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Do Pedestrians Always Have the Right of Way in California?

According to the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) pedestrians are at significant risk of death or injury on state roads. In 2018 alone, the agency says, nearly 900 pedestrians died and more than 14,000 pedestrians were hurt on California roads. That gave the state the dubious distinction of having the most pedestrian deaths in the country.

The OTS says a collaborative effort between drivers and pedestrians is the best way to reduce the number of pedestrian deaths and injuries statewide. In other words, motorists and pedestrians must all do their part to make the roads safer for those on foot. Among other things, this means they must all learn and follow the rules and regulations regarding pedestrian right of way.

Rules for drivers and pedestrians

The basic rules for motorists and pedestrians are set forth in California Vehicle Code Section 21950.

Subsection (a) of this particular law indicates that motorists should yield the right-of-way to pedestrians in certain situations. Specifically, it states that pedestrians have the right of way when they are crossing the street if they are doing so:

  • Within any marked crosswalk; or
  • Within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.

This means California motorists must take certain precautions when they come upon a pedestrian within any marked or unmarked crosswalk. These measures include slowing down and making any evasive maneuvers needed to protect the pedestrian from harm.

Drivers must also yield the right of way to blind or partially blind pedestrians equipped with mostly white and red-tipped canes, or who are using guide dogs. The failure to do so or take reasonable precautions to keep from injuring a blind or partially blind pedestrian is a misdemeanor offense.

Drivers are not the only ones legally required to take various precautions, however. The state’s vehicle code also mandates that pedestrians refrain from venturing into the roadway without warning. They are also prohibited from entering an oncoming vehicle’s path in any way that creates “an immediate hazard.” Finally, pedestrians are also prohibited from stopping or delaying traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.

What if someone is not crossing at an intersection?

Section 21954 of the California Vehicle Code clearly states that pedestrians do not have the right of way in some situations. They relinquish the right of way if they are crossing the road in any location other than:

  • A marked crosswalk; or
  • An unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.

However, the law still mandates that drivers exercise “due care” when they encounter a pedestrian crossing the street in a location other than an intersection. This means drivers must still slow down and take evasive action to keep from striking someone crossing at a location other than those noted above.

As per Section 21953, pedestrians must yield the right of way if they are crossing the road at street level rather than using an available pedestrian tunnel. They must also yield the right of way to motorists if they are crossing the street at surface level rather than using a designated “overhead pedestrian crossing.”

In either case, they must try to cross as safely as possible so they do not create an “immediate hazard” for oncoming traffic.

Clearly, establishing fault in a pedestrian injury case is not always easy. Depending on the circumstances, one or both parties may be to blame. If a motorist struck and injured you while you were on foot, you need an experienced personal injury lawyer. Contact the Law Office of Parag L. Amin, P.C. to schedule a free consultation, today.


PLEASE NOTE: This is not a representation, warranty, or guarantee of a future result or outcome. Every case is different just like every one of our clients.