Do Pedestrians or Cars Have the Right of Way in California?

September 28, 2021

Do Pedestrians or Cars Have the Right of Way in California? Post Image

Pedestrians are incredibly vulnerable on our streets and roads. Pedestrian fatalities in California have increased dramatically in the last several years – between 2014 and 2018, pedestrian deaths rose 26% (source). One study indicates that pedestrian fatalities have continued to increase, with a 21% jump in 2020 (source). Thankfully, California law protects any pedestrian who has suffered injuries as a result of a motorist’s negligence.

Who has the right-of-way on our roads: pedestrians or drivers? The short answer is that, in California, in most instances where a driver might observe a pedestrian, the pedestrian has the right-of-way.

The longer answer requires referencing the California Vehicle Code, which states that drivers “shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.” (Chapter 5, Section 21950(a)). This means that for pedestrians entering or in a crosswalk, or crossing the road at an intersection, those driving vehicles must yield. So, when approaching crosswalks and intersections, drivers should be on the lookout for pedestrians and be prepared to stop.

In what instances to drivers have a right-of-way?

Whenever a pedestrian is crossing a portion of the roadway that is not a marked crosswalk or an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to vehicles. Sometimes pedestrians jaywalk (i.e. cross a portion of the roadway that is nor a marked crosswalk or at an intersection) despite drivers having the right-of-way on these portions of the road.

What if I don’t see the pedestrian behind another vehicle?

According to the California Vehicle Code, if a vehicle has stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross the roadway, the driver of any other vehicle approaching from the rear cannot overtake and pass the stopped vehicle.

Drivers have a duty to exercise due care for the safety of any pedestrian upon a roadway. Although you may not see a pedestrian, you will likely see a marked crosswalk or indicators of an unmarked crosswalk. In these instances, it is the responsibility of the driver to proceed carefully and presume that if one vehicle is stopped at a (marked or unmarked) crosswalk, it is likely for a pedestrian. Better safe than sorry!

What if the pedestrian is crossing in the middle of the road?

If the pedestrian is crossing a section of the road that is (1) not a marked crosswalk, (2) not an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, then the pedestrian does not, legally, have the right-of-way. However, drivers still maintain a duty to exercise due care for the safety of pedestrians. Just because their behavior is in violation of the Vehicle Code does not, for example, give you a free pass to drive recklessly past the individual or ‘jokingly’ try to mow them down with your vehicle.

There may be many reasons that a pedestrian is in the roadway: they may be flagging down the attention of others to assist with an emergency, they may be having a mental health crisis, or their vehicle may have broken down. None of these situations grant pedestrians with the right-of-way on the road, but they also don’t exempt drivers from their duty to exercise proper safety precautions.

Do pedestrians have right-of-way in parking lots?

This is a tricky question! The law is written to refer to roadways and highways, which are publicly owned and maintained. Parking lots are most often privately owned. Nonetheless, the expectation of care from both parties remains. Drivers are expected to maintain a duty to exercise due care for the safety of pedestrians, and pedestrians are expected to maintain a duty of using due care for their own safety. If you are unsure, stop and assess your surroundings!

Contact an Attorney Today


Have you been the victim of a motorist’s negligence as a pedestrian? Each person’s story is unique and you should speak to an attorney who can help you navigate the nuances and complexities of your specific legal situation. The attorneys at B|B Law Group have expertise in automobile accidents, pedestrian accidents and personal injury and will answer your questions. Contact the B|B Law Group to schedule a consultation today!

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