Pedestrian - Photo credit: Heiko Kuverling

The Simple Answer

Do pedestrians always have the right of way? The simply answer is no. Just like any other user of the road, pedestrians have both rights and duties.

Questions on the Permit Practice Test

New drivers studying for their written knowledge test are often told or are under the impression that pedestrians always have the right of way. This is probably because test takers will see such questions on the permit practice tests and in handbooks. All of these question will basically say that the driver of a vehicle must yield to the pedestrian.

It is a good idea to go a step further and fully understand and respect the rights and responsibilities of both motorists and pedestrians.

While the exact wording of the law differs between states in U.S.A., the following generally applies in all states.

Yield and Stop Signs

When crossing at a crosswalk or intersection controlled by signs or traffic-control signals, both pedestrians and motorists must obey the instructions of such official traffic-control device.

If there is a stop sign or yield sign, a motorist must always yield to pedestrians, unless otherwise directed by a police officer.

If the driver of a vehicle, after driving past a stop or yield sign, is involved in a collision with a pedestrian in a marked or unmarked crosswalk it is usually enough evidence of the driver’s failure to yield right of way.

Traffic Light Signals

When making a turn against a red light, a motorist must, after stopping, yield the right of way to any vehicle in the intersection as well as to pedestrians within the intersection or an adjacent crosswalk.

This means that if a pedestrian is facing a green light or walk signal and preparing to cross, the motorist must stop and wait until the pedestrian has crossed.

Uncontrolled Intersections

Where traffic-control signals or signs are not in place at a crosswalk or intersection a motorist must yield the right of way to a pedestrian in the motorists’ path or so close as to be in danger. The motorist must slow down or stop as needed.

In general, a motorist should stop when a pedestrian is on the motorist’s half of the roadway or is approaching closely from the opposite half of the roadway. Some states have very specific rules as to when a driver is allowed to proceed in this situation.

Duties of Pedestrians

When a pedestrian is crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, he or she must yield the right of way to all vehicles.

In other words, a pedestrian does not have the right of way at all times.

When there are adjacent intersections at which traffic-control signals are in operation a pedestrian shall not cross between those intersections and only cross in a marked crosswalk.

Normally, state laws also prohibit a pedestrian from suddenly leaving a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.

Drivers to Exercise Due Care

The rule that usually confuses new drives and raises many questions is the “due-care rule”.

As a driver of a vehicle, you must always exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian. If pedestrians ignore their duties, use caution. In a situation like this it pays to be patient and courteous. Regardless of who must yield, you should never insist on the right-of-way.

This does not mean that you should stop and let a pedestrian cross whenever you see a pedestrian preparing to cross at other places than intersections and crosswalk. Just be alert and prepared to act. By law, the pedestrian must still yield to you.

Example Question

You see a pedestrian on the sidewalk between intersections where there are no crosswalk or signals. You think that the pedestrian is planning to cross the street. What should you do?

  • A. Always stop and let the pedestrian cross.
  • B. Proceed carefully, exercising due care.
  • C. Speed up to avoid holding back the pedestrian.
  • D. Blast your horn as a warning.

Correct answer is B.

If there is an immediate danger, you may tap your horn, but do not blast your horn unnecessarily. (Read: When You Shouldn’t Use Your Horn)

Photo credit: Heiko Kuverling