There appear to be three types of pedestrian crossings in the United States:

  1. Marked: an "official" crosswalk with some sort of markings or indication that it exists.
  2. Unmarked: According to wikipedia, "Unmarked crosswalks generally exist as the logical extensions of sidewalks at intersections with approximately right angles"
  3. None: when there is no crosswalk - "jaywalking"

Source: Wikipedia

When pedestrians cross in a location where there is no crosswalk or disobey pedestrian traffic signals (i.e., jaywalk), what responsibilities do drivers have to those jaywalking pedestrians (if any), and what would (likely) happen were there to be an incident - especially, who would be culpable and what factors would influence that culpability?

This may be rather broad; if so, comment and I'll edit. Thanks!


2 Answers 2


This varies greatly by state, but the pedestrians "right of way" is quite a common misconception. Pedestrians do not always have the right of way, but you're also not allowed to just run them over if they're in the middle of the street. That's why states have jaywalking laws, and a lot of people don't realize that they can be ticketed for it - because it's a huge safety concern for a pedestrian to walk in the street outside the designated areas.

The NCSL provides a Pedestrian Crossing 50 State Summary that outlines the laws regarding pedestrian crossing.

Particularly, there are two lines that frequently repeat throughout all the states:

  1. Pedestrians may not suddenly leave the curb and enter a crosswalk into the path of a moving vehicle that is so close to constitute an immediate hazard.

  2. Pedestrians must yield the right-of-way to vehicles when crossing outside of a marked crosswalk or an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.

Bottom line: if there is a pedestrian randomly in the middle of the street somewhere, you are fully obligated to attempt to not hit them with your vehicle. Feel free to curse them out (if that's your thing) because in most states they are themselves breaking a law. If an accident can't be prevented due to a pedestrian's actions, then the pedestrian is fully at fault and you will not be held responsible in any way.

  • Doesn't "Pedestrians must yield the right-of-way" indicate that until/unless they do so, they still have it? Commented Jul 30, 2015 at 3:46
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    @DanHenderson not necessarily, in pa the manual says law only dictates who must yield right of way but explicitly does nit say who does.
    – Andy
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 2:04
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    @DanHenderson No. If this were the case it would imply that simply not yielding would give pedestrians perpetual right-of-way. If the law explicitly denies a right in a particular context (e.g. demands that a pedestrian must yield to traffic when there's no crosswalk markings) one does not have the right the first place. In other words, asserting that "[this thing] must yield the right of way" is equivalent to asserting "this thing does not have the right of way, some other thing does". It's a binary construct.
    – jbowman
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 3:13
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    If a pedestrian, for example, walks into the middle of traffic outside of a crosswalk and a vehicle can't reasonably stop in time the pedestrian will be at fault. If, on the other hand, that person walks out into the middle of traffic in a marked crosswalk, the vehicles are expected to be prepared to stop.
    – jbowman
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 3:13
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    @DanHenderson The world "yield" does not mean "give up (what you have)" here. It means something more like "recognize (by behavior) that others have". When someone yields in a fight, they recognize the other person as the victor; they didn't have "victory" at any point prior to that, for it is in yielding that the holder of "victory" can be determined. When you yield in traffic situations, you recognize the right of others to progress is greater than your own. Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 3:24

Although there are minor differences from state to state, the“pedestrian right of way” is basically the same in all 50 states and U.S. territories. Pedestrians have the right of way ‘only’in a clearly marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk from one corner to another corner (@ a 90 degree angle to the intersection), with a green or walk light in the direction the pedestrian is walking and ‘only’ when proceeding does not interfere with traffic. Example-If you are walking across a street (@ the intersection)and the light changes after you have entered the crosswalk or stepped off of the curb, you have the ‘right of way’, but if the light turns before you step off the curb or enter the crosswalk, oncoming traffic has the ‘right of way’. This includes, but not limited to, all public roadways, public (and most private) parking lots and any other areas where motor vehicles have access. Never assume that just because you are on foot that you ‘automatically’have the ‘right of way’. 99% of the time, you don’t. It’s easer (and less dangerous) for the driver/vehicle to give up the ‘right of way’ than it is for the pedestrian to take it. Look at it like this, you weigh 175 lbs and the average vehicle weighs about 3500 lbs. Who do you think will come out on top in this confrontation? Metal bends, bones break. Be smart, not complacent. Be safe!

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