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Get the Heel Out of My Way

There are millions of reasons why I dislike (okay, hate) the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Pedestrians are reason number 1,867,423. Every time I find myself unfortunate enough to have to drive through that campus, I am constantly slamming on my brakes, raising a certain finger, and mashing down on my horn. It’s almost as if the administration proudly proclaims each morning, “Extra credit on all exams for jaywalking!” Unfortunately, a lot of people it seems have the “they’ll stop” mentality, and there is a large misconception that pedestrians always have the right of way. That’s not true in North Carolina.

The motor vehicle laws of North Carolina generally provide that a pedestrian must follow the special “pedestrian-control signs” at an intersection (e.g., “Walk,” “Don’t Walk”). If there are no such signals, the pedestrian should follow the traffic signal lights (e.g., “Green means go,” “Red means stop”). At no time under the motor vehicle laws should a pedestrian either 1) cross a roadway outside of a crosswalk, 2) if there is no marked crosswalk, cross outside of the unmarked crosswalk (intersection boarder where the marked crosswalk would normally go). Most generally, this means that the kids at Carolina and other people shouldn’t be walking out in the middle of a street or crossing an intersection on a “Don’t Walk” or red light. If they do so, they are probably failing to yield the right of way to vehicular traffic. This also means that a jury could potentially find that they are contributorily negligent in any civil claim arising from the incident.

Now, if you’re like me and not a fan of jaywalking, this does not mean you have a license to run down wayward pedestrians. The motor vehicle laws also provide that despite the duties of pedestrians, every driver must take care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian on the roadway and should sound the horn as a warning when necessary (finger optional).

There are many laws concerning the use of the road by both vehicles and pedestrians alike. If you’ve found yourself struck by a car while walking, then you should consult an attorney to determine what your rights are. As a person who is sometimes a pedestrian, I always recommend people pay attention to their surroundings, walk facing oncoming traffic, and cross the road at the intersection in the crosswalk. Do not walk out into traffic and always make sure a car has plenty of time to stop. Drivers and pedestrians should be courteous to each other, and the pedestrain should remember that they as a walker have a much better chance of stopping on a dime than a moving vehicle weighing several tons.

Disclaimer: The views of the author are his own. His wife, an employee of UNC Hospitals, loves Carolina as they allow her to buy pretty things via her salary. UNC is allegedly a very good institution of higher education. U.S. News & World Report thinks its one of the best colleges in the country. Current students and alumni think it’s a splendiferous place, and may or may not be lobbying Disney for the rights to call the campus the “Happiest Place on Earth” and the Dean Dome the “Magical Kingdom.” The lobbying part is the author’s attempt at humor and should not be taken seriously.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • A Faithful Reader (a/k/a "Mom") March 11, 2010, 2:24 pm

    What a timely subject as I was nearly flattened in an intersection this morning while I was crossing on a red light. It was raining and since the rain had already ruined my shoes and I didn't want my hair ruined, too, I looked both ways and seeing no oncoming cars, I decided to go for it. Once out in the intersection and past some parked cars, I saw a small sports car headed right at me. I was already out in the intersection and committed, so I stepped up the pace while he didn't let up on the gas pedal. He was right along side me when I got to the middle of the intersection. While controlling a certain finger on my hand (hmmm, wonder who you inherited that from), I wondered who had the right of way in that situation. Luckily, I have a very good attorney in the family to consult.

    Would I have a good argument in front of a sympathetic judge? I am an elderly woman (at least in your mind) who was in inclement weather and did not see the approaching vehicle before proceeding across the intersection since it was actually shorter than me & the parked cars. This also makes me wonder about any other hazardous situations such as a big 108 lb. German Shepherd running up behind me ready to pounce while I was waiting to cross.


  • Anonymous March 12, 2010, 5:40 pm

    In Switzerland, pedestrian crossings are identified by yellow lines going across the road. To cross, one simply stands at the edge and traffic magically yields. This is because it is the law in Switzerland to yield to pedestrians. It does not, however, apply on the major highways.

    I guess UNC tried to steal Switzerland's idea and failed miserably, since it seems people callously cross the roads and ignore one ton moving objects with immense inertia.

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