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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Do I have to wait for a pedestrian to fully cross the street before driving in WA state?

Chris Fitzgerald, right, converses with Peperzak Middle School Assistant Principal Cori Fletcher, left, after Fitzgerald walked his son, Cael, to the crosswalk at 57th Avenue and Crestline, Wednesday morning, Sept 13, 2023, in Spokane.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Karlee Van De Venter Tri-City Herald

Sometimes when driving, you have to stop and wait for a pedestrian or two to cross the street, especially if you’re making a right on red. Sometimes the car behind you can’t see the pedestrian, and might even honk at you for not proceeding.

This can be a nerve-wracking position to be in. How long do you wait to proceed through the crosswalk? Does the pedestrian have to reach the sidewalk before you can go? Or once they’ve moved past your lane, can you proceed?

Here’s what we know about the law in Washington.

Multiple agencies, including the Washington State Department of Transportation, are part of the Target Zero plan – a goal to reach zero traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. But the number of traffic fatalities involving pedestrians increased more than 62% from 2010 to 2019, according to WSDOT.

WA drivers must mind pedestrians

The rules of the road in Washington state specify that drivers must stop when a pedestrian or bicyclist is “in, or within, one lane of your half of the roadway.” So, the answer changes depending on the size of the road.

  • If driving on a one-lane/neighborhood road, wait for the pedestrian to fully reach the other side of the street.
  • If driving on a two-lane road, wait for the pedestrian to fully reach the other side of the street.
  • If driving on a three-lane road, wait for the pedestrian to fully reach the other side of the street if you are in the center lane. If you’re in either outside lane, you may proceed once the pedestrian is in the opposite outside lane.
  • If driving on a four- or five-lane road, you may proceed once the pedestrian reaches the outside lane on the other half of the street.

These rules apply at all crosswalks and intersections. All intersections should be considered crosswalks, whether or not they are marked as such. Pedestrians always have the right of way when crossing at crosswalks.

The Revised Code of Washington also requires that all drivers “exercise due care” to avoid hitting a pedestrian on any roadway.

Failure to yield the right of way comes with a $48 fine.

Pedestrian responsibility, safety in WA

But that doesn’t mean pedestrians are without responsibility – they can’t do whatever they want. The RCW specifies several regulations pedestrians are expected to follow, including following traffic signals and traffic control devices.

“The best way to avoid collisions is to be prepared and be aware of vehicles around you,” states the WSDOT pedestrian safety page. “While the law assigns pedestrians the right of way, it does not relieve pedestrians of using due care for their own safety.”

It is prohibited for pedestrians and bicyclists to abruptly leave the curb and move into traffic. If you need to enter the roadway as a pedestrian, wait until there is no oncoming traffic, or until oncoming traffic has ample time to stop for you. Make it clear you plan to cross, if possible, by standing at the curb, using any pedestrian crossing signals and using a flashlight and bright clothing when it’s dark out.

What if I have to cross where there is no crosswalk?

If you have to cross the street anywhere besides an intersection or marked crosswalk, the RCW requires you yield the right of way to all the drivers on the road. Wait until it is absolutely safe to cross, with no oncoming traffic if possible.