Do pedestrians always have right of way on roads?

Traffic Lights

The short answer to this question is no. Many of us are stepping outside once a day to make the most of our exercise regime during this difficult time. It is a good time to remind ourselves how to observe the law and keep safe when it comes to pedestrians and drivers. 

When pedestrians DO have right of way

This is the basic list:

  1. If a pedestrian has started to cross a road at a junction and a driver wants to turn into that road the pedestrian has priority and the driver should give way (see Highway Code Rule 8)
  2. A driver MUST give way when a pedestrian has moved onto a Zebra Crossing (Highway Code Rule 195)
  3. When the amber light is flashing on a signal controlled pelican crossing, a driver MUST give way to any pedestrians  on the crossing ( and of course when the red light shows see Highway Code Rule 196)

If the driver has right of way is any collision the pedestrians fault ?

The driver might still be to blame even if he crashes into a pedestrian even though the driver has right of way. This is because the law recognizes that driving a car or motorbike always puts other people at risk and pedestrians are the most vulnerable of all road users (see Highway Code Rule 204)

Accordingly, drivers are always under a heavy duty of care. Each situation depends on its own facts and Highway Code Rule 206  gives some good examples of situations in which drivers with right of way should be extra vigilant such as passing parked vehicles especially ice cream vans or driving past buses which have pulled up at a stop.

Another good example would be a zebra crossing situation where the pedestrian is clearly likely to be using it but has yet to step forward onto it. In that scenario, the pedestrian does not have right of way but an approaching driver should not think they are entitled to assume the pedestrian definitely won’t step out.

As a rule of thumb in any situation,  if the driver could or should have anticipated it was likely the pedestrian might step into the road, the driver has to drive with proportionate caution.

Who has priority on roads with no pavement?

Pedestrians are perfectly entitled to walk on country lanes and other roads which have no pavement however they have a duty to take reasonable care for their own safety.

In the UK, we drive on the left and the Highway Code recommends that pedestrians should keep to the right (facing oncoming traffic) but  cross over at right hand bends to the left so that the oncoming traffic retains maximum visibility. Also walking in single file and wearing visible (preferably high visibility and reflective)  clothing is recommended ( see Rule 2).

When pedestrians DON’T have right of way

Pedestrians definitely don’t have any right of way on motorways. In fact, pedestrians aren’t allowed on motorways or slip roads except in an emergency. This includes when your car breaks down and you need to use the emergency telephone on the hard shoulder. Even then, pedestrians should keep walking to a minimum and try to keep as far away from the hard shoulder / motorway lanes as possible.

As for the motorway driver who notices the presence of pedestrians, the same duties arise as are outlined above.

The law of the road vs. The laws of physics

Admittedly, it is a trite point to make but regardless of what the Highway Code says, the pedestrian will always come out worst against a heavy lump of moving metal. Having had right of way will be of little consolation from a hospital bed. Just as the driver has to anticipate the possibility of the pedestrian not conceding right of way, the sensible pedestrian needs to be aware that there are drivers who will do likewise.  Stop ! – Look ! – Listen ! and if in doubt don’t step out.