When pedestrians do and do not have the right of way

Running, jogging and walking are very popular past times. Many communities and towns feature walking and fitness trails. Unfortunately, some runners, joggers, and walkers don’t have access to the trails and must use public streets, which can present increased hazards.


Runners, joggers, and walkers are all pedestrians under Virginia law and should be aware of the rules that govern their conduct.  Many of us have heard the maxim that “pedestrians always have the right of way,” but it’s not accurate.  Caution, common sense, and knowledge of the relevant laws will help pedestrians travel the roadways safely.

One primary rule is pedestrians should stay off of any road where there is a sidewalk or other prepared path available for their use. When forced to use the road, they should always stay to the extreme left side of the road, facing traffic. If the shoulder is wide enough to permit them to travel safely, they may walk on either side of the road on the shoulder.

Pedestrians generally have the right of way at intersections, so long as they also obey traffic signals such as traffic lights and “Walk” signs. Pedestrians crossing lawfully at an intersection have the right of way.  Virginia law mandates that any motorist must yield to a pedestrian crossing (1) at any clearly marked crosswalk, whether at mid-block or at the end of any block; (2) at any regular pedestrian crossing included in the prolongation of the lateral boundary lines of the adjacent sidewalk at the end of a block; or (3) at any intersection when the driver is approaching on a highway or street where the legal maximum speed does not exceed 35 miles per hour. If a pedestrian is in the middle of crossing the street when the “Walk” sign changes, oncoming motorists must permit the pedestrian to complete his crossing.

But pedestrians do not have the right of way between intersections. Virginia Code § 46.2-926 prohibits pedestrians from stepping onto a highway between intersections where it would be hard for drivers to see them.  An example would be stepping out from between two parked cars in the middle of a block.

Many of the laws governing the conduct of pedestrians employ common sense.  But even when the law is on your side, pedestrians should always exercise good judgment.  Look both ways before crossing, even if you have the “Walk” sign or traffic light in your favor.  If a vehicle is about to turn right into the crosswalk you’re entering, try to catch the driver’s eyes and make sure he sees you. If he doesn’t, wait to cross.  If you’re running, jogging or walking during evening hours, consider wearing a reflective vest or using a flashlight. If you like to listen to music or podcasts during your trip, consider using just one earbud instead of two so you will be in a better position to hear and react to vehicles. A pedestrian versus a motor vehicle is a losing fight for the pedestrian.  It’s important to stay safe and use common sense.

If you or someone you know has been injured in a pedestrian accident, contact Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen for a free consultation.