SHERIFF'S CORNER: Pedestrian Right-of-Way Laws

Lake County Sheriff Rich Martin

Lake County Sheriff Rich Martin

Courtesy photo

Recently, I was asked about the laws about pedestrians in relation to the street and encounters with motor vehicles.  The common thought is that pedestrians always have the right-of-way regardless of where they are.

In this edition of the Sheriff's Corner, I define standard pedestrian laws in Michigan. 

(Note: There are a few municipalities in Michigan that have adopted pedestrian local ordinances that are stricter than state law.)


“Pedestrian” means any person afoot.  Pedestrians include an individual with a mobility disability who is using a power-driven mobility device. MCL 257.39 

“Pedestrian” means a person on foot; person on skis, skates, or roller blades; rider of a horse; horse and buggy; or non-motorized wheelchair. 

“Highway or street” means the entire width between the boundary lines of every way publicly maintained when any part thereof is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel. 

Sidewalk Use and Walking Left Facing Traffic: Where sidewalks are provided, a pedestrian shall not walk upon the main traveled portion of the highway. Where sidewalks are not provided, pedestrians shall, when practicable, walk on the left side of the highway facing traffic which passes nearest. MCL 257.655 

Blind Pedestrian: A blind pedestrian who does not carry a cane or use a dog guide or walker has all the rights and privileges conferred upon any other pedestrian by the laws of this state. The failure of a blind pedestrian to carry a cane or use a dog guide or walker shall not be treated as evidence of negligence in a civil action for injury to the blind pedestrian or for the blind pedestrian’s wrongful death. MCL 752.52(2) 

Impeding Traffic: A person, without authority, shall not block, obstruct, impede, or otherwise interfere with the normal flow of vehicular or pedestrian traffic upon a public street or highway in this state, by means of a barricade, object, or device, or with his or her person. This section does not apply to persons maintaining, rearranging, or constructing public utility facilities in or adjacent to a street or highway. MCL 257.676(b)(1)


So, who has the right-of-way? The law states that drivers must yield to pedestrians in accordance with traffic control signals. Pedestrian control signals are placed at the far end of each crosswalk, and they typically indicate a “walk” or “don’t walk” notification.

The law only states who has the right-of-way at these traffic-signal intersections. A pedestrian has the right-of-way at a crosswalk if there is a lighted pedestrian walk-sign. If there is no walk-sign, then the traffic signal controls who has the right-of-way.
However, there is no common law regarding who has the right-of-way for non-traffic-signal crosswalks. So, the old cliché that “pedestrians always have the right-of-way”, is generally untrue.

In Lake County, there are no pedestrian-controlled crosswalks or traffic-signal intersections. So, most of this is not applicable.  Did you know that there is only (1) four-way stop intersection in Lake County? It is located near Luther at the corner of State St and 5 Mile Rd.


Jaywalking is when someone illegally crosses a street. As stated above, pedestrians must use designated crosswalks and walk-signs that indicate when they may or may not cross. Pedestrians who cross the street without using the crosswalk or who do not accurately follow the signals would be jaywalking. However, Michigan has no statewide law prohibiting jaywalking. Instead, the state leaves it up to local municipalities to dictate whether to enact and enforce jaywalking ordinances.


When a pedestrian is struck by a vehicle, more than 80 percent of the time the pedestrian is killed or seriously injured. In Michigan, more than 100 pedestrians die each year. Most of these deaths occur between 6 p.m. and midnight, with many fatalities occurring when pedestrians cross the roadway somewhere other than at an intersection or when a driver fails to yield.
Some safety experts have found two major reasons for the rise in pedestrian accidents. The first is the increased number of SUVs on our roads today. Because these vehicles have a higher front-end, it makes it difficult for drivers to see pedestrians in their direction. Also, SUVs are larger and heavier than most passenger vehicles. Meaning pedestrians who are struck by SUVs have a greater chance of dying or being critically injured from the impact.

Distracted drivers and walkers are the second major cause of pedestrian accidents. Walkers who are looking down at their cell phones are more likely to be hit by a driver who fails to yield. At the same time, drivers who are distracted may not see a pedestrian until it’s too late to stop.

In the US, the number of pedestrians killed increased 27 percent between 2007 and 2016 and 46% from 2010 to 2020.
In 2016 and 2017 nearly 6,000 pedestrians died in a motor vehicle crash. 

Each US state is not equal on the topic of pedestrian fatalities:

  • Number of pedestrian fatalities range from one in Hawaii and Wyoming to 352 in California, for the first half of 2017.
    Arizona has the highest rate of pedestrian deaths per resident population (1.61), while Hawaii has the lowest (0.07), during first semester 2017.
  • New Mexico has the highest pedestrian fatality rate (3.45) while Nebraska has the lowest (0.68), in 2016. 


Some tips to follow from the Office of Highway and Safety Planning (OHSP):

Pedestrians must:

  • Use sidewalks whenever available.
  • Obey traffic signals, signs, and markings.
  • Cross streets at a corner, using traffic signals and crosswalks whenever possible.
  • Face traffic and stay as far to the left as possible if traveling on the roadway.

Pedestrians should:

  • Always stop at the edge of a parked car, curb, or vehicle before walking out into traffic.
  • Look left-right-left before crossing a street and continue looking while crossing.
  • Make eye contact with drivers prior to crossing roadways.
  • Be visible: wear reflective clothing and lights at night and wear bright colors during the day.
  • Never allow children under the age of 10 to cross the streets alone. Young children do not have the skills to accurately judge traffic risks.

Drivers must:

  • Stop before entering the marked crosswalk limit line.
  • Stop before entering the intersection if there is no crosswalk or limit line.
  • Obey traffic signals, signs, and markings.
  • Yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, intersections, and all traffic-controlled areas.
  • Obey the posted speed limit.

Drivers should:

  • Never pass vehicles stopped at a crosswalk. There may be people crossing who cannot be seen.
  • Avoid distractions.
  • Stay alert and take extra caution at intersections, especially when making turns.
  • Make eye contact with pedestrians waiting to cross roadways.
  • Be extremely careful when backing up, checking for pedestrians who may move into the path of the vehicle.

— This information is provided to you for clarification on specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law. Topics covered are for educational and informational purposes only. As needed, excerpts from other articles are used for reference and/or content. If you have any questions on any specific topic, you may always email me your questions to