(US law and generally) There are many popular misconceptions regarding the rights and duties of pedestrians. Some people believe that pedestrians have an absolute right to travel anywhere at any time while others follow the old adage of “might makes right.” Believing either point of view is a recipe for disaster. Understanding the comparative rights and obligations of individuals on foot is important to driving or walking safely in any city.
Pedestrians and Crossings
In most states, pedestrians have the right of way in crosswalks at most intersections and at driveways. They also have the right of way at all marked pedestrian crossings. They have the right of way on sidewalks and when approaching private areas such as alleys, building entrances, driveways, or private roads from a sidewalk. Drivers must yield to any crossing person at an intersection where the flow of traffic is not controlled by a traffic control device.
If the crosswalk is controlled by a pedestrian control device, a person may cross when provided with the signal to do so and may not attempt to cross without the provided signal. Crosswalks at such intersections need not be marked in order for him or her to have the right of way. They may not cross outside of a crosswalk between two intersections that are controlled with traffic control devices.
Pedestrians and Roadway Travel
Pedestrians may also use the road for travel under certain circumstances. However, at areas on the roadway other than marked crosswalks and unmarked crosswalks at intersections, motor vehicles have the right of way. If the roadway has adjacent sidewalks, travelers on foot must use them. If not, they are authorized to walk on the shoulder of the road or on the far side of the road facing traffic. In such cases, they must still grant the right of way to motor vehicles.
Limitations on the Right of Way
Pedestrians have certain duties before they have the legal right of way. If an elevated crosswalk is available, they are required to use it rather than cross the road. One must heed the right of way to others when those others have the right of way. Additionally, the fact that pedestrians have the right of way in any particular situation does not excuse him or her from having to use reasonable care to watch for approaching vehicles. They may not simply dart in front of a moving vehicle and claim damages without raising issues of contributory negligence.
In Womack v. Stephens, 144 N.C. App. 57 (2001), the plaintiff appealed a directed verdict for the defendant. In that case, the plaintiff was a pedestrian who was heavily intoxicated on a variety of substances who attempted to cross a city street at night while wearing dark clothing. The defendant was a motorist who obeyed the speed limit and attempted to swerve upon seeing the plaintiff. Predictably, an accident occurred. The North Carolina Court of Appeals remanded the case, holding that while the plaintiff was contributorily negligent, the trial court erred in not submitting the question of whether the defendant had the last clear chance to avoid the accident to the jury. This case is a great example for when a personal injury attorney should be hired to represent the plaintiff, preferably a local attorney based on where the accident occurred. For example, if the above named accident occurred in Charlotte, NC then hiring a Charlotte personal injury lawyer would be the preferable choice for the plaintiff based on the fact that a local attorney would be knowledgeable about all state and local laws from the area of where the accident occurred.
This case and many others underscore an important obligation on the part of motorists. Vehicle operators must act reasonably. Motorists are not entitled to collide with other individuals simply because they failed to heed the right of way. Motorists are always required to exercise due care while operating their vehicles to avoid colliding with pedestrians. Vehicle operators should exercise vigilance particularly when spotting children or anyone else on the sidewalk that may run into the roadway. Motorists who fail to exercise due care may be partially liable for the collision even if the other party failed to heed the right of way.
When to Contact an Attorney
Collisions between unshielded humans and automobiles frequently result in significant injury to the person on foot. Victims may experience reduced mobility and severe pain in addition to significant medical bills. In theory, an at-fault motorist’s insurance company should fully compensate the injured pedestrian for his or her injuries. Unfortunately, the reality is different. Some insurers will disclaim liability altogether while others will offer token settlements simply to see if the victim will accept them.
After an accident, victims should consult an attorney sooner rather than later. Attorneys can deal with the insurance companies and represent the victim and try to get compensation for his or her damages. If the motorist was uninsured, victims may initiate a civil lawsuit against the at-fault motorist to try to obtain compensation. Experienced legal representation will help protect the rights of the injured victim.
Legal writer Lisa Coleman shares some commonly overlooked laws about who, the pedestrian or a motorist, has the right of way and when one should yield. Auger & Auger Attorneys at Law, a Charlotte personal injury lawyer group, is experienced and knowledgeable in North Carolina laws of right-of-way, and aggressively represents any client that may be a victim of a pedestrian accident.