Many pedestrian accidents occur every year. Some involve pedestrians who were walking outside a crosswalk, called “jay-walking.” The common question is, does jay-walking bar a claim for injury? The short answer is, no. This article addresses the duty of care between drivers and pedestrians.

Driver Has A Greater Responsibility To Exercise Caution

Under California law, a pedestrian and driver are both charged with a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid an accident. However, a motorist must use more care because he is operating a vehicle that is capable of inflicting severe and fatal injuries.

A driver’s care is even higher for child pedestrians. The law recognizes that the conduct of children is unpredictable. A driver must anticipate the thoughtlessness and impulsiveness of children. The presence of children is in itself a warning requiring a driver to act with extreme diligence.

Right Of Way

California has “right-of-way” laws. For example, a driver is required to locate the existence of a crosswalk and determine whether pedestrians are in it. Any driver must yield the right-of-way to all pedestrians crossing in a marked crosswalk. A driver is negligent if he violates that law unless the driver has a reasonable excuse or justification.

If a vehicle has stopped to permit a pedestrian to cross, any other driver approaching is not allowed to pass the stopped vehicle.

A driver’s duty to look for pedestrians increases when the driver knows that an area is frequently used by walkers, even when there is no crosswalk in the area.

A pedestrian has the right-of-way on the sidewalk. A driver driving over an entrance must yield the right-of-way to any approaching passenger. Failure of a driver to yield to pedestrians on a sidewalk is negligence as a matter of law.

Pedestrian Duty

Pedestrians are also obligated to exercise reasonable care for their safety, even if they have the right-of-way. For example, no pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb and walk into the path of a car that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.

Also, pedestrians who have a “walk” signal or green light must wait until traffic clears. Pedestrians must yield the right-of-way to any car in the intersection when the pedestrian signal changed.

Pedestrians crossing mid-block or “jay-walking” must yield the right-of-way to all vehicles so near as to constitute a hazard. The fact that a pedestrian is not crossing in a crosswalk does not relieve the driver from exercising reasonable care for the safety of the pedestrian.


No general rule covers all factual circumstances. Evaluating who is at fault in a pedestrian accident can be difficult. If you are a pedestrian injured in a traffic collision, call MCIS for a free consultation. No pressure, just answers.