Do Pedestrians Always Have the Right of Way?

If you or someone you love was just injured or killed in a pedestrian accident, you are not alone. Forty children are struck by motor vehicles every day in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control report, “A pedestrian dies on our streets every 1.6 hours in the United States.” Generally, the negligent party is the one who did not obey every traffic Law. You should immediately document the date and time of your accident, weather conditions, where you or your loved one was traveling, with whom, and list all injuries and possible witnesses.

Pedestrian right of way in California is a common sense approach to traffic safety, but in reality, lights change, vehicles stop suddenly, rain causes vehicles to slide, and snow and ice are slippery. Pedestrian right-of-way Laws, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles manual and California pedestrians’ rights and duties, include the following:

  • Always stop for pedestrians in crosswalks

  • Always stop for pedestrians crossing at corners

  • Never pass a vehicle stopped at a crosswalk

  • Yield to pedestrians when crossing a sidewalk)

  • Yield to pedestrians who make eye contact with you

  • Allow more time for seniors, people with disabilities, and young children to cross streets

  • Notice blind pedestrians

  • Stop 5 feet from crosswalks

The Most Common Locations for Pedestrian Accidents


Pedestrians should not be in the crosswalk after the traffic light changes or suddenly step off a curb. Pedestrians may not unnecessarily stop traffic at street corners. Pedestrians and drivers are expected to obey flashing walk signals, and pedestrians should observe vehicles and stop to avoid being hit regardless of the traffic signal.


Intersections are usually busy and obvious areas of our streets. However, they may also be secluded areas such as driveways or alleys, corners, like intersections of avenues and streets, or intersections of freeway exit ramps with city streets.

More than 45% of California’s traffic accidents and 21% of the fatalities occur at intersections. Motorists must heed “STOP” or “YIELD” signs, and beware of wheelchairs, bicycles, and skateboards. Motorists should keep wheels pointed straight forward until they can safely turn.


A roundabout, or traffic circle around a central island, always proceeds in a counter-clockwise direction. Vehicles and bicycles share lanes, and both should slow down and stop for pedestrians. If you are unable to turn, go around the circle again. Do not endanger pedestrians in a traffic circle.

California Vehicle Code – The Law Surrounding Pedestrian Right of Way

Chapter 5 of Division 11 of the California Vehicle Code [21949 – 21971] specifies Pedestrians’ Rights and Duties. California policy [21949] is safe and convenient pedestrian traffic. California and local governments are to reduce pedestrian fatalities and injuries.

Pedestrian Liability – Rare Instances Where Pedestrians Do Not Have the Right of Way

California statute [21953] prevents pedestrians from walking on a roadway where a tunnel or elevated pedestrian walkway exists. Pedestrians may not walk in bicycle lanes if pedestrian sidewalks exist according to California Vehicle Code Section 21966 or pass vehicles stopped near a crosswalk pursuant to California vehicle statute 21959. It’s illegal to ski, sled, or ice skate on a city street or country road.

Blind Pedestrian Right of Way Has Extra Protections under the Law

California Vehicle Code Section 21963 gives blind pedestrians with service dogs or white canes the right-of-way. Striking a blind pedestrian is a misdemeanor requiring up to six months in the county jail and a $500 to $1000 fine. California Vehicle Code Section 21964 forbids those who are not blind from carrying a white cane.

Local Government Ordinances Can Affect California Pedestrian Right of Way Laws

California Vehicle Code Section 21961 gives local government the right to prohibit pedestrians from crossing roadways illegally. Local governments regulate roller skating [21969] and skateboarding [21968] on streets and sidewalks. Motorized skateboards are forbidden on roads, streets, and recreational trails according to California Vehicle Code Section 21968.

