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Legal Matters: Must vehicles stop for pedestrians in crosswalks?

Scene: Main Street, downtown Westminster.

Two pedestrians are trying to cross from the north side of the street to the south side. They step off the curb. Cars, trucks and other vehicles drive past. None stops.

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“This is a crosswalk, and drivers can see us, but they’re not stopping,” one said.

“Well, maybe they don’t have to,” the other would-be street-crosser replied.

Yes, they do have to, if the pedestrians are in a marked crosswalk. The motorists were violating a state law if they failed to stop.

A warning notice that police may issue to Maryland drivers who have failed to stop for pedestrians quotes a section of state law that reads, “Driver of a vehicle shall come to a complete stop when a pedestrian crossing the roadway in a crosswalk is (i) on the half of the roadway on which the vehicle is traveling, or (ii) approaching from an adjacent lane on the other half of the roadway.”

Possible penalties for violations are a fine from $80 to $500 and one point on the driver’s license. The warning notice contains information from the State Highway Administration that on average, 100 pedestrians are killed and more than 2,500 injured from being hit by cars each year.

First, what is a marked crosswalk? That is, does state law dictate how a crosswalk must be identified?

The transportation article of the Maryland Code does not specify markings for crosswalks, although there are usually painted lines or brickwork, or sometimes signs with flashing lights to indicate walkways where pedestrians can legally cross.

The laws concerning pedestrians’ rights-of-way in crosswalks do not apply where there are pedestrian tunnels below or walkways above the street or road, or where a traffic signal is in operation. A crosswalk at a traffic signal is not required to be marked.

Suppose walkers cross the street at an unmarked point? The law provides that when a pedestrian is crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or with the light at an intersection, the pedestrian must yield the right of way to all vehicles.

The state legislature added a “don’t do risky things” clause for those who walk or run across streets where there are oncoming vehicles. The clause states, “A pedestrian 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 that it is impossible for the driver to yield.”

There is also a “don’t do dangerous things” clause for drivers that provides, “If, at a marked crosswalk or an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, a vehicle is stopped to let a pedestrian cross the roadway, the driver of any other vehicle approaching from the rear may not overtake and pass the stopped vehicle.”

The section of the state code that prohibits passing a vehicle stopped for a pedestrian does not specify a penalty, but fines and points on the driver’s license may apply.

Donna Engle is a retired Westminster attorney. Her Legal Matters column, which provides legal information but not legal advice, appears on the second and fourth Sunday each month in Life & Times. Email her at denglelaw@gmail.com.

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