 and
- crossing outside of a crosswalk, intersection, or pedestrian crossing when there are vehicles close enough to be an immediate hazard.6
Pedestrians who do any of these things do not have the right of way.
What about blind pedestrians?
Blind pedestrians are often given more protection by personal injury laws.
In California, totally or partially blind pedestrians who have a white cane or a guide dog have the right of way. Motorists approaching these pedestrians have to take all reasonably necessary precautions to keep them safe.7
Failing to do this in California is a misdemeanor. The driver of a vehicle can face:
- up to 6 months in county jail, and/or
- between $500 and $1,000 in fines.8
Who are considered to be “pedestrians”?
A “pedestrian” does not necessarily have to be someone who is walking. However, different states include different types of people in the definition of a “pedestrian.” In California, for example, the following people are considered “pedestrians” under the state’s pedestrian law:
- anyone who is in a motorized wheelchair because they cannot walk,
- anyone riding something that is propelled by their own effort, other than bicyclists, like:
- roller skaters or bladers,
- people on non-electric scooters,
- people in wheelchairs,
- skiers, and
- ice skaters.9
Anyone riding or using the following devices, though, are not pedestrians:
- motorized bikes or electronic bikes,
- electric scooters, and
What is considered a “crosswalk”?
Most states define “crosswalk” in similar ways. However, minor alterations in the definition can make a huge difference.
In California, a “crosswalk” is the portion of the roadway that does not have a “no crossing” sign and that either:
- would connect the boundary lines of sidewalks at intersections that are approximately right angles, except where the intersection is of a street and an alley, or
- has distinct markings indicating that it is a pedestrian crossing.11
These crosswalks are often found at intersections that also have:
- traffic lights,
- stop signs, or
- other traffic-control devices.
What happens if the pedestrian caused the crash?
If the pedestrian did not have the right of way and got hit by a car, the pedestrian may be responsible for the accident. With that responsibility comes liability. If the pedestrian is liable, he or she may have to compensate the driver for the costs of the crash, even if the pedestrian was more severely hurt.
Many pedestrian crashes are shared fault accidents. This is especially true when the pedestrian did not have the right of way. In these accidents, both the pedestrian and the driver were partially responsible.
Different states use different rules for shared fault accidents. These rules are:
- contributory negligence,
- pure comparative negligence, or
- modified comparative negligence.
The vast majority of states use some form of comparative negligence. Under these rules, the judge or jury in the personal injury trial would have to apportion blame for the accident. In pure comparative negligence, the plaintiff in the case would see their compensation reduced by the amount of fault they brought to the accident. In modified comparative negligence states, the plaintiff’s compensation is reduced by his or her share of the blame, and if the plaintiff was more than half at-fault, he or she would recover nothing.
For example: Mary is jaywalking when she is hit by a car driven by Nancy. Mary files a personal injury claim. The jury decides that Mary suffered $100,000 in damages, but was 60 percent at-fault because she jaywalking. In a state that uses pure comparative negligence rules, Mary would only recover $40,000 because of her share of fault in the accident. In a state that uses modified comparative negligence rules, Mary would recover nothing.
In some cases, the driver may be hurt, as well. When the pedestrian did not have the right of way, the driver may be able to recover compensation from the pedestrian, even if the pedestrian was hurt more.
What compensation is available in a pedestrian accident?
Pedestrians and drivers in a collision are entitled to compensation for their losses if they were not responsible for the accident. They can recover compensation to cover their:
- medical bills,
- lost wages,
- reduced earning capacity,
- property damage,
- pain and suffering, and
- loss of consortium.
A personal injury attorney can help victims recover what they deserve.
Pedestrian accidents that end with a fatality can lead to a wrongful death claim. These lawsuits are filed by the victim’s loved ones on the victim’s behalf. Potential plaintiffs should strongly consider establishing an attorney-client relationship with a personal injury lawyer from a reputable law firm to make these complicated legal claims.
- California Vehicle Code 21950(a) VC.
- California Vehicle Code 21950(b) VC.
- California Vehicle Code 21966 VC.
- California Vehicle Code 21955 VC.
- California Vehicle Code 21456 VC.
- California Vehicle Code 21954 VC.
- California Vehicle Code 21963 VC.
- California Vehicle Code 467 VC.
- California Vehicle Code 275 VC.