Wrongful Death Due to Failure to Yield to Pedestrian Right of Way

If a pedestrian is killed by a motorist who fails to yield to the pedestrian’s right of way, survivors may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. California law specifies who may file a wrongful death claim. Wrongful death litigation compensates the decedent’s spouse, a minor child, or an adult child. If the decedent contributed at least half of your support, you may be able to file a wrongful death case. If the decedent had a will, the executor or personal representative is the only person with the right to bring a wrongful death Lawsuit for the loss of the deceased’s wages, financial support, companionship, medical bills, and funeral expenses. As administrator of the estate, the executor brings a wrongful death suit to compensate all the beneficiaries.

Liability for Pedestrian Accidents

Who is liable for your accident may be difficult to determine. When a commercial vehicle hits a pedestrian, the driver, the owner, the premises owner, a mechanic, or a parts manufacturer may all be held responsible for the accident. Even a warehouse or forklift operator who incorrectly loaded a truck may be responsible for your accident. Under pedestrian right of way Law in California, the accident victim is rarely denied damages when both the pedestrian and the driver are at fault because of the catastrophic nature of the injuries.

Proving liability for an accident requires proof of a duty to the injured pedestrian, or decedent, and a breach of that duty. Next, the pedestrian’s attorney must prove that the breach of the duty caused the victim’s injuries or death.

Comparative Negligence or Shared Liability for Pedestrian Accidents

Comparative negligence (or shared fault for the accident) reduces your chances of recovering full and fair compensation to pay for your loss. If the pedestrian or senior in a motorized wheelchair attempted to cross a street in the middle of a block rather than in the crosswalk (aka “jaywalking”), the pedestrian or disabled individual in the wheelchair contributed to the accident and therefore has some “comparative fault” in causing the accident. In cases with comparative negligence by the pedestrian, financial compensation may be limited or no compensation at all is a possible outcome.

Leading causes of comparative negligence in pedestrian accidents include:

  • Distracted walking – using a cellphone

  • Wearing headphones

  • Crossing in middle of a block (jaywalking)

  • Wearing dark clothes after dark

  • Not watching drivers

  • Walking in the road

  • Not watching back up lights

  • Not noticing the second car’s turn signal

  • Running or darting across the road without looking

  • Intoxication

Jaywalking is Not Always a Total Bar to Recovery for Your Pedestrian Accident Injuries

Even if you were jaywalking and part of the cause of your pedestrian accident and injuries, the motorist has a duty to yield to you, or at a minimum to reduce their speed. California vehicle code 21950 provides: (a) that motor vehicle drivers must yield to pedestrians crossing roadways in marked and unmarked crosswalks, (b) pedestrians have a duty to safely cross the street and not create a hazard, and (c) drivers approaching pedestrians must reduce speed to keep the pedestrians safe. Motor vehicle statute 21950 does not relieve a driver from the responsibility of caring for the safety of pedestrians in marked or unmarked crosswalks.

However, proving that the motorist saw you and failed to yield or reduce their speed before hitting you will be very difficult. They will say they didn’t see you. Plain and simple. How can you disprove that? Maybe only if they have a dash-cam in their car that shows it was impossible for them to not see you. Or, you hire an expensive accident reconstruction expert to take all the measurements and come up with an opinion to refute the driver’s statement. Either way, you’ll still need an experienced pedestrian accident lawyer in your camp.

Recent Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers Settlement

A 62-year-old woman in a marked crosswalk suffered severely fractured legs when a driver using a cell phone failed to stop at the intersection. Our pedestrian accident legal team was able to negotiate the full value of the driver’s insurance policy shortly after the accident. With the $700k pedestrian injury settlement from the at-fault driver, our pedestrian client was able to put all her energy into her recovery.

Know When You Need a Pedestrian Accident Expert

Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers has been handling pedestrian accident cases in California since the late ‘90s. With offices in San Francisco or Los Angeles, we offer free pedestrian accident evaluations 24/7. One of our five attorneys will give you a free case evaluation within 24-hours of your inquiry. We’ll help you to quickly get the legal representation you need.

If the Sally Morin Law office accepts your case, your attorney will recover the maximum possible compensation for your medical bills, rehabilitative care, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Our Law office rarely needs to litigate cases, as we are experts at achieving low-stress settlements for our clients. Get your FREE case evaluation now to find out if we can help.