Expect the Unexpected from Pedestrians
(And Pedestrians Should do the Same for Drivers!)
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IMPORTANT: click here to read the DISCLAIMER
Pedestrian crossing facilities in the USA -- a.k.a. "crosswalks" -- often leave a great deal to be desired in terms of safety. And, whether near a crosswalk or not, drivers need to be continually alert to the fact that the unexpected is actually quite likely to happen.
Notes For Drivers Visiting The USA
(and for any visitors who want to "go for a walk!")
Most pedestrian crossings (known as "crosswalks"), in the USA, are at road junctions ("intersections") and are often -- to some extent, at least -- controlled by light signals. But even at the best of these, where "Walk" and "Don't Walk" (or equivalent) signs are in operation, some vehicles may still be moving and thus there is still potential danger.
The rules, generally, are as follows:
1. Pedestrians must only cross at marked crosswalks or intersections, anything else is classed as "jay walking".
2. If there are no "Walk" -- "Don't Walk" signs at an intersection, pedestrians should only cross when the ordinary traffic lights are on green for roads which lie parallel to the direction they wish to cross. It is then up to the driver of any vehicle that is turning into that street to give way ("yield") to pedestrians who are crossing the road.
3. It is frequently the case that drivers who intend to turn right at traffic lights are allowed to do so even when they are faced with red "stop" light. This is permitted because they will not be crossing the path of other moving vehicles. (But crashes between vehicles turning "right on red" and vehicles coming from the opposite direction and turning left on a green light are commonplace. The driver turning right is meant to yield but many disregard this rule.)
The problem for pedestrians, however, is that although vehicles which are going "right on red" are meant to stop at the stop line until the driver can see it's safe, and only then drive forwards and turn, this is probably the most abused law on America's roads. Watch at any such junction and it won't be long before you see drivers completely fail to stop when going "right on red". Even when their view of the centre of the crosswalk is blocked by vehicles that have stopped in the left-hand lane(s), these idiots will drive straight over the stop line and straight over the pedestrian "crosswalk" so if ever you are using one of these crossings be immensely careful in looking for these ten-a-penny lunatics.
In connection with traffic lights ("traffic signals") visiting drivers should note that while the general rule is that you may "turn right on red" unless signs dictate otherwise, there are some places where the exact opposite is the case -- you may NOT do so unless signs specify that you can. To check on the individual state(s) that you will be visiting, please go to our page: Road Safety Links for Each Individual U.S. State
4. Despite the fact that crosswalks away from traffic lights are both uncommon and -- frequently -- very poorly marked, if you hit a pedestrian the penalties can be extremely severe (as in long-term imprisonment) so be extra vigilant.
Some states paint the entire crosswalk a reasonably bright colour -- in Massachusetts, for example, they are green -- but in other states there may just be pairs of heavily faded white lines.
5. On car parks ("parking lots") it is generally expected that pedestrians have the right of way -- either that or American drivers, in this context, are just a lot more courteous than their European counterparts -- but do be very careful on car parks:
a) watch for pedestrians who, from experience, simply assume that you will stop to let them cross in front of you, and
b) watch also for frequent "Stop" signs (often without any white lines painted on the ground). Even if the car park is both huge and empty, and you can see nothing coming for miles around, these signs ARE compulsory and failing to stop could easily land you in court.
Have a great visit... and a safe one!