A Pedestrian’s Guide to Crosswalk Laws

Being a pedestrian can be dangerous. In 2018, 6,227 pedestrians were killed on United States roads. That was an all-time high, which indicates that this problem is only getting worse. 

All of us are pedestrians sometimes. Even if you drive or take public transportation to get around, you often have to walk from your vehicle or from the bus, train or subway to your final destination. Sometimes that can mean crossing some streets on the way, which can put you at risk for a car-pedestrian accident.

Crosswalk laws can differ drastically from place to place, but they are at least somewhat similar everywhere you go. It is wise to familiarize yourself with these laws so you can keep you and your loved ones safe every time you cross the street on foot.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about crosswalk laws so you can be prepared for all possible situations.

The Right of Way

Many people believe that pedestrians have the right of way at all times, but that is not always the case. Crosswalk laws vary from state to state and even from municipality to municipality. Depending on where you are, you may have the right of way, but you also might not.  

Knowing this is crucial. Just because you are traveling on foot does not mean you have the right of way over a motor vehicle.

If you guess wrong, you could be hit by a car and you could be seriously injured. You have to make a wise and informed decision instead of choosing to just step off the curb and hoping for the best. 

Because it is impossible to know the pedestrian laws for every single place you will go or travel, the best course of action when walking near traffic is to stay alert. Keep your eyes open and look around you before crossing any street. Although many people wear headphones when walking, it really isn’t the safest behavior. If you must listen to music or podcasts when traveling as a pedestrian, be sure to keep the volume low enough so you can hear sounds around you.

You also must use your knowledge and experience to determine whether or not it is safe to cross. No one wants to be hit by a car.

Crosswalk Laws Around the USA

Crosswalk laws differ from place to place, and the wording of these laws differs even more. However, for the most part, the following information is true in most places you will visit in this vast country of ours.

Pedestrian Right of Way

There are certain times when pedestrians almost always have the right of way.

Marked Crosswalks

Crosswalks are located where they are because they exist to give pedestrians a safe way to cross streets. Therefore, pedestrians have the right of way in marked crosswalks. When someone is in a crosswalk, all oncoming drivers in any lane must stop and allow the person to cross. Drivers are also not allowed to block crosswalks with their vehicles.

Crossing Signals

If there is a crossing signal that indicates pedestrians can cross the street at a particular time, the pedestrians always have the right of way. No matter which way a driver is going – left, right or straight – he or she must wait until the pedestrian has crossed.

If the walk signal switches to don’t walk while the pedestrian is still in the crosswalk, the drivers must continue to wait until the pedestrian’s crossing is complete. 

However, if the walk signal is flashing and is about to change, then any pedestrians arriving at the crosswalk should stop and wait for the next walk cycle instead of stepping into the crosswalk and attempting to rush across.

Right on Red

If a driver is turning on red from one road to another, he or she must wait for any pedestrians on the parallel crosswalk to complete their crossing before making the turn. Pedestrians have the right of way when they are traveling in the same direction as traffic on the road adjacent to their sidewalk.

Motor Vehicle Right of Way

As mentioned, pedestrians do not always have the right of way, however. There are numerous occasions when motor vehicles have the upper hand.

No Crosswalk

If there is no crosswalk where you would like to cross, then do not simply step out into traffic. Chances are, in most cases, you do not have the right of way as a pedestrian. You should always cross at a marked crosswalk if one is available.

In many places, though, there are no crosswalks. Suburban and rural areas often do not offer them. In these places, pedestrians still need to cross the street, but they need to remember to look both ways before trying to cross and to let all motor vehicles pass before stepping into the road. 

Don’t Walk Signal

If there is a crossing signal and it says don’t walk, then don’t. Be patient and wait for the next walk signal. At some intersections, it may seem like no one is coming, but a turning car can surprise you. 

When a signal says don’t walk, it says so for a reason. Take the advice. You don’t want to end up getting hit by a car because you were in a rush; nothing will slow you down like an injury. Calling a lawyer and finding out you were at fault will only add insult to literal injury.

Red Light

When a pedestrian is facing a red light, then the cars crossing perpendicularly in front of him or her have the right of way. Pedestrians must follow the same laws as the cars with which they are traveling parallel. If the cars to your left are stopped at a stoplight, you should stop walking, too. 

Happy Walking

The most important thing to keep in mind when walking near traffic is doing whatever you can to keep safe. Too many people are in their own little world when they are walking and that is how people get hurt. Make yourself aware of the crosswalk laws where you live and you will never have to worry about getting hit by a motor vehicle as long as you live.

Be safe out there!