How many times have you been a player in this scenario? The stoplight in front of you turns green. Cars start to roll forward. A pedestrian steps into the marked crosswalk. How many times have you been the one in the car thinking “idiot!”as you hit your brakes? How many times have you been the pedestrian thinking “pedestrians have the right-of-way!”
The problem is that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the next 24 hours, approximately 460 people will be treated in the ER for traffic-related pedestrian injuries (2013). This begs the question, do pedestrians have the right-of-way?
The answer to this question is not a clear cut “yes”or “no”. How so many of us came to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that pedestrians do in fact always have the right-of-way is a bit of a mystery. The truth can most easily be summed up as “it depends on the situation”. Salisbury University states, “Legally, pedestrians have the right-of-way at controlled intersections and in marked crosswalks; but the law also states that ‘no pedestrian shall unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.’The pedestrian must give the motorist the right-of-way at all areas other than marked crosswalks and controlled intersections”(Lashley, n.d.).
What does this mean? It means that if you’re jaywalking, there’s a pretty good chance that the guy driving the vehicle actually has the right-of-way. However, it also means that where there’s a crosswalk, pedestrians rule (unless they’re purposefully trying to hold up traffic or moving into the path of an oncoming vehicle in such a way that presents an immediate hazard).
Furthermore, Chief Edwin Lashley says, “Regardless of who has the right-of-way, pedestrians, bicyclist and motorists are responsible for using reasonable care and diligence to avoid injuring anyone who, although carelessly, may be in the other’s right-of-way,”(n.d.).
How can you protect yourself from becoming the victim or perpetrator of a pedestrian accident?
If you are the pedestrian:
- Only use designated crosswalks.
- Do not cross the street the moment the “walk”sign comes on. Make sure no vehicles are going to run the light and that drivers turning right are going to yield the right-of-way.
- Whenever possible, stick to the sidewalk.
If you are the motorist:
- If a pedestrian is crossing the street, come to a complete stop. Do not begin moving forward until the pedestrian is out of your lane of traffic.
- When approaching intersections, be on the lookout for pedestrians (this includes individuals biking, skating, walking, etc.).
- At night exercise additional caution when driving as pedestrians may not be clearly visible.