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In Texas, Who Has the Right of Way in an Unmarked Crosswalk?

Updated in 2021, Texas law clarifies when pedestrians and cars must yield

For years, Texas law has given pedestrians the right of way at crosswalks – both the marked and unmarked types. However, a spike in severe and fatal pedestrian accidents in Houston and across the state shows that the law was not being followed.

With the goal of preventing more pedestrian deaths, in 2021, Texas passed a law clarifying street crossing right of way. The Lisa Torry Smith Act also established criminal penalties for drivers who do not stop at crosswalks for pedestrians and cyclists.

One common question posed to our Houston pedestrian accident lawyers is, "Do pedestrians have the right of way in unmarked crosswalks in Texas?"

Understanding Texas pedestrian and crosswalk laws helps to increase safety for all road users. The following information is general and may not apply in all situations. For information about a specific case, contact Smith & Hassler for a free case evaluation.

Legal definition of crosswalks in Texas

In Texas, crosswalks are presumed to exist at all legs of an intersection unless signage indicates otherwise, regardless of whether they are visibly marked. Unpainted, or "unmarked" crosswalks, sometimes called "implied" crosswalks, are recognized by the continuation of the sidewalk across the roadway. These unmarked crosswalks carry the same legal significance as their marked counterparts, serving as designated pedestrian crossings.

Despite the protection, crosswalks can be dangerous for Houston pedestrians. Pedestrian accidents have seen historical spikes in the region for many reasons, including an increase in reckless driving, the popularity of large trucks and SUVs that obscure the driver’s view of the immediate roadway, a lack of infrastructure that prioritizes the experience of vulnerable people, and more.

In Houston, top factors in fatal pedestrian accidents include:

  • Drivers failing to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians
  • Distracted driving
  • Speeding
  • Driving while intoxicated or high (DWI)

No matter the cause, when a negligent driver hits a pedestrian, victims cannot assume the law alone will protect their right to compensation. It often takes the skills of an experienced attorney to negotiate or litigate aggressively for justice and compensation.

Texas pedestrian right-of-way laws

To address the skyrocketing pedestrian accident rate, in 2021, Texas passed the Lisa Torry Smith Act, also known as the “stop and yield” or “crosswalk law.” The act is dedicated to Lisa Torry Smith, a Texas mother who was fatally struck by a car while using a crosswalk with her young son. The driver was charged, but ultimately, no crime had been committed under Texas law. His only penalty was a $50 traffic fine.

Outraged by the lack of justice, Lisa Torry Smith’s family and safety advocates pressed for change. Texas responded by overhauling pedestrian laws and criminalizing failure to yield, resulting in injury, and further defining who has the right of way in a crosswalk. Here are some key components of the List Torry Smith Act and Texas’ updated pedestrian laws:

  • Operating a motor vehicle within a crosswalk causing bodily injury to a pedestrian or person on a bicycle, mobility device, or electric cart is a criminal negligence offense.
  • Hitting someone in a crosswalk is a Class A misdemeanor. If the crash results in “serious” bodily injury, the charge can be elevated to a state jail felony.
  • The crosswalk law applies to marked and unmarked crosswalks. It does not apply to crossings without crosswalks.
  • Texas updated many of its pedestrian traffic laws from requiring drivers to “yield” to pedestrians” to now having to “stop and yield” to pedestrians. Vehicles must come to a full stop and yield the right of way to pedestrians lawfully in the intersection or an adjacent crosswalk even if no traffic control signal exists, the pedestrian is on half of the roadway in which the vehicle is traveling or so close to the other half of the roadway as to be in danger.
  • However, pedestrians cannot suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and proceed into a crosswalk in the path of a vehicle so close that it is impossible for the vehicle to stop and yield.
  • Drivers emerging from or entering an alley, building, private road, or driveway shall stop and yield to pedestrians approaching on a sidewalk that extends across the way.
  • Pedestrians can walk on roadways facing oncoming traffic if sidewalks are obstructed or unsafe. Prior to 2021, pedestrians had to walk on the left side of the road, facing oncoming traffic if there was no sidewalk available.

Criminal penalties may not apply if a pedestrian is found not to have been in a crosswalk at the time of a crash. However, whether a driver is charged and/or convicted of a violation of the crosswalk law has no effect on a victim’s right to seek compensation for damages.

Texas pedestrian accident settlements and compensation

Because pedestrians have no protection in a crash, their injuries can be serious. They can suffer broken bones and injuries to the head, neck, or back. They may need surgery, hospitalization, physical therapy, and medication. Recovery may take months or even longer. Some are left with permanent disabilities.

In Texas, pedestrians injured by another driver’s negligence have the right to seek financial compensation for all current and future medical expenses related to injuries and lost wages. Further compensation may be available for reduced earning potential, loss of enjoyment, and pain and suffering. When a pedestrian accident is fatal, Texas law provides a way for families to seek justice and compensation through a wrongful death claim.

Calculating the value of a pedestrian accident claim requires a deep understanding of Texas liability law, insurance policies, and injury trauma—the main influences affecting a claim’s value. A Houston pedestrian accident attorney can help crash victims determine their claim’s value and fight for fair compensation.

Compensation factors

Typically, the more serious and life-altering an injury is, the more compensation the victim deserves. Ultimately, pedestrian accident compensation is negotiable. Factors that help determine case results include:

  • Injury type, location
  • Injury severity, short- and long-term consequences
  • Medical care, surgeries, rehabilitation, care services, medications, mobility equipment, etc.
  • New or worsening disabilities
  • Available insurance resources
  • Number of liable parties involved (multiple drivers, vehicle owners, commercial trucking companies, manufacturers of defective car parts, etc.)
  • Evidence availability and presentation
  • Pedestrian accident lawyer’s experience, resources, and negotiating skills
  • Fault

Texas is an “at-fault” or “tort” state with a “modified comparative fault” standard and a 51 percent bar. This means that the fault for causing the accident is divided among all those involved—potentially including the victim. Ultimately, the at-fault driver(s/parties) pays compensation to those they injured. However, financial compensation is reduced proportionally to a victim's contribution to causing damages.

For example, a pedestrian with $100,000 in damages who was 10 percent at fault would have their compensation reduced by 10 percent to $90,000.

Insurance companies know the more they blame a victim, the less they pay. That’s why it’s important to have a strong pedestrian accident lawyer advocating for victim’s rights at every step.

How a pedestrian accident lawyer can help

If you were hit by a car in an unmarked crosswalk, the at-fault driver's insurance company is still responsible for compensating you for any injuries or damages you sustained. Just like with marked crosswalks, pedestrians have the right of way in unmarked crosswalks, and drivers are expected to yield.

Securing compensation, however, may require proving that you were within your rights and that the driver was at fault. This can involve gathering evidence such as witness statements, traffic camera footage, and expert testimony.

Given the potential challenges involved, consulting with an experienced pedestrian accident attorney can be crucial in navigating the claims process and ensuring that you receive the maximum compensation you deserve.

At Smith & Hassler, our attorneys know how to hold negligent drivers accountable and fight for the rights of injured pedestrians. To see how we can help with your potential legal case, contact us today for a free case evaluation.

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