When Do Pedestrians Have the Right of Way?

When pedestrians become injured in traffic accidents, questions about whether the pedestrian had the right of way often arise. When pedestrians enter the road without having the right of way, they may be liable for accidents and injuries. Several state and local laws govern whether drivers and pedestrians have the right of way in various situations. We will discuss the five most common scenarios involving the pedestrian right-of-way laws.

Pedestrians Enter an Intersection That Does Not Have a “Walk” Signal

Some intersections have walk signals that give pedestrians the right of way when the sign blinks “walk.” Drivers must yield to pedestrians in the intersection when they have a “walk” sign, even if the driver’s light is green. For example, when a driver has a green light but turns right through the crosswalk, the pedestrian and driver both have green lights to proceed. However, the driver is required to yield to the pedestrian. 

Some intersections do not have designated “walk” signals for pedestrians. In this scenario, similar rules apply. However, the pedestrian is required to obey the streetlight signals for traffic heading in the same direction. For example, suppose the pedestrian is walking south, and the drivers heading south have a green light. In that case, the pedestrian would also have a green light.

Unmarked Crosswalks or No Crosswalks

What happens when a sidewalk ends at an intersection but continues on the other side? Pedestrians may assume that there is a crosswalk between these two areas, even if there are no lines on the road indicating a crosswalk. Even though it is unmarked, pedestrians generally have the right of way. When there is no crosswalk nearby, or the pedestrian chooses to avoid walking in the crosswalk and crosses the street in an area that is not a crosswalk, drivers have the right of way. In these scenarios, pedestrians must use their best judgment and cross only when it is safe. Drivers are not required to stop in the middle of the road for pedestrians crossing the street when there is no crosswalk.

Mid-Block Crosswalks

Downtown areas, like Downtown Charlotte, may have mid-block crosswalks at non-intersections. They rarely have designated pedestrian walk signals. In North Carolina, these crosswalks are considered the same as intersection crosswalks in terms of the right-of-way laws. Drivers are required to yield for pedestrians crossing at a designated crosswalk.


Drivers always have the right of way on highways. Pedestrians walking on highways should always attempt to avoid crossing the highway because there are zero designated crossing areas for pedestrians. Drivers on highways are driving fast and cannot safely stop in time to avoid colliding with pedestrians in most cases. As a result, the pedestrian must stay off highways altogether and not attempt to cross them at all. 

Proving Liability in Pedestrian Accidents

When a pedestrian accident happens as a pedestrian crosses an intersection or street, right-of-way laws become essential. Victims of personal injury accidents can only obtain compensation for their injuries when they can prove that the other party’s negligence caused the accident that resulted in their injuries. When a pedestrian violates the right of way laws, the driver may be able to show that the pedestrian was negligent per se. When a plaintiff can prove negligence per se, the court presumes that the defendant acted negligently. 

North Carolina is one of only five states that follows the contributory negligence rule. When the plaintiff is found to be even 1% or more at fault for the accident, they cannot recover compensation. Investigating the accident and gathering evidence as soon as possible when you bring a personal injury lawsuit is essential. An attorney can help you prove that the at-fault party was negligent and that you did not contribute to the accident. Pedestrian accident cases can be complex, and the sooner you reach out to an attorney, the better.

Discuss Your Case With an Experienced Attorney

At Arnold & Smith, PLLC, our Charlotte personal injury attorneys work hard to get pedestrian accident victims the compensation they need and deserve. We fight for our clients to receive the compensation they deserve. If you have been the victim of a pedestrian accident involving right-of-way laws, we are here to help. While you focus on your recovery, we will handle every aspect of your case. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC, as soon as possible to schedule your free case evaluation.

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