The Resource Guide on Laws Related to Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety compiles vehicle and traffic safety laws that may affect pedestrians or bicyclists.

Although the article below focuses on Maryland, most of the issues are of concern in all states. When the article below was written, the Maryland laws were difficult to find among dusty shelves in the library, but now they are available online! A brief look at the some of the current laws in Maryland reveal that they are exactly the same as were reported in this article in 1999.

Rules of the Road
By Dona Sauerburger, COMSĀ®
September, 1999 Newsletter
Metropolitan Washington Orientation and Mobility Association (WOMA)

I have been teaching people who have visual impairments to travel in Maryland for several decades, but I didn't know the pedestrian-related laws in my own state until I researched them last month. They aren't easy to find! They are not all in our driver's manuals, and Motor Vehicle Administration branches don't have them. I finally found them in the library in Michies Annotated Code of the Public General Laws of Maryland (1998).

You can be sure that most drivers are not aware of all these laws, even those that are in the drivers' manual, and especially those that have to be researched in the library! Our students should know the laws and their rights, but should also be aware that most drivers don't know about those rights and laws or when/how to yield right-of-way.

This article summarizes Maryland's pedestrian laws.

Pedestrians at crosswalks:
What is a crosswalk? Most of the pedestrian laws involve "crosswalks," whose definition varies from state to state. Of course painted crosswalks are obviously "crosswalks," but "unmarked crosswalks" exist by law as well. In some states, unmarked crosswalks are considered to exist at every corner of intersecting streets. In others, including both Maryland and Virginia, crosswalks exist only where a sidewalk ends at the street, and in others, they exist only where sidewalks on both sides of the street face each other.

In Maryland, crosswalks are defined as either marked crosswalks ("distinctly indicated for pedestrian crossing by lines or other markings") or "that part of the roadway that is within the prolongation or connection of the lateral lines of sidewalks at any place where 2 or more roadways of any type meet or join, measured from the curbs or, in the absence of curbs, from the edges of the roadway." (21-101: f) In other words, there doesn't have to be a sidewalk on both sides of the street for a crosswalk to exist. If a sidewalk approaches the street and ends there, even if there is no sidewalk resuming on the opposite side of the street, an unmarked crosswalk exists where the sidewalk would extend into the street.

This definition uses the word "sidewalk." We tend to think of sidewalks as paved walkways with curbs, but in Maryland it doesn't have to have a curb to be considered a sidewalk, and in one court case an unpaved 8-foot-wide walking area between the street and the bordering property was considered to be a sidewalk (21-502: Lipphard v. Hanes, 1963). A "sidewalk" is that part of a highway that is intended for use by pedestrians and that is between adjacent property lines and the curb or boundary lines of a roadway (21-101: t).

Pedestrian rights and restrictions with no traffic signal (21-501; 502)
In general, where there is no traffic signal, pedestrian tunnel, or overhead crossing, pedestrians have the right-of-way at crosswalks (marked or unmarked), and vehicles have the right of way everywhere else.

Specifically, where there is no traffic signal or pedestrian tunnel or overhead crossing, drivers shall come to a stop when a pedestrian, crossing the roadway in a crosswalk (marked or unmarked), is either on the half of the roadway on which the vehicle is traveling, or approaching so closely from the other half of the roadway as to be in danger. This means that to assert the pedestrian's right of way in Maryland, the pedestrian has to be either crossing or waiting in the street, not standing on the sidewalk.

Drivers may not overtake from behind any vehicle that has stopped to let a pedestrian cross the roadway.

Even when pedestrians have the right of way, however, they may not suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close or coming so fast that it is impossible for the driver to yield (21-502: b). Court decisions have therefore stipulated that pedestrians who have the right of way must still observe due care and caution to avoid injury, and "can not cross blindly without looking for approaching traffic."

If a pedestrian claims he did not see what he must have seen if he had looked, the court will assume that he either imprudently did not look even though it was his duty to do so, or that he saw obvious peril and then rashly crossed in the face it. However when the pedestrian has looked and seen no vehicle, or has seen a vehicle at a distance justifiably thought to be safe, he is entitled to assume that any oncoming vehicles will respect his right-of-way.

Drivers are also required to exercise due caution to avoid injury even when they have the right-of-way.

