Pedestrian laws & safety
Get to know the safety tips and pedestrian laws that help keep Washington walkers safe.
Even though Washington has a record for pedestrian safety that compares favorably to many other states, collisions do happen and we must continue to improve. We all have a role to play, know the rules of the road and follow the safety tips below.
Washington's pedestrian laws
Pedestrians must obey traffic signals and traffic control devices unless otherwise directed by a traffic or police officer (RCW 46.61.050).
Drivers and bicyclists must yield to pedestrians on sidewalks and in crosswalks (RCW 46.61.261).
Pedestrians on roadways
Pedestrians must use sidewalks when they are available. If sidewalks are not available, pedestrians must walk on the left side of the roadway or its shoulder facing traffic (RCW 46.61.250).
Moving into traffic
No pedestrian or bicycle shall suddenly leave a curb and move into traffic so that the driver can not stop (RCW 46.61.235).
Drivers exercise due care
Every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway and shall give warning by sounding the horn when necessary (RCW 46.61.245).
Stop for pedestrians at intersections
Drivers shall stop at intersections to allow pedestrians and bicycles to cross the road within a marked or unmarked crosswalk (RCW 46.61.235). See Washington's Crosswalk Law for more information.
Yield to vehicles outside intersections
Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway (RCW 46.61.240).
All intersections are crosswalks
All roadway intersections are legal crossings for pedestrians whether or not they are marked, with very few exceptions. These include places where an official sign prohibits crossing, and between adjacent signalized intersections (RCW 46.61.240).
Drivers must take all necessary precautions to avoid injury to a pedestrian using a white cane, service animal or wheelchair, and must always yield to these pedestrians in crosswalks (RCW 70.84.040).
Target Zero pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries
Traffic fatalities involving pedestrians—including people in wheelchairs and those using small rideable devices such as skateboards and scooters—increased by 62.5 percent from 2010 to 2019. Crash data indicate that vehicle-travel speed is a critical factor and one of the key first steps to addressing deaths and serious injuries among pedestrians and bicyclists. Strategies to address vehicle speeds and other important safety issues for people who walk and bike are outlined in the Washington state Target Zero Statewide Traffic Safety Plan.
Injury Minimization Speed Management
WSDOT led and facilitated the Injury Minimization and Speed Management Workgroup (a multi-agency, multi-jurisdiction group) to develop policy and guideline recommendations to achieve vehicle travel speeds that minimize fatal and serious injury crashes, Washington State Injury Minimization and Speed Management Policy Elements and Implementation Recommendations (PDF 300KB). Since WSDOT launched this effort other resources have also been produced, giving agencies several sources of information on ways to achieve speeds appropriate for the mix of people and uses.
Safety tips for drivers to save lives
Stop for people in crosswalks
Every intersection is a crosswalk - It’s the law. Drivers must stop for pedestrians at intersections, whether it’s an unmarked or marked crosswalk, and bicyclists in crosswalks are considered pedestrians. Also, it is illegal to pass another vehicle stopped for someone at a crosswalk. In Washington, the leading action by motorists that results in them hitting someone is failure to yield to pedestrians.
Put the phone down
Hand-held cell phone use and texting is prohibited for all Washington drivers and may result in a $136 fine for first offense, $235 on the second distracted-driving citation.
Don’t drive while impaired or sleep deprived
Lack of sleep as well as alcohol and other substances reduce your ability to see, decide, and react in time.
Look and then look again before turning
The majority of pedestrians and bicyclists hit by drivers in Washington state are struck as they are crossing the road. Be especially watchful for people walking or biking near senior centers, schools, community centers, shopping districts, and other destinations.
Pass at a safe distance
Leaving an extra safety buffer in time and space when passing people gives you more ability to see and react, and it’s also the law. Be aware that a bicyclist needs to be positioned in the lane a safe distance away from opening car doors, grates, and other hazards not visible to a driver. Drivers need to move into the other lane when possible or leave at least three feet while passing (RCW 46.61.110). Darkness and weather conditions may affect a driver’s ability to gauge distance.
Drive the posted speed limit, or slower
If a driver hits a pedestrian or bicyclist at 20 mph or less, there is an estimated 95 percent survival rate; at 30 mph, a pedestrian has only a 5 percent chance of walking away without injury and the death rate jumps to 45 percent. The driver trying to save a few seconds by speeding could end up taking someone’s life.
Use your lights
Daytime running lights make your vehicle more visible to other road users; make it a habit to use them. Many car headlight systems were found to provide relatively poor performance in studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Another study by AAA and the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center found that more than 80 percent of vehicles on the road have low-beam headlights that don’t provide adequate illumination for stopping distance at speeds more than 40 mph.
Safety tips for pedestrians
The best way to avoid collisions is to be prepared and be aware of vehicles around you. While the law assigns pedestrians the right of way, it does not relieve pedestrians of using due care for their own safety.
Walk on sidewalks
If sidewalks are not available, walk on the edge of the road or on the left shoulder of the road, facing the traffic flow. Use pedestrian bridges when they are available.
Take care when crossing
Pedestrians are most often hit by drivers while crossing the road. Use marked crosswalks and signalized intersections when available. Every intersection is a legal crosswalk under Washington law unless it is marked as closed or where it’s located between two signalized intersections you could cross at. In addition to intersections, driveways are another place where you can expect to encounter drivers or bicyclists exiting or entering. Take an extra moment to confirm that you can cross safely.
Look left, right, and left for traffic
Stop at the curb and look left, right, and left again for traffic. Stopping at the curb signals drivers that you intend to cross. Always obey traffic signals.
Walk where you can be most visible
Drivers need to see you to avoid you. Carrying a flashlight when walking in the dark will help you see and avoid irregularities in the sidewalk or shoulder as well as help drivers spot you.
Watch your children
Small children should not cross streets by themselves or be allowed to play or walk near traffic. They cannot accurately judge vehicle distances and speeds and may make movements a driver can't predict.
Alcohol and drugs can impair the judgment and motor skills of pedestrians just as it does for drivers. Don't take alcohol risks with walking, just as you would not with driving. Take the bus, take a cab, or have a friend drive you home. Beware of the effects and interactions of prescription and non-prescription medications and drugs, too.
Obey traffic signals
At intersections where traffic is controlled by signals or a traffic officer, pedestrians must obey the signal and not cross against the stop signal unless specifically directed to go by a traffic officer.