Legalese — Jaywalking

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Jaywalking is another of those legal terms that people bandy about without knowing the technical definition.  It goes hand in hand with the phrase “pedestrians have the right of way.”  So when do pedestrians really have the right of way?  Do cars just have to stop for someone who wants to cross the road?  Does it matter where they cross the road?

This issue was recently taken up by the Georgia Court of Appeals in Hill vs. the State, A17A0912 on May 16, 2017.

In this case, Debra Hill crossed Jonesboro Road on foot and was hit by a car.  Ms. Hill was herself charged with “Failing to yield the right of way to vehicles upon the roadway when crossing other than at a crosswalk,” in violation of O.C.G.A. 40-6-92(a).  That code section states that “[e]very pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway unless he [or she] has already, and under safe conditions, entered the roadway.”

So let’s pick that apart.  In English, what this says is that unless you are in a crosswalk, if you are walking, you have to yield the way to cars. Logically, the converse would be true as well – if you ARE in a crosswalk, you do NOT have to yield the way to cars, they have to yield the way to you.  Also, a crosswalk can be marked or unmarked.  It’s easy to figure out what a marked crosswalk is.   That’s common knowledge.  But what is an unmarked crosswalk?  That was the crux of the Hill decision, since everyone agreed that she hadn’t crossed at a marked crosswalk.

For that, we need to turn to O.C.G.A. 40-1-1(10)(A) which defines an unmarked crosswalk as “[t]hat part of a roadway at an intersection included within the connections of the lateral lines of the sidewalks on opposite sides of the highway measured from the curbs or in the absence of curbs, from the edges of the traversable roadway.”  What that means in English is that if you were to extend the edges of the sidewalk out into the street until they met with the sidewalk on the other side, inside of those lines is an “unmarked crosswalk.”  In Hill, since there were not sidewalks on either side of the street, she wasn’t crossing in an unmarked crosswalk, and so did not have the right of way.

So: to sum up.  Technically speaking, unless there is a sign indicating otherwise, you do have the right of way if you are crossing at a crosswalk, whether that crosswalk be made out of actual paint or just projected from the edges of the sidewalk.  If there is no sidewalk, there is no crosswalk unless it is painted on there.  If you are not in a crosswalk, then the cars have the right of way.

Which is all well and good, but use common sense.  If you are walking at a good clip, you are walking at 3 miles an hour.  If a car is driving slowly, it is driving at 30 miles per hour.  If the car has a green light, and there is any kind of hill or glare, there is also a good chance that car isn’t going to see you until it is too late.  Drivers are conditioned to look at green lights not crosswalks, especially if there is no paint in the road.  So, while you may not get a jaywalking ticket, you may still be greatly injured.  I’d rather be safe than right, personally.

Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice.  It is being offered for informational purposes only.

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