Road Rules 101: Your responsibilities as a pedestrian

Sunday, April 1, 2018by  PEMCO Insurance

feet in crosswalk.Knowing that safe driving is a "team sport," is it time to more fully recognize pedestrians as part of the team?

Why ask? The rate of fatal pedestrian accidents is increasing faster than motorist deaths. They climbed 25% from 2010 to 2015 as a subset of overall traffic deaths, which increased about 6% over the same period. In 2016 (the latest data available), pedestrian deaths reached nearly 6,000, breaching a high-water mark that had held for more than two decades.

Those numbers have led some safety experts to suggest that, with stricter distracted driving laws now on the books, it's time to get tougher on distracted walking, too. In a PEMCO Poll, more than half of Washington and Oregon pedestrians said they used their phones to text, read and talk while walking.

Still, "Look Up and Walk" laws are a delicate subject. (Honolulu is the only major United States city with a texting-and-walking ban, having recently been joined by the Los Angeles suburb of Montclair.) A two-year snapshot of Washington statistics found that distracted driving was involved in 32% of deadly pedestrian accidents, while distracted walking was noted in only 14%. With the consequences of a vehicle-pedestrian collision always worse for the person on foot, calls for changes in pedestrian behavior can feel a lot like victim-blaming.

Here's a rundown of some Northwest pedestrian laws. In Washington, pedestrians may not:

  • Disregard traffic signals and traffic control signs (including stepping off the curb after the "Don't Walk" message starts to flash)
  • Step into a crosswalk without allowing a car reasonable time to stop
  • Cross diagonally unless authorized by a traffic-control device
  • Cross outside a crosswalk on streets controlled by traffic signals (check locally – jaywalking laws may differ)
  • Fail to use sidewalks when available or walk alongside a road without facing traffic.

Contrary to what many drivers and pedestrians think, intersections don't need to be painted to "count" as a crosswalk. Drivers must stop and remain stopped at crosswalks when a pedestrian is on or within one lane of the half of the roadway upon which their vehicle is traveling. Without a traffic control sign or signal, drivers aren't obligated to stop if they simply see someone waiting at the curb. However, they must stop if a pedestrian steps out, showing intent  to cross. The Washington State Department of Transportation has links to some of the pedestrian laws above.

Oregon's pedestrian laws are similar to Washington's (see this from the Oregon Department of Transportation), with a couple of clarifications:

  • Oregon law spells out what it means to "show intent" to cross as a walker or bicyclist. That's when any part of the pedestrian's "body, cane, crutch, wheelchair, or bicycle moves onto the roadway in a crosswalk with the intent to proceed."
  • In Portland, pedestrians may cross outside a crosswalk only if there isn't one within 150 feet. (Portland City Code 16.70.210)

Our takeaway? Whether or not Northwest legislators one day enact a Honolulu-style "Look Up and Walk" law, safety is a responsibility best shared. Who had legal right-of-way in a pedestrian vs. vehicle accident matters in court, but it offers little comfort for the tragic consequences that often follow.

We want to know what you think. Is it time for distracted pedestrian laws or are current laws enough? Sound off on Road Rules, and we'll share reader consensus in an upcoming issue. 

Ever wondered where the term 'jaywalking' comes from?

It dates from the early 1900s (and the dawn of the automobile) when visitors to the big city would haphazardly cross the streets, ignoring traffic laws, often at their own peril. Back then, "jay" was a slang term for an unsophisticated rural person. Seattle has debated recently whether jaywalking laws are effective.

NOTE: While we're experts in loss prevention and home/auto safety, we don't consider ourselves experts in traffic laws or their enforcement. Information shared here is for educational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you have legal concerns, we urge you to contact a law enforcement source or attorney in your community.

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