Pedestrian safety is a growing issue that affects the lives of thousands of California residents every year, but when does a pedestrian have the right-of-way on the road? Who is liable for the damages caused in these pedestrian accidents? Find out more about how right of way and crosswalk laws work in California below.

Pedestrian Accident Statistics in California

According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, the number of pedestrians losing their lives on the road has increased over the last few years.

  • California has the highest volume of pedestrian accident deaths of any state in the country.
  • In 2018, nearly 900 pedestrians were killed on roadways in California. This amount has risen over 25% since 2014.
  • Close to 14,000 pedestrians were injured in California accidents in 2018.
  • Over 7,000 pedestrians lost their lives in California road accidents between 2009-2018.
  • The fatality rate for pedestrians in California is close to 25% higher than the annual average across the country.
  • In California, fatal pedestrian accidents comprise over 20% of the total traffic incidents in the state.

Do Pedestrians Always Have the Right of Way in California?

Pedestrian crossing signAlthough it is a common belief that pedestrians always have the right of way in California, this is more of a saying than it is actual law. According to the official law, California Vehicle Code 21950 states that drivers are required to yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian crossing the road within any marked or unmarked crosswalk at an intersection. The code also states that pedestrians cannot leave a curb, sidewalk, or another place of safety suddenly enough that it creates an immediate hazard.

On the other hand, California Vehicle Code 21954(a) states that pedestrians on the road but not on the crosswalk must yield the right-of-way to any vehicle that is close enough to create an immediate hazard. The law also states that regardless of the circumstances of the accident, drivers always have a responsibility to operate their vehicles with care for the safety of any pedestrian on the road.

This essentially means that pedestrians have the right-of-way as long as they’re crossing at a crosswalk and not creating an immediate hazard for drivers, but pedestrians do not always have the right-of-way when crossing outside of a crosswalk. Additionally, the ambiguity in the definition of “immediate hazard” often creates an opportunity for insurance companies to contest these types of cases, so they are hardly ever simple to navigate through from a legal standpoint.

California Crosswalk Law

Crosswalk Ahead sign along California's Pacific Coast Highway

A crosswalk is defined in the state of California as any portion of the road that’s been designated with crossing lines or other markings as a location for pedestrians to cross the road, or it’s also defined as “that portion of a roadway included within the prolongation or connection of the boundary lines of sidewalks at intersections where the intersecting roadways meet at approximately right angles, except the prolongation of such lines from an alley across a street.”

Unmarked crosswalks are not specifically defined in the California Vehicle Code laws, but in most cases where lines of sidewalk are interrupted by intersecting roads, there is considered to be an unmarked crosswalk which likely gives pedestrians the right-of-way as long as they’re operating within the boundaries of the law.

Fault in Pedestrian Accidents

Comparative Negligence is a California rule that allows plaintiffs to reduce the amount of damages they are liable for based on how responsible the defendant is in causing the damages and injuries. What this means is that each party involved in the accident can be held liable for covering the percentage of damages for which they are found to have been responsible for causing. In pedestrian accidents, both parties tend to bear some level of fault as in most of these personal injury cases as both drivers & pedestrians are at least partially responsible for working together to create a safer roadway environment for everyone.

Ultimately, motorists and pedestrians both have responsibilities on the road. Pedestrians are responsible for using the crosswalk to cross the road, avoiding jaywalking, and must follow the traffic laws of the road. Motorists are responsible for driving in a safe manner around pedestrians & bicyclists and for taking reasonable steps to avoid a pedestrian accident.

The at-fault party in a pedestrian accident can be held liable for providing compensation for damages they’re found liable for such as medical costs, physical & emotional damages, loss of companionship, punitive damages, and loss of income & earning capacity.

Safety Tips for Avoiding a Pedestrian Accident

For Pedestrians

  • Stick to the sidewalks and avoid jaywalking.
  • Only cross streets at intersections with marked crosswalks.
  • Always look both ways before stepping onto the street to cross. Left-right-left is typically the order in which you want to look down the road.
  • Pay attention to vehicle turn signals.
  • Always try to make contact with drivers and never assume that they can see you or know you’re there.
  • Don’t engage in texting or phone calls when walking on sidewalks or on the road as these types of actions can detract from your ability to pay attention to your surroundings.
  • Stay sober when walking on sidewalks and crosswalks

For Drivers

  • Yield to any pedestrians on the road.
  • Be prepared to stop at an intersection or crosswalk and yield to any pedestrians crossing.
  • Always be cautious when backing up your vehicle as pedestrians may unwittingly cross your path without even seeing you.
  • Keep an eye out for pedestrians that could unsafely try to cross the road.
  • Stop before the crosswalk line to make sure other drivers can establish a clear line of sight of the crosswalk as well.
  • Avoid driving under the influence of any drugs or alcohol.

Pedestrians at the Highest Risk for Accidents

Child looking both ways before crossing the road

Certain groups of pedestrians are at higher risk of colliding with a motor vehicle. These are the groups that bare the highest risk of being hit by a vehicle:

  • Child Pedestrians. Children are smaller and easier to miss compared to adults, tend to run into the street without warning more often, and lack the same understanding of traffic safety laws that adults have. Close to 1 in 5 pedestrian fatalities that occurred in California in 2017 involved a child who was 14 years of age or younger. Parks, school zones, and rural neighborhoods are locations where a majority of these types of pedestrian accidents occur as these are places where children are commonly found.
  • Elderly Pedestrians. Those who were 65 and older were involved in more pedestrian accidents in 2017 than children under the age of 15 were. This group accounted for over 20% of all the pedestrian fatalities in California. Adults between the age of 50-59 comprised even more of the fatalities in 2017 accounting for around 21% of the pedestrian fatalities.
  • Impaired Pedestrians. Alcohol is a major factor in pedestrian accidents in California. In 2017, nearly 1 in 3 pedestrians who died from vehicle collisions had a blood alcohol level that classified them as being legally drunk at the time. With the impairment to reaction time, judgment, coordination, and motor skills, alcohol-impaired pedestrians are at some of the highest risks for being involved in an accident.

Contact a California Pedestrian Accident Lawyer for More Information

If you’ve been involved in a California pedestrian accident and you’re looking for legal representation to help you win your case, get in touch with an experienced personal injury lawyer in California at Heidari Law Group today.