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Do Pedestrians Always Have the Right of Way?

Pedestrian - Photo credit: Heiko Kuverling

The Simple Answer!

Do pedestrians always have the right of way? The simple 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 these questions will basically say that the driver of a vehicle must yield to the pedestrian.

But 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

Stop Sign - Photographer Erik Mclean

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 specific rules as to when a driver can 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 Must 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 many situations, 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 crosswalks. Other drivers will not expect you to stop.

Just be alert and get ready to act, if becomes necessary. 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)

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Photo credits:

Pedestrian: Heiko Kuverling

Stop sign: Erik Mclean


  1. Wanda Smith December 16, 2021

    I was was crossing my street no signs. I car honked at me I said I’m going home 1 foot from my drive he speed up and hit my arm with his mirror than turned around and said I told you to get out of the road. He was. Not in my site as I alway look both ways before crossing the road he speed up and hit my arm with his mirror. I called the police and reported this incident. What do I do?

  2. I stop at an intersection before turning right. There is a pedestrian standing by the curb. There are no stop sign or yield signs. When the pedestrian doesn’t move, I start turning. Then the pedestrian suddenly walks out in front of my car. No way I could have stopped without hitting him. Am I really at fault?

    • In situations like this eye contact is important. As a driver you want to know if the pedestrian is ready to cross or not. As a pedestrian you want to know if the driver sees you and will remain stopped.

      Problem is that you probably misunderstood each other.

      If this goes to court your lawyer could argue that the pedestrian left the curb suddenly and unexpected. If you stopped, then proceeded at low speed, and there weren’t any injuries, then maybe that argument could hold. But I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

  3. If a pedestrian is walking on the second lane almost to reach the third lane an gets hit by a car . Would that make the pedestrian responsible or the driver because they should of slowed down since the pedestrian was already in the second crossing lane an was hit on the third lane ? The driver should of be aware of the pedestrian an could of avoided him if the driver was paying attention to the road.

    • It is impossible to answer.

      The pedestrian is apparently already crossing the street. A driver hits the pedestrian in a lane that is not adjacent to a curb, like in the middle of the street.

      It could be obvious that the driver did not use “due care” or did not yield as required by law. In most cases it would suggest that the driver is at fault. Big time!

      In most accidents there are, however, several circumstances that could affect the outcome in court.

      Things that aren’t clear in this scenario: where the accident occurred (intersection, controlled or uncontrolled crosswalk, or between intersections/crosswalks?), visibility, how fast the pedestrian crossed the street (running?), if the driver had already stopped once, how fast the driver was going… etc.

      One should remember that pedestrians also have responsibilities, but the burden is most likely on the motorist.

  4. The pedestrian should always have the right of way. The driver is either driving to fast or distracted. Naturally the pedestrian has responsibilities, however the car can ,of course, do more damage. I see drivers on cell phones all the time and running red lights. Some should a driver.

  5. I like how you said that pedestrians also have to follow signs and must obey the instructions of traffic-control devices. I’d be interested to learn more about how the pedestrian system works in each state since sometimes people just cross the ways with no precaution causing accidents. Thanks for sharing this article, it helped me realized that pedestrians must also follow the law.

  6. CATHY A ECKARD May 20, 2019

    Here’s a test question. When the roadway is marked for pedestrian crossing and it’s not a stop sign or signal or yield or any other signage, basically The pedestrian is just going corner to corner and the car’s otherwise would be going straight through that intersection, who has the right away? can The pedestrian just start walking across and the motorist must stop? Keep in mind these are not always noticeable except on the roadway corner to corner itself.

    • Rules are basically the same in all states, but I will use Pennsylvania law as an example.

      First question: Who has the right-of-way? The general answer is that drivers must yield (slow down or stop) at all intersections, marked or unmarked, where a person is lawfully crossing the street. Even if no signs are present.

      One should remember that, in United States, all intersections have crosswalks, even if they aren’t marked. Meaning, when you approach any intersection you must always use reasonable care and slow to a speed that makes it possible to stop and yield when necessary.

      This is the PA law 3542 (Right-of-way of pedestrians in crosswalks): “When traffic-control signals are not in place or not in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.”

      Second question: Can the pedestrian just start to walk? Well, not really. Pedestrians must give drivers nearby reasonable time to see them and understand their intention to cross.

      In PA, this law applies: “No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close as to constitute a hazard.”

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