Invisible Crosswalks

crosswalks

On a cold December night, a young man walks down the sidewalk of a side street to its intersection with a major road. There are no traffic lights, stop signs, painted lines, or markings of any kind at the intersection. A hundred feet down the major road is a traffic signal with a painted crosswalk and electronic signage for pedestrians. The young man intends to cross the major road to a enter shopping plaza directly across the street from where he now stands. Rather than brave the cold to walk down to the controlled intersection, he immediately starts crossing the major road, which contains two lanes of traffic for each direction, plus a middle turn lane, with sidewalks on both sides of the roadway. When he gets to the middle turn lane, suddenly, a vehicle exiting from the roadway at the shopping center across the street turns left onto the major road. Not seeing the young pedestrian, the vehicle hits the young man and sends him flying 20 feet through the air, finally landing on his back in the roadway.

The driver who hit the young man is frantic, frightened, and upset. He thinks, how could this young man jaywalk across the street right here? The driver runs over to the young pedestrian lying on the road and yells that he should have known better.

But was the young pedestrian jaywalking? There was no marked crosswalk where he crossed, and there was an electronic crossing with a painted crosswalk just half a block up the road. However, the lack of a painted crosswalk does not answer the question. In Utah, legal crosswalks do not necessarily have to be painted or otherwise marked as crosswalks. UCA Sections 41-6a-1002(3) and 41-6A-1003(1) expressly reference unmarked, or implied, crosswalks. The cases interpreting the statute have ruled that a legal, unmarked crosswalk exists at an intersection where sidewalk is present on both sides of the intersection. See, e.g., Langlois v. Rees, 951 P. 2d 638 (Utah 1960). Thus, in our example, the lack of a painted crosswalk did not render the young pedestrian a jaywalker.

The young pedestrian was crossing an intersection with vehicular access on both sides of the main road, and with pedestrian sidewalks on both sides of the road. Consequently, the young pedestrian was perfectly within his rights to cross the road where he did. He was not a jaywalker. He did not violate the law. He did nothing wrong. The driver of the car that crashed into the pedestrian is fully at fault for the collision and for the pedestrian’s injuries. The driver’s insurance company will be responsible to pay for the damages of the pedestrian, up to the limit of the driver’s insurance policy. The police officer who investigates the collision will have to decide whether to issue any type of traffic citation or criminal misdemeanor citation to the driver of the vehicle.

Furthermore, as a corollary, one should not presume that drivers on Utah roads have no duty to yield to jaywalkers. UCA §41-6a-1006 specifies that all drivers of vehicles, at all times, must “avoid colliding with a pedestrian.” This statute makes perfect sense. A pedestrian versus a vehicle is not a fair fight. Just because a person is jaywalking does not mean that a driver has no obligation to stop for, or avoid striking, the pedestrian. Because the risk of catastrophic injury and death to a pedestrian if hit by a moving vehicle is so great, the law imposes a duty on all drivers to watch for and avoid pedestrians, regardless of whether the pedestrian should be walking at that particular location or not. If, in the example above, the young pedestrian was not crossing at an unmarked crosswalk but was crossing the street at another location where there was no intersection with pedestrian walkways on both sides, he would have violated the law by jaywalking. And if the same vehicle in our example were to strike him at a location other than in a legal marked or unmarked crosswalk, then liability and fault for the collision likely would be shared by both the driver and the pedestrian. The driver would be at fault for failing to see and avoid a pedestrian, and the pedestrian would also be at fault for jaywalking—crossing the street outside of a legal crosswalk or other designated pedestrian pathway.

In sum, in Utah, the lack of a painted crosswalk or pedestrian markings at an intersection does not mean that no crosswalk exists. At any intersection, even if there is no marked or painted crosswalk, there is an unmarked crosswalk as a matter of law if, at the intersection, there is a pedestrian walkway on both sides of the intersection. As long as the pedestrian crosses approximately where a painted crosswalk would be placed if one were present at that intersection, the pedestrian is wholly within his rights to cross at the unmarked crosswalk. Drivers must always be on the lookout for a pedestrian, whether in an unmarked crosswalk, a marked crosswalk, or anywhere else on the road. If a pedestrian is in a legal, unmarked crosswalk, or other designated, legal crossing zone, a driver striking the pedestrian likely will be fully at fault for the collision.

 

The above article does not constitute legal advice to any person or for any case. It is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute or create any attorney-client relationship between the author and any reader of the article.