An Overview of Texas Pedestrian Accident Law and Pedestrian Rights
While total car accident deaths in the United States have plummeted in recent years, including the number of people killed by drunk drivers, one type of accident where deaths have increased dramatically is when pedestrians are struck by motor vehicles. When the number of injuries is also included in the statistics, one thing is clear: accidents involving pedestrians are occurring with increasing regularity.
Since a car striking a pedestrian is never a fair contest, it should come as no surprise that some of the most severe personal injuries that we come across stem from accidents of this type.
One of the most overused, and equally false, legal cliches is that "the pedestrian always has the right-of-way." For whatever reason, this legal urban legend has gained traction in the minds of most of the public. The fact of the matter is that there are very few instances where "always" applies in the law, and pedestrians, just like motorists, have certain duties and certain protections as provided by the law.
At Grossman Law Offices, we have represented hundreds of pedestrians who have been injured by cars. Regardless of whether someone is behind the wheel, or on foot, if they have been negligently injured in a car accident, our attorneys will work to maximize their claim and avoid being low-balled by an insurance company. But we are firm believers that the best clients are informed clients. Consequently, we created this article to better inform you of your rights, remedies, and responsibilities as a pedestrian injured in a car accident.
Questions answered on this page:
- Isn't it true that pedestrians always have the right-of-way?
- What duties do motorists owe pedestrians?
- What duties do pedestrians owe motorists?
- If you are a pedestrian injured by a motorist, how can an experienced car accident attorney help to maximize your claim?
Pedestrians and Traffic Control Signals
To see just how similar the duties that drivers and pedestrians owe one another really is, one need look no further than Sec 552.001 of the Texas Transportation Code. It reads:
TRAFFIC CONTROL SIGNALS. (a) A traffic control signal displaying green, red, and yellow lights or lighted arrows applies to a pedestrian as provided by this section unless the pedestrian is otherwise directed by a special pedestrian control signal.
(b) A pedestrian facing a green signal may proceed across a roadway within a marked or unmarked crosswalk unless the sole green signal is a turn arrow.
(c) A pedestrian facing a steady red signal alone or a steady yellow signal may not enter a roadway.
Except for the reference to the crosswalk, this section of the law is almost exactly how cars are expected to behave at intersections with traffic lights. Pedestrians who cross the street in the face of a red light are running a red light in just the same way as a driver would be and behaving negligently if he were to run a red light. As citizens, we know that it would be both dangerous and chaotic if pedestrians were free to cross every intersection they came upon without regard to other traffic in the area and the law reflects this.
Duties that pedestrians owe under the law when a pedestrian control signal is present.
It may surprise some, but there is actually quite a bit of law detailing the obligations of pedestrians in the Texas Transportation Code. While we hate to disappoint those who love to spout our least favorite legal cliche, nowhere in the Texas Transportation Code does it say that "pedestrians always have the right-of-way." On the contrary, there are rules for pedestrian behavior, that while different, mirror the expectations and duties of drivers. These duties help explain why many people who strike pedestrians while driving never face criminal charges. The full text of law, governing pedestrian use of roadways and sidewalk can be found in Chapter 552 of the Texas Transportation Code.
It might surprise a lot of people, but the "Walk/Don't Walk" signs at many intersections are not merely suggestions. They carry the same legal weight as does a traffic signal for a car. If one of these signals is present, then Section 552.002 governs pedestrian conduct. It reads:
PEDESTRIAN RIGHT-OF-WAY IF CONTROL SIGNAL PRESENT. (a) A pedestrian control signal displaying "Walk," "Don't Walk," or "Wait" applies to a pedestrian as provided by this section.
(b) A pedestrian facing a "Walk" signal may proceed across a roadway in the direction of the signal, and the operator of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to the pedestrian.
(c) A pedestrian may not start to cross a roadway in the direction of a "Don't Walk" signal or a "Wait" signal. A pedestrian who has partially crossed while the "Walk" signal is displayed shall proceed to a sidewalk or safety island while the "Don't Walk" signal or "Wait" signal is displayed.
What this section means is that attempting to cross the street when a sign reads "Don't Walk" is equivalent to a driver running a red light. While the pedestrian is not likely to be fined and can't get points on their license, the big take away is that it is not only dangerous, but illegal. Suppose a pedestrian does cross the street when the signal reads "Don't Walk," as a general rule, the pedestrian is assuming risk that violating this law entails. More simply, if they are struck by a car, it is almost certain that the driver's insurance company will try to figure out whether the sign prohibited the pedestrian from crossing the street, and if it did, there is a very good chance that they will attempt to deny liability and not pay for the pedestrians injuries. If the sign truly did say not to walk, the motorist was keeping a proper lookout, and not speeding, the insurance company would be on pretty firm legal ground in denying the claim.
What if a crosswalk does not have a traffic signal?
Certainly, if there is no traffic signal at an intersection then the pedestrian has to have the right-of-way, right? As a generally rule, the answer is a qualified yes. This very topic is address in Section 552.003 of the Texas Transportation Code:
(a) The operator of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing a roadway in a crosswalk if:
(1) no traffic control signal is in place or in operation; and
(2) the pedestrian is:
(A) on the half of the roadway in which the vehicle is traveling; or
(B) approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger.
(b) Notwithstanding Subsection (a), a pedestrian may not suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and proceed into a crosswalk in the path of a vehicle so close that it is impossible for the vehicle operator to yield.
