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Pedestrian Laws, Rights & Rules of the Road

Troy Werner and his family

Written by Troy Werner

Troy Werner has been an indispensable asset to The Werner Law Firm since joining in 2009, providing exceptional legal service to its clients.

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POSTED ON: September 21, 2017

The roads of the United States are a dangerous place, in comparison to many other public places. In 2015, 5,376 pedestrians and 818 bicyclists were killed in crashes with automobiles, highlighting the risk of being a pedestrian. Accidents will always happen, in some capacity – yet the research shows that pedestrian fatalities have been on […]

The roads of the United States are a dangerous place, in comparison to many other public places. In 2015, 5,376 pedestrians and 818 bicyclists were killed in crashes with automobiles, highlighting the risk of being a pedestrian. Accidents will always happen, in some capacity – yet the research shows that pedestrian fatalities have been on an unfortunate increase. Some estimates put last year’s total fatality at nearly 6000. It’s now more than ever that we need to be aware of our rights as pedestrians.

For the many that were killed, there were countless others finding themselves at the other end of an accident, yet alive and gravely injured. Seeking legal retribution and compensation for their injuries is entirely reasonable – but it’s important to understand what you can and cannot demand as a pedestrian, and how far your rights extend on the road.

Traffic Fatalities on the Rise

To help alleviate some fear, there are a few possible explanations to the increase in fatalities on-the-road between drivers and pedestrians, most noticeably an increase in drivers. With gas prices down low, more people than ever are out and about in their cars – and on the other hand, there is also an increase in people taking the time to use walking along the street as an opportunity to stay fit and healthy. While an increase in drivers on the road does not account for such a big hike in risk, the final factor is distraction.

Despite public campaigns to try and help end the use of cellphones on the road, smartphone usage among both drivers and pedestrians is up. People crossing the road and behind the wheel are often distracted by their screens. Another factor is alcohol, where about 15 percent of drivers and a third of pedestrians involved in pedestrian-motor accidents have an excessive blood-alcohol level.

Examining Pedestrian Rights

Crosswalks provide legal protection – as well as theoretical physical protection. When a pedestrian is on a crosswalk, then drivers on the road are required to stop and wait for pedestrians to pass. If a pedestrian is on a crosswalk otherwise unmarked by a traffic light of any sort, then they have absolute right of way. In other words, if you are crossing the road on a crosswalk, then any cars need to stop and let you pass.

Of course, the rules of any given individual’s psychology and the laws of physics do not automatically uphold the laws of the United States. Simply because something should be does not mean it will be. Crossing the road is always a dangerous endeavor, and one should never stop onto the road – on a crosswalk or anywhere else – without first examining the traffic situation and looking for a clear opening to cross.

If you are at a crosswalk with a traffic light, then typically a green light means stop for you. Pedestrians waiting to cross must wait for the red light that signals a break in traffic, otherwise they run the risk of being run over. If you find yourself on the crosswalk just as the traffic light turns green, you still have right of way – so long as you keep moving.

Pedestrian rights exist outside of the crosswalk as well. For one, the sidewalk is entirely pedestrian territory. Driving on a sidewalk is illegal. However, in the same lieu, so is jaywalking. The common misconception is that jaywalking involves crossing the road at any point not clearly marked with a crosswalk, but this is not true. Most roads can be legally crossed by pedestrians without any sort of issue – but there are certain parts of a road that are considered illegal to cross by modern traffic regulations.

Specifically, crossing between adjacent intersections at which traffic-control signals are on, is illegal. Furthermore, outside of a crosswalk, any and all pedestrians bust give motorists right of way.

A Complicated Situation

Pedestrian rights are further complicated by a lack of a cohesive set of federal regulations on the matter – each state has different laws on how pedestrians and motorists should treat each other in traffic. In California, pedestrians have the right of way on any marked and unmarked crosswalks. Unmarked crosswalks are found at any intersection lacking a traffic-control signal, meaning that at any point when a pedestrian wants to cross at such an intersection, motorists on the road must yield.

In California, pedestrians are not allowed to stop on the road, or step off the curb into immediate traffic. Doing so is beyond their rights. They must also yield the right of way if crossing outside an unmarked or marked crosswalk, and they may not cross outside of a marked crosswalk when two adjacent intersections have working traffic-control signals.

Seeking Proper, Professional Legal Help

Regardless of how much at fault you are for your injuries, there is absolutely no benefit to be had from making a premature admission of fault on your end. Any road accident is best cleared up after all the facts are in, and after all the evidence has been reviewed. Refrain from making any meaningful statement after an accident, including something as innocent as “I’m sorry”. That alone could be considered an admission of guilt.

First thing's first, if you have recently been in an accident, seek out a lawyer who can provide you with clear, legal guidance about navigating the motor vehicle-pedestrian claim process. Securing a case evaluation consultation as quickly as possible will maximize your chances of coming out of this with the compensation you need to cover your costs in the matter.

Typically, because almost all drivers in the United States are required by law to be insured by auto insurance, your insurance provider will negotiate with the auto insurance of the person at fault to handle your medical costs. This, of course, also depends on the exact circumstances of the accident, as some insurance providers may even go so far as to refuse coverage if they feel that you were at fault in the accident.

It is in cases such as this where having a lawyer is extremely advantageous. While some insurance companies could refuse a claim, stating that the evidence is against you, you have to understand that there are often cases where an insurance company is looking for an excuse to drop a claim in order to save money. If you have no alternative way to cover your medical bills, then your only option is to take them on in court and demand your rightful compensation through a skilled lawyer. A legal fight against an insurance company will require medical experts, investigators, and careful case work – quality legal help is necessary.

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