Do Jaywalkers Have the Right of Way?

When you’re involved in a pedestrian accident, it’s important to know your rights and what actions to take. While pedestrians may have the right of way in intersections, the rules may not be as clear when jaywalking. If you’re unsure about your rights, contact an experienced pedestrian accident lawyer for guidance.

What Is Jaywalking?

Jaywalking occurs when pedestrians cross outside a designated crosswalk, often in cases where the road already has significant traffic. Many areas of the United States consider jaywalking illegal. However, in most cases, pedestrians will not even face minor citations and consequences for jaywalking, particularly in areas where pedestrians might not have a crosswalk.

Do Jaywalkers Have the Right of Way?

Pedestrians crossing the road at an unmarked crosswalk must wait for traffic to move past before crossing the intersection. All traffic has the right of way when moving through an unmarked crosswalk or intersection.

However, in some cases, jaywalkers may enter the street legally, expecting a safe experience crossing the road, only for a car to come around a corner or move through a light unexpectedly. If a jaywalker has already entered the road when a car approaches, the car needs to wait for the jaywalker to get out of the way.

Understanding Pedestrian Right of Way

Experience Lawyer For Car Accident near Newburgh NYIn most cases, pedestrians have the right of way when they cross traffic at a marked intersection, using the provided crosswalk and adhering to traffic signals. Pedestrians have the right of way any time they enter the road according to those rules and regulations, even if the light changes or traffic moves forward with the pedestrian still in the crosswalk.

Some pedestrians, including elderly or handicapped individuals, may struggle to cross safely when the light remains in their favor. However, other drivers must exercise care around pedestrian intersections when they know pedestrians can enter the area.

Traffic Signals

Many intersections have clear traffic signals that govern when an individual has the right of way. Those traffic signals determine when a pedestrian can cross an intersection and when the pedestrian needs to wait for the light to change. Traffic signals may also govern when a vehicle has the right to cross through that area.

For example, in some cases, drivers may need to wait for pedestrians to pass. In other cases, they may need to wait for a light to change before moving across. When a traffic signal indicates that the pedestrian can cross, the pedestrian has the right of way.

If a pedestrian has already started to cross the intersection, but the light or signal changes, the pedestrian continues to have the right of way.

Unmarked Intersections

Sometimes, pedestrians may need to cross in unmarked intersections, where they may not have specific indicators to know when they can cross. In those cases, pedestrians will need to yield to the vehicle. Drivers typically have the right of way in intersections with no crosswalks. However, if a pedestrian has entered the intersection before the driver approaches, the driver will need to continue yielding to the pedestrian.

Intersections With Crosswalks but No Signals

In some intersections, pedestrians may find clearly-marked crosswalks but no traffic signals that govern when they can cross the road. Pedestrians have the right of way in these intersections, and drivers must yield to them. However, pedestrians should not try to enter the road in front of a driver already in motion at the intersection, which could cause a devastating collision.

If a vehicle stops at a marked crosswalk to allow the pedestrians in or around that intersection to cross, other drivers behind that vehicle should not attempt to pass for any reason, which could result in a devastating collision.

Pedestrian Accidents

About 25 percent of traffic fatalities involve pedestrians, with more than 15,000 pedestrians suffering injuries due to the negligent behavior of drivers out on the road each year. Young children and seniors have greater vulnerabilities that may increase the risk of an accident.

Pedestrian accidents may occur for a number of reasons.

Drivers Who Ignore the Rules of the Road

Many intersections include clearly-marked traffic signals and signs that display who has the right of way in an intersection. Many drivers, however, quickly grow frustrated when someone takes too long to cross the intersection or simply does not want to wait for pedestrians to finish crossing.

They may push through the intersection before pedestrians have a chance to enter it. Unfortunately, many pedestrians do not realize that those drivers will ignore the rules of the road, which increases the risk that they will cause an accident. Drivers may also attempt things like passing too close to a pedestrian, including a jaywalking pedestrian.

Driver Distraction

Distracted drivers have a high risk of causing devastating collisions at any point on the road. Around jaywalking pedestrians, however, that risk may increase. Drivers do not expect pedestrians outside of marked crosswalks, which means it may not occur to them to look for them.

A distracted driver may glance only briefly around the road, looking primarily for the visual profile of large passenger vehicles. Unfortunately, pedestrians fail to fit that visual profile, which means that drivers may not even stop to think about their presence. As a result, they may end up striking the pedestrian without ever noting his presence.

Distracted drivers do not necessarily have to stare down at their phones to suffer from many distractions. A distracted driver may have looked away from the road to change climate controls or the station on the radio. In addition, distracted drivers may struggle to pay attention to the road while eating and drinking or may have difficulty noting what takes place around them as they deal with distractions within the vehicle, including children or pets.


Drivers who speed may have a much higher risk of causing an accident with substantial injuries. Speeding impacts accidents in two key ways.