This is probably one of the more interesting portions of the transportation code as it relates to pedestrians. It establishes that, yes, pedestrians do have the right-of-way at intersections with crosswalks that don't have traffic signals. However, the key portion is the last part that states a pedestrian cannot "leave a curb or other place of safety...[if] it is impossible for the vehicle operator to yield." This subsection illustrates how the law attempts to balance duties and responsibilities in an equitable way. Sure, the pedestrian has the right-of-way, but just because the pedestrian has the right-of-way that does not grant the pedestrian the right to behave in a reckless or dangerous manner.
While this may frustrate people who want crystal clear, black and white answers, this particular law is written in a way that is most fair to drivers and pedestrians. Furthermore, it provides the only solution that could be expected to work reasonably well in the real world.
Are the rules relating to pedestrians any different on highways?
While the prior rules may be applicable to those of us who live in Dallas or another Texas city, what about people who live in more rural areas and have to cross highways on foot? Do cars blazing down the road at 55, 60, or 70 miles an hour have to worry about suddenly stopping to avoid pedestrians crossing in the middle of the roadway. Like most other answers in the law, the answer is a qualified yes. Section 552.005 reads:
CROSSING AT POINT OTHER THAN CROSSWALK. (a) A pedestrian shall yield the right-of-way to a vehicle on the highway if crossing a roadway at a place:
(1) other than in a marked crosswalk or in an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection; or
(2) where a pedestrian tunnel or overhead pedestrian crossing has been provided.
(b) Between adjacent intersections at which traffic control signals are in operation, a pedestrian may cross only in a marked crosswalk.
(c) A pedestrian may cross a roadway intersection diagonally only if and in the manner authorized by a traffic control device.
There are a couple of important things to notice about this section. First, it is clearly an example where the right-of-way belongs to the motorist and not the pedestrian. If you are driving down I-45 and a pedestrian decides to walk across the interstate, the pedestrian has a duty to yield to cars and cross as safely as possible. However, this does not mean that a driver's duty to keep a proper lookout does not apply. Put more simply, just because a pedestrian does not fulfill their duty to yield the right of way does not mean that it's open season on the pedestrian and you are free to hit them and keep on motoring down the roadway. If the law allowed such a thing, it would be barbaric. This section merely states that the law is more forgiving of motorists who hit pedestrians, because the pedestrian failed to yield the right of way, since the speeds that the cars are travelling make coming to a complete stop much more difficult. It doesn't relieve the motorist of the burden of attempting to stop.
Another reason keeping a proper lookout is so important, even in situations where a car has the right-of-way, is because there are certain classes of people who change how the right-of-way works, namely children, the developmental challenged, and even really drunk people. The law is very clear in section 552.008 that:
DRIVERS TO EXERCISE DUE CARE. Notwithstanding another provision of this chapter, the operator of a vehicle shall:
(1) exercise due care to avoid colliding with a pedestrian on a roadway;
(2) give warning by sounding the horn when necessary; and
(3) exercise proper precaution on observing a child or an obviously confused or incapacitated person on a roadway.
This section (and similar laws in other states) may be where people get the idea that "pedestrians always have the right-of-way." Whatever duties are imposed on a pedestrian, they are still not the one who is surrounded by a couple tons of metal, so roads are inherently more dangerous for them. As such, it only makes sense that whenever you are behind the wheel the law would require motorists to "exercise due care" to avoid hitting pedestrians. If you take due care to its extreme, you could twist it to mean that pedestrians always have the right-of-way, because drivers are always required to use extra caution. However, this thinking is an exaggeration of what the law actually says, and one with no legal merit.
Other Circumstances Relating to Pedestrians
The Texas Transportation Code also lists several other circumstances that impose additional duties on both pedestrians and motorists. For drivers, they owe an extra duty to blind pedestrians. Blind pedestrians, who can be easily identified by a white cane or service animal, are owed a duty that requires a driver to do whatever it is they have to, to avoid hitting the blind pedestrian. While this does not mean that driver has to swerve off the road, or imperil their own safety to comply, it still places an exceptional burden on motorists.
Some of the other duties imposed on pedestrians include the following:
- Obey all traffic ordinances
- Keep to the right (where possible) when using crosswalks
- Use sidewalks where they are provided
- If there is no sidewalk, walk on the extreme left of the road, against the flow of traffic
Pedestrians are also prohibited from soliciting beside the roadway except for charities, and even then only with permission of local authorities.
What all of this means if you have been injured.
While we're sure that some of the above may come as a shock to you, it doesn't mean that just because the law is not the unwavering supporter of pedestrian rights that myth has made it out to be that injured pedestrians cannot sue for compensation. In fact, our attorneys have won more than 100 pedestrian accident cases, so injured pedestrians most certainly can win.
Instead, it just means that a pedestrian accident case is not the cake walk that armchair quarterback pseudo-lawyers have made it out to be. If you are a pedestrian who was injured by a car, insurance companies will clamp on to any duty that you owed the motorist and failed to perform as a reason for denying your claim. The last thing an injured pedestrian needs with mounting bills and lost wages is to have to mount a defense to prevent an insurance company from blaming them for their own injuries. That is why it is crucial to have an experienced accident attorney on your side, who can call insurance companies on their ridiculous allegations.
Life sure would be easier if "the pedestrian always had the right-of-way." It would also mean that the law is biased against drivers, and that runs afoul of the whole purpose of the law. However, the complications and intricacies of pedestrian accidents require the attention of an experienced car accident attorney who has handled literally thousands of car accidents over the years, like the attorneys at Grossman Law Offices. If you have questions about your case, feel free to give us a call at (855) 326-000. We answer the phone 24/7.
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