Do Pedestrians Always Have the Right of Way?

August 23, 2023 | By Steffens Law Office
Do Pedestrians Always Have the Right of Way?

pedestrian looking both ways before crossing the streetThink back to your childhood.  If your mom was anything like mine, you heard these words a thousand times: “Look both ways before crossing the street!” and sometimes even: “Look right, look left, then look right again!” I remember thinking as a kid: “Geez, at this rate I’ll never get to the candy store!” Mom’s warning raises some important legal questions around street crossings and resulting injuries here in Nebraska.  Do Pedestrians always have the right of way? 

Not only that, but when can a person legally cross a street? Does a pedestrian ever have to yield right of way to a vehicle?  If you are hit or witness a person injured by a vehicle, what do you do?  Whose fault is it, and why? 

Illustrative Example

One evening years ago, I witnessed an accident where a woman was struck inside a crosswalk by a speeding truck.  She was badly injured, sustaining cuts to her face and body and suffering from shock.  Thankfully an ambulance arrived within a few minutes.  The following year, the city installed a flashing traffic light to warn oncoming traffic of people crossing that busy road to prevent another similar occurrence.  

Who would likely be at fault, the woman, or the truck driver? The answer is an old lawyer favorite: “It depends”.   Like mom taught us, the devil, (and liability), is usually in the details. 

The Primary Rules of Pedestrian Law in Nebraska:

Pedestrians have the right of way when crossing the street within a crosswalk so long as they are obeying all traffic lights, signals, or signs present.  But even then, there are some tricky exceptions.  

For example, even when you are in a marked crosswalk, if you head into traffic while ignoring a red DON'T WALK signal, a driver that hits you won’t be liable for your injuries. 

Anyone who crosses a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection with traffic signals, must yield the right of way to all vehicles on the roadway.

Pedestrians may not cross the street between two traffic signals when not within a marked crosswalk. 

Some unmarked crosswalks are designated by the Department of Transportation (with appropriate traffic control signals) as locations where you must yield to vehicles, and not the other way around.

Additionally, a pedestrian cannot cross a roadway intersection diagonally unless traffic control devices are present and specifically allow this type of crossing. 

Finally, pedestrians should never suddenly enter the path of oncoming traffic which is traveling too fast to stop in time for a pedestrian.  In fact, people who have done so and were injured lost their case when they sued the driver. 

So, these rules essentially tell us that pedestrians who cross the street anywhere other than an unmarked crosswalk or an intersection with traffic signals or marked crosswalk must always yield the right of way to vehicles, which means that pedestrians certainly do not always have the right of way

With this understanding, let’s return to our example of the woman crossing the street within a marked crosswalk who was struck and injured by a fast-moving truck in the evening. 

The woman crossed the street in a marked crosswalk with no traffic control signals present.  From our legal review above, she likely had the right of way and didn’t have to yield to traffic. This remains true if she was also careful to not suddenly enter the crosswalk when oncoming traffic was travelling to fast to stop for her in time.  

It seems likely that she would prevail on these facts if she sued the offending driver for her injuries resulting from the collision.  Moreover, the truck was “fast moving” in a downtown area, where speed limits are usually slower to account for a greater amount of vehicular and pedestrian traffic.  Finally, driving at night means visibility would be limited, and due care requires driving a bit slower than normal.  On balance, a pretty strong case can be made that the driver was acting carelessly, and possibly recklessly.   

Of course, this accident happened many years ago, before smart phones became commonplace.  Drivers who are talking on the phone, texting, or worse yet, searching the internet while behind the wheel, present an even greater risk to pedestrian safety.  These distractions make an even stronger case for liability against a driver who strikes and injures a pedestrian. 

Let’s discuss briefly what to do if you are struck while crossing the road or witness a pedestrian struck by a vehicle.  You might think this could never apply to you, but experience shows that it can. 

What to Do if You Have Been Hit By a Car

First, call 911.  Get first responders to the scene immediately to render aid.  Then, if they are not already on the way, call law enforcement to prepare a report.  Have someone take as many pictures as possible.  Take pictures of the roadway, the vehicle, and the victim’s injuries.  Pictures, pictures, pictures!  Check for traffic cameras or other video cameras that might have caught the event.  Law enforcement will gather information about the driver, including license info, plate number, and where they were headed.  But you or a friend should collect potential witness information and what they saw.  Information is critical, and during an emergency with injuries present, it can be tough to remember what to collect. 

Many people don’t realize that on average, more than 50,000 people in the United States are struck by vehicles and injured each year simply trying to cross the road.  

In fact, according to the latest statistics, at any given minute of daylight in America, nearly one million people are texting or talking on the phone while operating a vehicle.  One million!  It’s no wonder that pedestrian accidents keep occurring.  

Bonus: DON'T post on social media. In addition to physcial injuries, posting on social media after an accident can "injure" the strength of your case as well, especially if you're out and about after the accident.

Exceptions to the Law

Even if you or a loved one is unfortunately struck and injured by a vehicle and didn’t have the right of way, it’s critical to remember a claim might still be made against the driver.  Why?  Well, here are just a few of the possible reasons a driver may still be responsible for the accident:   if they were traveling too fast for the road conditions, even if driving under the speed limit.  Rain, fog, snow, or time of day can all influence liability.  If the driver was on the phone, texting or searching the web, they likely failed to “keep a proper lookout”; if the driver was under the influence of alcohol. 

Just last year our law firm successfully obtained substantial compensation for a client who was struck while crossing in the middle of the street (far from any crosswalk).  However, the defendant driver had quickly accelerated from a green light along with the driver next to him.  His “exhibition of acceleration” was illegal and could not be reasonably anticipated by our client.  So, she was justly compensated. 

It's Complicated…

The bottom line is that pedestrian accidents and the ensuing legal questions are often complex. Pedestrian injuries can be severe and may contribute to one of most difficult times in a person’s life.  Huge medical bills, battles with insurance companies, and lost income from missed work are just some of the obstacles to recovery.  It’s no wonder many injured pedestrians suffer from mental anxiety or even PTSD.  The last thing an injured, suffering person needs to worry about during this stressful time is “how will I deal with all this?” That’s where a great legal team comes in, and why you should contact one without delay. 

Nebraska pedestrian accident lawyerOur Nebraska Personal Injury Lawyers are Here to Help

At Steffens Law, we make it our business to research every legal point and investigate even the smallest details to determine whether you may have a case against a negligent driver.  Every day our team navigates the medical maze, battles with the insurance companies, and takes the fight to anyone standing in the way our clients’ recovery.  We take the time and spend the effort to build a relationship with our clients unmatched by any other law firm.  Our passion is to ensure that you obtain the medical care you need, and the full compensation you deserve.  Call us today and find out if you have a case for your or your loved one’s injury.  You’ll be glad you did!