Who Has the Right of Way in a Pedestrian Accident

Yield Sign on Bridge in red instead of yellow

Does the Pedestrian Have the Right of Way in California?

Understanding who has the right-of-way and under what circumstances is beneficial for pedestrians and drivers, as it can decrease the overwhelming number of pedestrian accidents. 

However, as traffic laws continue to undergo regular changes, it can leave many confused about who actually has the right-of-way. Here is the latest information on those laws and what can be done in the event of a pedestrian accident


Defining the “Right-of-Way” in Bakersfield, CA

This term refers to one party’s legal right to proceed in a given direction before another party. This can be a pedestrian’s right to proceed before a motorist or one motorist’s right to proceed before another motorist. Essentially, someone with the right-of-way can legally move forward before another party.


Skateboarder skateboarding on high way roadWho Is Considered a “Pedestrian”?

California’s definition of a pedestrian is broader than simply someone who is walking. It encompasses a variety of individuals using various modes of transportation, such as:

  • Anyone traveling on foot, regardless of speed (walkers, joggers, etc.)
  • Individuals with physical limitations who operate motorized wheelchairs due to their inability to walk
  • Users of self-propelled conveyances other than bicycles, including skateboards, roller skates/blades, non-electric scooters, and traditional wheelchairs

Those identified as non-pedestrians are assigned to a different set of standards. This includes bicycles, motorized bicycles, e-bikes, electric scooters, and other motorized devices. 


pedestrian pressing crosswalk button to get the right of way before crossing the streetWho Has the Right-of-Way?

This question causes so much confusion and often leads to a preventable car accident, as it can be subjective and circumstantial. In fact, studies have indicated an increasing complexity in road users’ understanding of pedestrian right-of-way laws.   

Generally, motor vehicles must yield to a pedestrian crossing the street, granting them the right of way at either a marked crosswalk or an unmarked crosswalk of an intersection, per California Vehicle Code §21950.

However, pedestrians do not always have the right of way. They are also limited by some regulations, such as entering oncoming traffic if it will create an immediate hazard or delay traffic. A pedestrian also may not cross the street at an intersection when the don’t walk signal is flashing.

While it is the driver’s responsibility to avoid a collision, fault can fall on a reckless pedestrian who leaves a place of safety with an oncoming vehicle closely approaching.

Ultimately, the party who exhibited negligence–the failure to uphold a duty that results in harm–can be held liable for damages caused by the incident.



aerial view of pedestrians crossing street in Bakersfield, CA

About Marked or Unmarked Crosswalks

In California, crosswalks are frequently found at intersections equipped with traffic lights, stop signs, or other traffic control devices and operate as designated areas for pedestrians to move across roadways. They can be divided into two categories of a marked or unmarked crosswalk:

Unmarked Crosswalks

These are intersections where sidewalks meet at roughly right angles, extending the sidewalk lines across the street. This excludes intersections where an alley meets a street.

Marked Crosswalks

These are clearly designated by painted lines or markings on the roadways, explicitly indicating a pedestrian crossing zone.

Note: The presence of “no crossing” signs overrides both unmarked and marked crosswalks, meaning that pedestrians are not allowed to cross 


Female hand holding touch screen mobile phone on blurred night lights backgroundWhen Pedestrians Are at Fault for an Accident

Just as drivers owe a duty of care to pedestrians and other drivers to take reasonable care and prevent foreseeable harm to another person, pedestrians also owe a reciprocal duty to act reasonably for their safety and that of others.

Due to their vulnerable nature, pedestrians typically hold the right-of-way, but this right comes with responsibilities. Therefore, pedestrians should never enter a crosswalk without due regard for oncoming traffic, meaning they should not:

  • Jaywalk
  • Walk outside of a crosswalk
  • Use phone while walking along roadways
  • Disregard traffic signals, like the “do not cross” lights
  • Enter roadways under the influence of drugs or alcohol

Waiting for a safe opportunity to cross the street, whether directed by a traffic signal or a traditional stop sign at an intersection, is essential.

Pedestrians should never enter a marked or unmarked crosswalk without regard for oncoming traffic. Failing to do so can result in them being held at fault for an accident. 


man distracted driving by using cell phone with one hand on the steering wheelWhen Motorists Are at Fault for an Accident

Drivers’ duty of care requires them to hold a valid driver’s license and operate their vehicles in accordance with California law. Unfortunately, there are instances where they fail to uphold this duty, putting pedestrians and others at risk. Drivers can be found at fault by committing the following acts of negligence:

  • Speeding
  • Disobeying traffic signals
  • Running a stop sign and a red light
  • Not using car signals or blinkers
  • Distracted driving (texting, talking on phone, eating, etc.)
  • Failing to yield to pedestrians
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol


What Happens if Fault Is Shared?

Pedestrian accidents can sometimes involve shared fault, particularly when pedestrians and motorists are not following the right-of-way- rules or other traffic laws.

In such cases, where both parties breached their duty of care by failing to act safely, the driver and pedestrian can be found partially negligent. This legal principle is referred to as comparative negligence. 

When fault is shared, the court will determine the percentage of fault attributable to each party. Under pure comparative negligence, a plaintiff’s compensation is reduced by their assigned percentage of fault in causing the car accident. 

For instance, if a pedestrian is found to be 30% at fault for an accident, they would receive 70% of the total damages they would have otherwise been entitled to.


Lady justice. Statue of Justice in library. Legal and law background conceptWhat Can Be Done in the Event of a Pedestrian Accident?

If a pedestrian is injured due to another party’s negligence, a personal injury claim to recover damages may be filed. This legal suit may compensate a plaintiff for the following:

  • Medical expenses: Reimbursement for the current and anticipated medical bills to treat sustained injuries
  • Lost wages: Compensation for loss of earnings due to the inability to return to work
  • Pain and suffering: Physical and emotional impact caused by a personal injury accident
  • Other damages: Financial recovery for additional losses incurred due to the accident

To maximize compensation and defend the rights of injured victims, legal representation is strongly recommended–especially if fault is shared. There are many qualified personal injury attorneys in Bakersfield who can maximize the value of a pedestrian accident claim. 


Bakersfield, California, USA - December 01, 2020: Twilight view of traffic passing through downtown Bakersfield.Were You Injured in an Accident Involving the Right-of-Way?

Pedestrian accidents can have devastating consequences, leaving you with physical and emotional trauma.

An experienced pedestrian accident attorney can advocate for your rights, gather evidence, handle complex legal matters, and negotiate with insurance companies to ensure you recover compensation for your injuries and losses. 

If you were involved in a pedestrian accident, Horizon Accident Lawyers can help you recover damages. Schedule a free consultation today and discover how we can help you with your personal injury claim. 




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