1. Speeding Increases Overall Accident Risk.

At a high rate of speed, drivers have a higher risk of causing an accident, including an accident with a pedestrian. Speeding drivers often do not consider the possibility of jaywalkers. They may zoom around a corner or down a straight stretch of road, assuming they have nothing in their way. A jaywalking pedestrian can appear suddenly, at least as far as a speeding driver can see, which means that the speeding driver will have inadequate time to respond to that potential threat and avoid a collision.

Even if the driver sees a jaywalking pedestrian, the driver may have inadequate time to respond to the risk and avoid the accident. At a high rate of speed, it takes longer to slow down or turn away, which means the driver may have inadequate time to hit the brakes and avoid the pedestrian.

2. Speeding May Increase the Severity of an Accident and the Injuries the Pedestrian Suffers.

At a high rate of speed, even a driver that tries to avoid a collision with a pedestrian may end up with inadequate time to come to a full stop. As a result, many collisions will involve a much higher rate of force than when a driver travels at a reasonable rate of speed based on the area. Because of that, pedestrians may end up sustaining much more severe injuries than they would in a collision with a driver who chose to travel at a reasonable rate of speed.

Poor Visibility

Pedestrian accidents may occur more often at dawn and dusk when visibility decreases, and drivers may have more difficulty keeping up with everything around them. Accidents may also occur more frequently after dark. Furthermore, the visibility created by the design of an intersection may impact how well drivers can see pedestrians as they approach the intersection. In areas where the driver cannot see well, the driver may need to slow down and exercise additional caution to decrease the risk of an accident.

Driver Inebriation

Drunk driving poses several potential problems. First, a drunk driver may have difficulty seeing what happens around him. Drunk drivers often suffer from a high level of tunnel vision, which may increase the odds that the driver will never see a pedestrian in an intersection. Driving while intoxicated can also leave many drivers struggling to safely control their vehicles, which may raise the risk that they will behave dangerously as they navigate the road. A drunk driver might also fail to exercise adequate caution around jaywalking pedestrians in general.

Rolling Stops

Some drivers may fail to come to a full stop in intersections, especially intersections that have stop signs instead of lights. A rolling stop occurs when a driver does not come to a full stop at the intersection but instead slows down, briefly taps the brakes, and continues through the intersection. In many cases, pedestrians may assume that a driver that looks like he intends to stop will actually come to a full stop. Unfortunately, that means that jaywalking pedestrians may take advantage of the stop to attempt to cross the road, which may result in the pedestrian getting hit.

Do Drivers Always Bear Liability in Pedestrian Accidents?

Drivers bear several important responsibilities, especially around pedestrians.

  • Drivers need to exercise caution when driving in areas with pedestrian traffic. They should look carefully before proceeding through an intersection and keep an eye out for pedestrians at all times.
  • Drivers need to yield to pedestrians in intersections and crosswalks and allow adequate room for pedestrians to safely get out of the road.
  • Drivers need to leave the adequate room when passing pedestrians, including jaywalking pedestrians. In some cases, that may mean that drivers must slow down and drive behind a pedestrian when the driver does not have adequate room to pass safely.
  • Drivers need to exercise particular caution when sharing the road with members of vulnerable populations, including elderly or very young pedestrians.

When drivers fail in their duty of care to others who share the road with them, including pedestrians, they will bear liability for the resulting accident and the injuries and damages associated with it. In many cases, a driver will bear liability for a pedestrian accident. Pedestrians who have suffered injuries due to a driver’s negligence should consult an attorney to learn more about how they can establish liability for an accident and what compensation they may deserve for those injuries.

Can a Jaywalking Pedestrian Recover Compensation for Damages From an Accident?

In many cases, drivers will bear liability for the injuries suffered by a jaywalking pedestrian. Despite the risks associated with jaywalking, pedestrians on the road have the right to safely cross the street or use that area. Jaywalkers already on the road when a driver approaches have the right of way, even in cases where jaywalkers would otherwise need to wait for the road to clear.

As a result, jaywalking pedestrians may have the right to seek compensation following an accident with a negligent driver who failed to yield to their presence on the road. That compensation may include compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and the pain and suffering often associated with a serious accident. However, the insurance company may fight to establish that its driver did not cause the accident, so the injured pedestrian should contact an attorney for help with the claim.

Contact a Lawyer After a Jaywalking Accident

lawampm_attorney-awards_logos_top-100-trial-attorneysIf you suffered injuries in an accident as a pedestrian while jaywalking, you might need an attorney to help you learn more about your rights and fight for the compensation you deserve. An attorney can help establish the negligent actions of the driver that struck you and help you pursue compensation for all the associated damages.

Contact Finkelstein & Partners, LLP’s personal injury lawyer in New York as soon after your jaywalking accident as possible to learn more about your right to compensation.

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