Crossing at other than crosswalks
If pedestrians cross anywhere other than a marked or unmarked crosswalk, they shall yield the right of way to all approaching vehicles and are considered negligent if they do not. (21-503) The pedestrian must also yield the right-of-way when crossing a roadway where a tunnel or overhead is provided for pedestrians to cross, even if there is a crosswalk there. (21-502)

As long as they yield the right of way and cross only during safe opportunities, pedestrians may lawfully cross streets between intersections (midblock) unless they are between adjacent intersections which each have traffic signals. The law prohibits crossing between adjacent intersections that have traffic signals.

Pedestrians at traffic signals
Pedestrians facing any green signal, unless the green signal is only a turn arrow, may cross the roadway within any marked or unmarked crosswalk in the direction of the green signal. (21-202) Pedestrians facing a "WALK" (or "walking person") signal may also cross in that direction and shall be given the right-of-way by all drivers. (21-203) Where there is an exclusive all-pedestrian interval, pedestrians may cross in any direction within the intersection.

It is unlawful for pedestrians to enter the road and start to cross in the direction of a "DONT WALK" or "upraised hand" signal or "WAIT" signal, or in the direction of a steady red signal alone unless otherwise directed by a pedestrian signal. Thus if they haven't realized that it's their turn and therefore don't start to cross during their walk signal, they must wait.

Vehicles facing a green signal and turning right or left shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian lawfully within the intersection or an adjacent crosswalk.

If pedestrians have started to cross during a "WALK" signal and partly completed the crossing when the "DONT WALK," "WAIT," or "upraised hand" signal shows, they shall proceed without delay to a sidewalk or safety island.

Court cases in 1948 and 1950 determined that pedestrians who start across the intersection with a favorable signal have the right to complete the trip, even if the light changes to red during the crossing. Drivers "may not drive blindly across an intersection simply because the signal is green" -- they must first allow pedestrians and vehicles which are lawfully in the intersection to cross, then they must proceed with caution.

However pedestrians can inadvertently waive this right. For example in 1960 a woman who had stopped on the median strip and intended to stay was hit on her arm by a car when she extended it into the street. She was held negligent because she had waived her right-of-way.

1. It is unlawful or legally negligent for pedestrians to
  • start crossing during WAIT signal or red light;
  • cross between intersections with signals;
  • fail to look for approaching traffic before crossing
    2. Pedestrians have the right-of-way in crosswalks, both marked and unmarked (unless there is an overhead or tunnel provided for pedestrians to cross).
    3.Pedestrians can cross midblock (except between intersections with signals) but must yield the right-of-way.

  • White Cane Laws
    Each state has laws that pertain to pedestrians with white canes or guide dogs. Some states, including Virginia, require drivers stop for blind people using white canes or guide dogs, and others, including Maryland, simply yield.

    We call these laws "white cane laws" but lawmakers and police officers do not necessarily recognize that term. In Maryland what is officially called White Cane Laws are actually laws about the rights of people with visual impairments in employment, housing, and public accommodation, and liability for damages incurred by guide dogs. Maryland's White Cane Laws have nothing to do with pedestrians.

    In Maryland, the "Right-of-way of blind or deaf pedestrians" is explained in the Transportation Article 21-511, which is quoted here verbatim:
    This 1997 amendment is probably the bill which was passed after years of advocacy by the American Council of the Blind of Maryland and WOMA members, and which strengthened the enforcement of what we call the "white cane law" by charging points and fines against drivers who violate it. If anyone knows of any driver who has been cited since the bill was passed, we would like to know. A strong publicity and educational drive was planned once the bill was passed, but the main person behind the effort, Debbie Grubb, moved to Florida, and we have not followed up to see what has been done to educate drivers and enforcement officers about the law.

    Do blind pedestrians have right-of-way anywhere?
    Are they exempt from pedestrian laws?
    Ten years ago, when Dick and Lorraine Evensen were killed crossing a street in Maryland, we found out that blind people had the right of way only in crosswalks, just like other pedestrians. However the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland (NFB MD) advocated to change the law. Thus today, according to Mr. Jonathan Acton, Assistant District Attorney for Maryland's Motor Vehicle Administration, Article 21 511 does indeed require drivers to give the right of way to people who use white canes, guide dogs, or mobility aids, whether they are within crosswalks or not.

    Article 21 511, however, does not exempt blind people from any pedestrian laws, Mr. Acton explained. For example the law prohibits pedestrians, including those who use white canes or guide dogs, from suddenly walking into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield. They are also prohibited from starting their crossings during red lights and DON'T WALK signals, and from crossing between intersections that each have traffic signals.

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