Pedestrian right-of-way laws may seem straightforward, but when you get into the details, they can be confusing for drivers and walkers alike. Additionally, there are several misconceptions about the various crossing signals and what the technical rules are regarding each.

Let’s start with the basics: pedestrian signals exclusively exist to safely control pedestrian traffic. You typically see these signals at regular signalized intersections; they’re placed there after analysis shows that there may be a need to further accommodate pedestrians. For example, these signals may be installed if signals meant for vehicles are not easily visible to pedestrians, if there’s simply a high-volume of pedestrian traffic or if the traffic patterns are very complex, where there may be a need for special communication with pedestrians.

The various types of pedestrian signals

You’ve probably pushed a button at some point to generate a walk signal. These “Push to Walk: buttons are meant to avoid long pedestrian waits for an opportunity to safely walk. There are several signal types.

  • Illuminated WALK sign: This means a pedestrian can safely enter the road and cross.
  • A flashing DON’T WALK sign: This looks like a hand. It means that a pedestrian should not start to cross. However, if the sign appears and a pedestrian is already mid-crossing, they may continue.
  • A stead DON’T WALK sign: A display that looks like an upraised hand that is not flashing means that pedestrians should not cross whatsoever.
  • “HAWK” crossings: HAWK stands for High Intensity Activated CrossWalk. These signals are designed for especially busy streets. These signals do not control traffic; they remain completely dark unless a pedestrian activates them. To use a “HAWK” signal, a pedestrian needs to push the button. When the button is pushed, there is signal that faces oncoming traffic that flashes yellow for five seconds, and then turns solid yellow and eventually becomes a solid red. This tells drivers to slow down and stop. Then, pedestrians can wait for the “WALK” indication and safely proceed. Once the walk time has passed, the signals turn flashing red and then go dark again. They will not be lit up until activated again by a pedestrian.

It’s a common point of confusion that the “WALK” sign should be lit for the entire duration of your street crossing. But the signals are meant to control when a vehicle can proceed; they cannot go before all pedestrians have entered the crosswalk during a steady “WALK” sign, and have had time to complete the crossing. Pedestrians are protected during the “WALK” sign, and even after the flashing “DON’T WALK” sign begins. In fact, they have complete protection if they’ve entered the crossing during a steady “WALK” sign. For those who enter the road when there is a flashing “DON’T WALK” sign, or fail to use the crossing signals altogether, they are in violation of Arizona Revised Statute 28-646 and they’re risking their safety.

What if there are no traffic signals?

Should there be no traffic signals, drivers must yield to pedestrians if they are crossing the road within a crosswalk, if the pedestrian is on the half of the road that you’re driving on or is in any area where they could be in danger. However, it’s up to the pedestrian to not leave a place of safety (say, a curb) and run into the road without giving a car the chance to safely yield.

What about school zones?

We all know pedestrians always have the right-of-way, especially in school zones. But did you know, at a school crosswalk, vehicles must wait for a pedestrian to cross the entire crosswalk (curb to curb), before any vehicle moves? While vehicles don’t have to stop if a pedestrian is on the opposite half of the roadway from your direction of travel on standard roads, at school crossings, all traffic must stop in both directions no matter what side of the road the pedestrian is on.

As you can see, pedestrian laws a bit more complex than many initially realize. If you have a question, please ask us in the comments. We are here to help!