Do Jaywalkers Have the Right-of-Way?

Jaywalking refers to a pedestrian crossing a roadway outside a marked crosswalk or away from an intersection.

States nationwide enacted laws about pedestrians’ responsibilities when using public roadways. These laws generally include crossing roads in marked or unmarked crosswalks whenever possible, and—if an intersection or crosswalk is not reasonably available—yielding to approaching motor vehicles and ensuring a safe gap in traffic to cross.

However, when a pedestrian violates these laws and crosses a road in a place where they’re not supposed to, drivers must take any action they can to avoid a collision. This unpredictability often makes determining liability in a pedestrian accident particularly complex.

Why Do People Jaywalk?

Jaywalking involves pedestrians crossing outside a designated area, such as a crosswalk or an intersection (which is regarded in many states as an unmarked crosswalk), and crossing a road outside a designated time, such as when the pedestrian traffic control light says don’t walk.

As noted by the Traffic Safety Store, pedestrians jaywalk for many reasons, including:

  • The pedestrian is in a hurry and wants to avoid taking the time to walk to the intersection before crossing.
  • The crosswalk is too far away. Often, on long stretches of road with few cross-streets, it is impractical for pedestrians to find an intersection to cross the road safely. This is particularly common in rural areas.
  • They’re following someone else who is jaywalking. This is common with children and teens using the same path to school. One child or teen will choose to cross the road outside a designated area; others will think it is ok to do so and will step out into the roadway as well.
  • They’re not from the area and are unfamiliar with local traffic laws and roadways.

Motor Vehicle Drivers Have a Greater Duty of Care Than Pedestrians

All users of public roadways—regardless of the type of transportation they use—must take action to avoid causing harm to others. These duties often include following traffic laws and safely operating motor vehicles. However, there is a significant difference in the responsibility of a pedestrian compared to the duty of a motor vehicle driver.

Vehicles are getting larger with time, and according to a report from The Zebra, SUVs, and crossovers account for around 50 percent of the market share for all vehicles sold in the U.S. Even the smallest cars are about 12 feet long and more than 5 feet wide.

The average weight of a passenger car is more than 4,000 pounds, and motor vehicles are designed to operate at roadway speeds of 35 miles per hour or more. This size makes them much larger and faster than any pedestrian, contributing to the increase in pedestrian accident fatalities by 81 percent in just a few years.

Because of the increased size and speed, motor vehicle drivers have a more significant duty of care in that they are not only required to follow traffic laws and ensure that their vehicle is in good running order but also to take actions to prevent accidents even when they have the right-of-way. This responsibility is particularly true in areas where pedestrians are naturally expected, such as near schools, parks, or residential areas.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notes that some of the actions drivers can take to avoid a pedestrian accident include:

  • Being on the lookout for pedestrians everywhere and at all times, with the understanding that pedestrians often cross outside of crosswalks
  • Using extra caution when driving in hard-to-see conditions, such as nighttime and during inclement weather where visibility is compromised by rain, snow, or fog
  • Slowing down and being prepared to stop when crossing a crosswalk, even when the driver has the right-of-way
  • Never passing vehicles at a crosswalk or when a bus has stopped on the roadside and deployed its stop arm and flashing red lights
  • Avoiding driving while tired or under the influence of alcohol or drugs as these substances will dull a driver’s responses needed to avoid an accident with a jaywalking pedestrian and the ability to make sound driving decisions
  • Avoiding speeding because it makes it difficult to stop in time to prevent an accident and for a pedestrian to judge if there is a safe gap in traffic in which to cross the roadway, as the vehicle will close that gap faster than expected.

Liability for Jaywalking in Pedestrian Accidents

Do Jaywalkers Have the Right-of-Way?Despite laws that require pedestrians to use sidewalks, crosswalks, and intersections when available, motorists who have accidents with pedestrians will often face liability and be responsible for compensating the pedestrian or loved ones for the impacts and expenses associated with their injury or death.

Some of the reasons why the motorist is responsible include:

  • They were driving too fast for the roadway conditions in an area commonly frequented by pedestrians where they should have known to slow down and be cautious.
  • They failed to take necessary actions to avoid the accident because they had the right of way. It is worth noting that if the driver deliberately hits the pedestrian, they will likely face criminal charges involving vehicular assault, manslaughter, or even murder or attempted murder.
  • The driver was distracted when the accident occurred. Driving distractions include anything that causes the driver to look away from the roadway, take their hands from the proper position on the steering wheel, or take their thoughts away from driving safely.
  • The driver was unfamiliar with the roadway and failed to realize that pedestrians commonly inhabited it and there was a need to slow down and use extra caution.

