Washington State Crosswalk Laws Everyone Needs to Know

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According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 4,884 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents in 2014 and approximately 65,000 were injured. In addition, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association found that pedestrian deaths increased by nearly 10 percent in 2015. Road users who fail to follow Washington State crosswalk laws could find themselves involved in a catastrophic car crash. Learning about pedestrian traffic laws could save your life and the lives of others.

Who has the right-of-way when crossing the street?

Generally, drivers must yield to pedestrians on sidewalks and in crosswalks, as stated by RCW § 46.61.261. RCW § 46.61.235 elaborates, stating that motorists must stop when the pedestrian is in their half of the roadway.

Vehicles must also stop if a pedestrian is within one lane of their half of the street. When the pedestrian has passed one lane of their roadway, the vehicles may proceed. In addition, a driver cannot overtake a driver who has stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross.

However, many people — pedestrians especially — are unaware that pedestrians do not always have the right-of-way. According to RCW § 46.61.240, if a pedestrian is crossing the street outside of a marked or unmarked crosswalk, he must yield to motor vehicles.

Additionally, according to RCW § 46.61.235, pedestrians may not bolt into traffic suddenly, making it impossible for a driver to stop. It is also important to remember that even if a pedestrian does not abide by the law, drivers must still exercise due care to avoid hitting the pedestrian, per RCW § 46.61.245.

What is the difference between a marked and unmarked crosswalk?

Both marked and unmarked crosswalks provide pedestrians with a safe way of crossing the street. But, what is the difference between a marked and an unmarked crosswalk?

Marked crosswalks use paint lines from curb to curb to denote safe areas for pedestrians to cross the road. They also alert motorists to potential pedestrian crossing areas across roads not controlled by traffic signals. The MUTCD finds that marked crosswalks make it easier to legally establish crosswalks at intersection locations.

Unmarked crosswalks are typically located at intersections and are not clearly defined with paint as marked crosswalks are. To be safe, a motorist can assume that most intersections, regardless of whether or not they are painted, are crosswalks.

While pedestrians do have the right-of-way in both marked and unmarked crosswalks, they should always proceed with caution. Even if you see the driver, he may not have seen you. Always look twice before crossing and always cross in a crosswalk.

Is crossing outside of a crosswalk illegal?

Crossing the street outside of a crosswalk or “jaywalking” is dangerous and is against the law in the state of Washington. As mentioned above, per RCW § 46.61.240, pedestrians must yield the right of way to motorists when crossing outside a crosswalk. If they do not, they may receive a citation and be subject to fines.

Pedestrian Crossing Signals

Many intersections in Washington have pedestrian signals to regulate pedestrians crossing the streets. According to RCW § 46.61.050, all road users — pedestrians, motorists, and bicyclists — must obey all traffic signals and traffic control devices, unless an officer says otherwise.

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) lists the following pedestrian signals:

  • Walking person – A steady walking person symbolizes “walk.”
  • Upraised hand – A steady upraised hand symbolizes “don’t walk.” If the upraised hand signal is flashing, pedestrians may not begin to cross the street. However, those who have already started to cross on a steady walking person sign may continue crossing.
  • Countdown timer –The MUTCD requires countdown timers for pedestrian change intervals (the duration of the flashing upraised hand) longer than seven seconds. If the timer is already counting down, ensure you will have enough time to cross before stepping into the crosswalk.

Pedestrian accidents can be deadly, but Washington road users can work together to prevent them. For more ways to stay safe on the road, check out our blog and article library.

If you were involved in a pedestrian accident and have any questions about liability, give Max Meyers a call at 425-399-7000. Please also review our page on what to do after a pedestrian accident.

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