One of the few bright spots in the COVID-19 pandemic has been the decrease in motor vehicle traffic. As people have been exploring their cities and towns on foot, some are realizing that our streets are primarily designed for cars – not for people.

The real solution to that problem lies in city planning. As a lawyer, I can only address it as it relates to Washington State Law.

Summary of Washington State Crosswalk Law

Every intersection is a crosswalk, unless there are posted signs.

Drivers are required to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians at every crosswalk, marked or unmarked.

Here’s the full text of the Washington State crosswalk law, RCW 46.61.235 (in italics), with my interpretation and comments included.

Crosswalks.

(1) The operator of an approaching vehicle shall stop and remain stopped to allow a pedestrian, bicycle, or personal delivery device to cross the roadway within an unmarked or marked crosswalk when the pedestrian, bicycle, or personal delivery device is upon or within one lane of the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling or onto which it is turning. For purposes of this section “half of the roadway” means all traffic lanes carrying traffic in one direction of travel, and includes the entire width of a one-way roadway.

Translation: Every intersection is a crosswalk, and drivers need to stop for pedestrians to cross. 

If a bike or other personal vehicle is on the sidewalk, then they count as a pedestrian. If the person is waiting to cross from the other side of the street, and there’s more than one lane in each direction, drivers need to stop when that person starts to cross.

(2) No pedestrian, bicycle, or personal delivery device shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk, run, or otherwise move into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to stop.

Translation: People walking shouldn’t step in front of a car. 

(3) Subsection (1) of this section does not apply under the conditions stated in RCW 46.61.240(2).

Translation: The first section of this law doesn’t apply to every single circumstance.

Drivers don’t have to stop for pedestrians:

  • Crossing far outside of the crosswalk;
  • Waiting at intersections with traffic lights (until signaled); or
  • Waiting to cross the roadway when a pedestrian tunnel is overhead.

(4) Whenever any vehicle is stopped at a marked crosswalk or at any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection to permit a pedestrian, bicycle, or personal delivery device to cross the roadway, the driver of any other vehicle approaching from the rear shall not overtake and pass such stopped vehicle.

Translation: Don’t try to pass a car that is stopping to allow people to cross. 

We have seen pedestrian injury cases like this; it’s called a multiple-threat crash. And the collision is usually pretty bad, as the passing driver is accelerating the vehicle speed.

(5)(a) If a person is found to have committed an infraction under this section within a school, playground, or crosswalk speed zone created under RCW 46.61.440, the person must be assessed a monetary penalty equal to twice the penalty assessed under RCW 46.63.110. The penalty may not be waived, reduced, or suspended.
(b) Fifty percent of the moneys collected under this subsection must be deposited into the school zone safety account.

Translation: If you violate Washington State crosswalk law in a school zone, you might get a huge fine.

Schools get half of that money, because they have to figure out how to keep children from getting hit by cars.

Pedestrian Street Scene-Washington State Crosswalk Law

Other pedestrian safety laws and info:

The Washington State Department of Transportation summarizes pedestrian laws here.

I have a lot more to say about the appalling number of injuries and deaths caused by bad drivers:

Reducing speed limit to prevent Seattle pedestrian deaths

Pedestrian death and Seattle’s law on safety enhancement

This is what a multiple-threat crash looks like.