Do Pedestrians Always Have the Right of Way?

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Pedestrians walking in crosswalk

There are millions of people injured every year in pedestrian accidents. One of the most common places that these accidents occur are at 4 way stops. It seems there is still a lot of confusion around who has the right of way when it comes to pedestrians and vehicles on the road. While pedestrian accidents commonly occur at 4 way stops, they also happen in other areas where people are trying to cross a road…or sometimes even a highway! 

It is important for both drivers and pedestrians to understand who has the right of way in any given situation.  By having this knowledge and understanding the rules of the road, we can help reduce the number of pedestrian injuries and fatalities here in Washington state. 

Generally, Pedestrians Have the Right of Way

In general, pedestrians have the right of way. Drivers owe pedestrians a duty of care when they are out on the roads. A driver must possess a valid driver’s license and follow all traffic laws.  The sad truth is that drivers often fail at meeting the duty of care for pedestrians…and other drivers for that matter.  Here are some common examples of failure to provide duty of care:

  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Speeding
  • Driving while distracted
  • Failing to signal while turning
  • Failing to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks

Injuries and fatalities can result when a driver fails the duty of safe driving that is owed to other drivers and pedestrians. 

Pedestrians Do NOT Always Have the Right of Way

Even though pedestrians usually have the right of way, this is not always the case. A pedestrian cannot just run across the street in the middle of vehicle traffic just because they feel like it. Entering a roadway suddenly and unexpectedly so a vehicle has no time to react is not allowed in Washington. Doing this would not only put you in danger, but it also puts those operating vehicles in the flow of traffic at risk. 

Pedestrians also owe a duty of care to other pedestrians and drivers out on the road. These are some of the common breaches of care seen by pedestrians:

  • Suddenly and unexpectedly entering the roadway
  • Walking in traffic areas where pedestrians are prohibited
  • Jaywalking
  • Entering a road or highway while intoxicated (drugs and/or alcohol)
  • Crossing in the middle of the street
  • Crossing the street outside of a crosswalk
  • Disobeying a traffic signal (crossing the street when there is a “do not cross” signal)

Pedestrians can be held accountable for prohibited behavior just like drivers are.  In some situations, a driver and pedestrian may both be at fault in an accident. If both the driver and pedestrian are at fault in an accident, it is important to figure out the percentage of fault for each party in order to determine liability and resolve any legal claims correctly. 

Washington state Pedestrian Laws

Every state has their own pedestrian laws. Below are laws specific to the state of Washington for pedestrians:

  • Traffic signals - Pedestrians must obey traffic signals and traffic control devices unless otherwise directed by a traffic or police officer (RCW 46.61.050).
  • Sidewalks - Drivers and bicyclists must yield to pedestrians on sidewalks and in crosswalks (RCW 46.61.261).
  • Pedestrians on roadways - Pedestrians must use sidewalks when they are available. If sidewalks are not available, pedestrians must walk on the left side of the roadway or its shoulder facing traffic (RCW 46.61.250).
  • Moving into traffic - No pedestrian or bicycle shall suddenly leave a curb and move into traffic so that the driver cannot stop (RCW 46.61.235).
  • Drivers exercise due care - Every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway and shall give warning by sounding the horn when necessary (RCW 46.61.245).
  • Stop for pedestrians at intersections - Drivers shall stop at intersections to allow pedestrians and bicycles to cross the road within a marked or unmarked crosswalk (RCW 46.61.235). See Washington's Crosswalk Law for more information.
  • Yield to vehicles outside intersections - Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway (RCW 46.61.240).

How Do You Prove Responsibility in a Pedestrian Vehicle related Accident?

It is crucial to have as much evidence when proving negligence by the vehicle in a pedestrian accident case.  Calling the police to the scene of the accident is always recommended so that a police report can be filed, however, a police report will not always show or make a liability determination for an accident.  Be sure to take the following steps after your accident:

  • Make sure that you are safe and address any injuries you have sustained immediately.
  • Document the scene (take photos with the camera on your phone if you can or have someone else take photos for you).
  • Get the contact information from any witnesses at the scene of the accident if you can do it safely.

Negligence a Common Reason for Pedestrian Accidents

Pedestrian accidents are the result of negligence in most cases. There may be a rare instance where a crazy driver is out there trying to intentionally hit people, but the odds of that happening are very low.  If you as a pedestrian have been injured due to someone else’s negligence, then you may have a legal claim against the party who is responsible. Filing a claim will allow you to recover compensation for the following:

  • Cost of medical treatment (doctor visits, hospital visits, surgeries, etc.)
  • Income lost due to missing work
  • Pain and suffering
  • Other losses (Wrongful death)

How to Avoid Pedestrian Accidents

Unfortunately, not everyone is going to follow the law when it comes to the rules of the road. No one wants to be involved, hurt, or at fault in a pedestrian accident. Here are some precautions both drivers and pedestrians can take to limit the chances of being injured or involved in a fatal accident:

  • Everyone should slow down at a crosswalk.  Drivers should be scanning the area for pedestrians even if they have a green light. Pedestrians nearly always have the right of way at crosswalk whether the crosswalk is marked or not. There is a chance that someone may be a slow walker and still crossing the street as well, so be on the lookout! Pedestrians should also be on the lookout before crossing at an intersection. Be sure to look both ways even if you have a signal that is telling you it is ok to cross. Also, be sure to look for drivers who may be attempting to run a yellow light.
  • Make yourself easy to see.  Wear bright clothes and reflective tape when you are out on walks.  This is especially important if you are walking around at night. A study shows that in 2016, 75 percent of pedestrian fatalities happened while it was dark out. Drivers need to make sure that their headlights are turned on.
  • Avoid intoxication.  48 percent of all fatal pedestrian crashes in 2016 involved alcohol (the driver and/or pedestrian). Driving drunk impairs a driver’s ability to slam their breaks on more quickly, increases the likelihood of a driver leaving the roadway, and driving up on to a sidewalk.  Pedestrians who are impaired are more likely to stumble while walking and lose their ability to pay close attention. This could cause a person to stumble into the road or have poor judgement when it comes to how close an oncoming vehicle is in relation to where they stand. 
  • Avoid distractions.  Both drivers and pedestrians should avoid electronics (phones) while on the roads. Everyone needs to be alert and pay attention to their surroundings. 


Drivers should always do the following to prevent hitting a pedestrian:

  • Always be cautious where pedestrians cross.  Regardless if they are at an intersection or marked crosswalk, you should slow to a stop. 
  • Always come to a complete stop at a crosswalk.  Never slow roll through a crosswalk as it presents an unnecessary risk.
  • Make direct eye contact.  Let the pedestrian know that you see them by attempting to make eye contact with them as they cross the road. 
  • Allow plenty of time for pedestrians to cross.  It may take more time for children, elderly, or disabled people to cross the street. Give them enough time to do so and do not enter the crosswalk with your vehicle until they have crossed safely to the other side. 
  • Never pass stopped vehicles or vehicles breaking for a pedestrian.  Slow down and stop. The last thing you want to do is to hit a pedestrian that is in the road as you try to pass a stopped vehicle. 


Even if you are being responsible and following the rules of the road, accidents will still happen.  If you have been injured in a pedestrian accident you should speak with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible.  Give us a call at 425-399-7000 today to get your free consultation. 

Max Meyers
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Max is a Kirkland personal injury attorney handling cases in Seattle, King County & surrounding in WA State.