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Do Pedestrians Really Have the Right of Way in California?


California pedestrian fatalities account for an unbelievable 22 percent of all traffic incidents according to California's Department of Motor Vehicles. That's an enormous percentage when considering the total number of daily auto collisions which occur throughout the state. But why is this percentage nearly a full quarter of all vehicle-related fatalities? Most likely it's because California's laws about pedestrians' and vehicles' rights of way are somewhat confusing.

Do Pedestrians Really have the Right of Way in California?

Generally, pedestrians do have the right of way within both marked and unmarked crosswalks -- in an intersection. In fact, California Vehicle Code §21950 states, "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. The driver of a vehicle approaching a pedestrian within any marked or unmarked crosswalk shall exercise all due care and shall reduce the speed of the vehicle or take any other action relating to the operation of the vehicle as necessary to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian."

Right-of-way rules, together with courtesy and common sense, help to promote traffic safety. It is important to respect the right-of-way of others, especially pedestrians, motorcycle riders, and bicycle riders. Never assume other drivers will give you the right-of-way. Yield your right-of-way when it helps to prevent collisions. Respecting the right-of-way of others is not limited to situations such as yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks, or watching carefully to ensure the right-of-way of bicyclists and motorcyclists. --State of California Department of Motor Vehicles

Notice the qualifier or requirement: "at an intersection." So, what does this mean? It means pedestrians do not always have the right of way, despite common belief. Unfortunately, this causes a lot of confusion between pedestrians and drivers which oftentimes leads to an accident. According to this code, it's important to note a crosswalk does not have to be marked, but it does have to be located in an intersection. Complicating the issue even more is California Vehicle Code §21950 (b), which states, "No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard." Pedestrians need to remember to cross safely and do not impede traffic. Additionally, this law doesn't give motorists free-reign to disregard pedestrians. Drivers must still act responsibly, particularly when pedestrians are present.

Driver and Pedestrian Safety Tips

In California, the law follows a doctrine known as "comparative negligence." This means each party is assigned a percentage of blame for an accident. However, this doesn't mean each party will receive an equal percentage of fault. In pedestrian-vehicle accidents, it is common for both parties to share some fault. But, it's best to avoid any accident altogether. So, drivers should do the following to prevent hitting a pedestrian:

  • Be cautious when pedestrians cross. Whenever you see pedestrians attempting to cross a street, regardless if they are at an intersection or in a marked crosswalk, you should slow to a stop. It doesn't matter if there isn't a traffic light or stop sign, exercise caution instead of taking a chance.
  • Come to a complete stop at crosswalks. When you approach a crosswalk, marked or unmarked, come to a complete stop every time. Do not slow roll through any crosswalk, it presents an unnecessary risk of hitting a pedestrian.
  • Always attempt to make direct eye contact. If you do see a pedestrian attempting to walk through a crosswalk, try to make eye contact, acknowledging you see him or her so they are alerted to your presence.
  • Give pedestrians plenty of time to walk across. When a pedestrian, particularly elderly, disabled, and young children are crossing the street, be sure to give them plenty of time to completely cross the street. Don't roll into the crosswalk until they are fully across.
  • Don't pass vehicles stopped or braking for a pedestrian. If you see one or more vehicles stopped or coming to a stop whether or not at an intersection and/or crosswalk, slow to a stop and do not attempt to go around them.

If you or a loved one has been hit by a car or involved in a pedestrian accident, contact Vititoe Law Group for a free case evaluation. There are time limitations to making a claim, so it's important to contact to consult with an experienced lawyer to discuss your rights and compensation for your damages.

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