Pedestrians and unmarked crosswalks

The in basket: Most drivers know they can be ticketed for not stopping to allow a pedestrian waiting to cross the street at a crosswalk. And I learned years ago that pedestrians have the right of way at any intersection, even where no crosswalk is painted on the pavement. Such areas are called unmarked crosswalks.

But I’d never learned if the compunction to stop for a pedestrian poised to step out onto the road or street at an intersection extends to unmarked crosswalks.

So I asked Lt. Pete Fisher of Bremerton police.

The out basket: The answer is that the rules for yielding to pedestrians are the same at marked and unmarked crosswalks, so a driver who sees a pedestrian on the curb, sidewalk or shoulder about to cross can be cited for not stopping.

Pete sent along a copy of the law on this, which reads in part: “The operator of an approaching vehicle shall stop and remain stopped to allow a pedestrian or bicycle to cross the roadway within an unmarked

or marked crosswalk when the pedestrian or bicycle is upon or within one

lane of the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling or

onto which it is turning. For purposes of this section, ‘half of the

roadway’ means all traffic lanes carrying traffic in one direction of

travel, and includes the entire width of a one-way roadway.”

Like a distressing number of our state’s traffic laws, this one leaves room for confusion by addressing only “lanes,” and saying nothing about pedestrians on the shoulder. Pete says it does include the shoulder or sidewalk.

As a personal observation, when I’m a pedestrian, I try not to seem too intent on crossing a street until I have a good space between cars. I can see behind the driver in the approaching vehicle and often would much rather wait for a break in traffic that I can see coming than force the closest driver to stop for me. It makes for a more leisurely and, I think, safer crossing. But the law doesn’t recognize that reality.



5 thoughts on “Pedestrians and unmarked crosswalks

  1. It can sometimes be difficult to tell whether somebody intends to cross or is just waiting for a bus or something. It helps when pedestrians clearly signal their intent with their body language.

    That said I’ve seen pedestrians literally standing in the road in West Seattle with cars breezing by. The pedestrian is actually crossing and cars still don’t stop. Even worse is when one lane stops and the next doesn’t. That is positively dangerous.

    As a pedestrian I’m generally happy to wait for a break in the traffic, but not indefinitely. I’d think it’s sort of like a yellow light, don’t slam on the brakes to stop for a pedestrian, but pay attention so you can come to a safe stop when someone is trying to cross.

  2. Of course, most of us would not intentionally hit a pedestrian, or cyclist (even though some of them seem intent on showing motorists who has the “upper hand”). But when you get rear-ended for stopping in the road for someone who is obstructing traffic, the pedestrian or cyclist just keeps on truckin’ – they don’t want to stick around till investigating cops arrive, to get blamed for causing the accident. It could also be argued that the motorist who did the rear-ending, was at fault for following too closely. That doesn’t undo the damage that could have been avoided if the pedestrian or cyclist had just refrained from acting impulsively.

  3. Do you have to stop for a pedestrian who is waiting to jaywalk? The person who is not at the cross walk or at an intersection – they want to cross in the middle of the block.

  4. Travis,

    I think the RCW is pretty clear on this. The pedestrian or cyclist has to be “on or within” the lane and that a pedestrian or cyclist may not “suddenly” leave a curb or other place of safety.
    That said, I think it is just common sense that any pedestrian or cyclist waiting to cross at either a marked or unmarked crosswalk attempt to make eye contact or otherwise get a good indication that the driver sees them and is slowing to stop prior to entering the roadway. A pedestrian or cyclist cannot just saunter into the road off a curb at walking pace without stopping and expect that a motorist moving at or near the speed limit will see them. The average persons reaction time is approximately 1.5 seconds once they perceive a threat that requires action. They might not be able to stop in time.

    It is also incumbent on drivers to be aware of the area they are driving in (ex.. lots of crosswalks like on Burwell St between Naval Ave and Pacific Sts) and use caution and care (obey the speed limit and be aware of your surroundings).

    It is my perception that “within” or “upon” the lane does not mean standing on the curb or shoulder. Vehicles do not normally travel “upon” the curb or shoulder.

    Better to use to use care, caution and common sense (in my opinion) and avoid striking a pedrestian in the first place rather than hiring an attorney to represent you while being sued in civil court.


  5. What about if its too late before you see them. I dont want to slam on my brakes and get hit from behind. Nor get a ticket for not stopping. And what about those people who cross wherever they want to. Sometimes they dont pay attention either and walk right out in traffic because they are in a hurry. I find the biggest problem of this around the ferry terminal.

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