What Pedestrians Can Do to Avoid Injury

Even though motorists are often liable for injuries caused to pedestrians, whether they were crossing in a marked crosswalk, walking on the road’s edge or a sidewalk, or even jaywalking, there are many things pedestrians can do to avoid becoming injured in accidents with motor vehicles.

These actions include:

  • Making themselves as visible as possible by wearing bright clothes or even attaching a strobing light to their backpack so that drivers are better able to see them, particularly at night
  • Using crosswalks to cross roadways whenever possible and following the local and state laws about pedestrians. Before entering a crosswalk or unmarked intersection, it is important to look for vehicles approaching from all directions, including those turning left or right.
  • Exercising caution when crossing private driveways or parking lots to ensure no vehicles are backing up in those areas
  • Using extreme caution when crossing a roadway outside of a crosswalk to ensure a safe gap in traffic to cross the road
  • Avoiding wearing earbuds when walking that will muffle the sound of approaching vehicles

About Pedestrian Accidents

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 6,000 pedestrians are killed on roads throughout the United States yearly, and more than 54,000 are injured. Three-quarters of these accidents occur outside of intersections. Most pedestrian accidents occur during hours of darkness, and a lack of visibility is often a factor in the crash.

Pedestrian accidents are more common on weekends when more vehicles are out on the roadway, and there is a greater risk of those vehicles being operated by impaired drivers. Alcohol impairment is a factor in nearly half of all accidents involving a motor vehicle and a pedestrian.

While many people believe that pedestrian accidents most commonly involve children walking to and from school or darting into the road to chase a ball, the NHTSA notes that children only account for about 16 percent of pedestrian accident fatalities. The highest number of pedestrian fatalities involve adults aged 55-64. Males account for around 71 percent of pedestrian accident fatalities. These accidents are more common in urban areas where more vehicles are on the road, and roads funnel vehicles as quickly as possible.

Pedestrian accidents are also common in lower-income neighborhoods, often along the city’s busiest roads. Roadways are more frequently used by those who cannot afford other forms of transportation.

The Risk of Hit-and-Run Accidents Involving Pedestrians

While laws vary from state to state, all states have a law that requires motorists to stop, render aid, and exchange insurance information with others involved in an accident, including pedestrians. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the term hit-and-run accident refers to an accident in which one of the parties involved leaves the scene without taking the required steps and remaining at the scene to speak with police. More than 700,000 hit-and-run accidents occur on U.S. roadways, most of which involve pedestrians. Around 20 percent of pedestrian accidents involve a hit-and-run driver.

Drivers are identified in around 60 percent of pedestrian accidents involving victims under 15. However, the driver is only identified in about 39 percent of cases involving adult pedestrians aged 31 to 55. The identification rate is around 49 percent for accidents involving elderly pedestrians.

Common Injuries Suffered in Pedestrian Accidents

The injuries suffered by pedestrians in accidents involving motor vehicles depend on several factors, including:

  • The size of the vehicle. Studies show that SUVs, pickups, and other large vehicles with a higher profile were associated with more serious pedestrian accident injuries at speeds of 20 miles per hour or greater. SUVs, in particular, were found to produce a greater risk of a pedestrian being thrown forward and are twice as likely to result in severe hip and thigh injuries due to impacts with the vehicle’s bumper, grill, or headlights.
  • The size of the person involved in the accident. The impact point of an accident involving a larger vehicle will occur higher up on the body, with the impact point for a child struck by an SUV often being the chest or head.
  • The speed at which the vehicle is traveling when the impact occurs. Increased speed leads to harder impacts and a greater chance of severe injury or death.

Some injuries commonly associated with pedestrian accidents include traumatic brain injuries resulting from the impact on the front of the vehicle, the windshield, the ground, or other objects in the area. Broken bones caused by the vehicle’s impact or a hard collision with the ground are also common, as are internal injuries, significant lacerations, and deep bruising. Three out of every ten pedestrians involved in accidents that were part of a recent study in Michigan about the risk of SUVs to pedestrians died as a result of their injury.

What to Do if a Pedestrian Accident Injured You or Your Child

If you or your child is injured in a pedestrian accident, the most important thing to do is to obtain a thorough medical evaluation and treatment of all injuries sustained in the crash. Another important action to take is to call for your free case evaluation with an experienced personal injury lawyer who can answer the questions you have about your legal case and determine if you can seek compensation by filing a bodily injury claim against the at-fault motorist’s auto liability insurance policy.

Also, personal injury protection policy held by the injured pedestrian or someone in their household might cover a pedestrian accident in no-fault states.

An attorney can help you determine all insurance policies held by you or liable parties to provide compensation.