The Dangers of Unmarked Crosswalks

03 30 2020
April Spears

The Dangers of Unmarked Crosswalks

In the United States, traffic laws vary widely between states and even between municipalities within the same state. While everyone is familiar with the striped lines of a marked crosswalk, many people, drivers and pedestrians alike, aren’t aware that some places are considered unmarked crosswalks. For the most part, unmarked crosswalks are located at intersections where there aren’t painted lines, but where a crossing would be a logical extension of a sidewalk. In these unmarked crosswalks, drivers are required to yield to a pedestrian in exactly the same way as in a marked crosswalk.

Types of Pedestrian Crossings

In the United States, there are four basic ways for people to cross streets. 

  • A marked crosswalk is a clearly distinguished place for pedestrians to cross streets. It usually is marked with striped lines, and can also include various signage and pedestrian crossing signals
  • A pedestrian bridge is a raised structure that allows pedestrians to cross a street without interrupting traffic. These bridges keep pedestrians and traffic completely separate to increase both safety and efficiency. 
  • An unmarked crosswalk is usually defined as the continuation of an existing sidewalk across a road, and is usually, but not always, located at an intersection.
  • Jaywalking occurs when a pedestrian crosses the street in an area that is neither a marked crosswalk nor an unmarked crosswalk. This is illegal in most places and pedestrians can be issued a citation.

Understanding Right-of-Way in Crosswalks

Many drivers and pedestrians believe that pedestrians automatically have the right-of-way in crossing the street, regardless of the circumstances. But that is not true. There is no universal right-of-way.

  • At a marked crosswalk, drivers are expected to stop and stay stopped as pedestrians walk across the road.
  • Since most unmarked crosswalks occur at intersections, the requirements change a little. Drivers are generally expected to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians crossing at an unmarked crosswalk, but aren’t expected to fully stop and wait in the intersection.

It is the responsibility of both drivers and pedestrians to try and avoid a potential accident. For example, if a pedestrian steps off a curb directly into the path of an oncoming car, the driver may not necessarily be deemed at-fault for the accident, since there was no opportunity to avoid it. In another case, a pedestrian who is jaywalking might be at-fault for an accident that occurs, because they weren’t crossing in a safe area. However, the driver would still need to do everything possible to avoid hitting the person, in order to not be considered liable.

Making Crosswalks Safer

Making Crosswalks Safer

Unfortunately, pedestrian-related traffic accidents are on-the-rise in many U.S. cities. In 2018, the number of pedestrians killed in traffic accidents rose by more than 3 percent, to a total of 6,2831. Cities and states are working to reduce the number of pedestrian-related accidents in several ways.


Some are blaming the increase in pedestrian-related traffic accidents on smartphones. More and more people are using their smartphones while walking and while driving, which is resulting in both groups paying less attention to their surroundings. A pedestrian who is texting might not look both ways before crossing the street. Or a driver who is using their phone for navigation, might look down and not see a pedestrian step off a curb in time to stop. Authorities are urging both drivers and pedestrians to be more vigilant and focus on their surroundings, rather than their devices.


Technology is evolving at a rapid pace, and a lot of it is being aimed at making our daily lives easier and safer. Makers of self-driving cars, for example, are working on a wide array of safety features meant to protect both drivers and pedestrians from accidents. Some other types of safety technology are already being integrated into cars on the market now, including pedestrian detection and automatic braking. These technologies are aimed at reducing, or even eliminating, pedestrian-related accidents.

Safety Equipment

Some places are reducing pedestrian-related accidents by making crosswalks more visible. In addition to the painted lines, there are a variety of safety products available to help drivers and pedestrians be more aware of crosswalks. For drivers, it can help them to notice a crosswalk earlier and give them more time to slow down for pedestrians who might be preparing to cross. For pedestrians, making crosswalks more visible can encourage people to cross in marked areas, instead of jaywalking. Specific configurations for pedestrian safety crossing systems vary, but can include tall, brightly-colored signs, flashing lights, lighted signals for pedestrians, and more. 

There are also many ways that individuals can make crossings safer.


  • Always cross the street at a marked crosswalk, if it’s available.
  • Look both ways before crossing. 
  • Obey all traffic signals.
  • Don’t assume that cars are going to stop. A distracted driver might not see you in time.
  • Wear bright or reflective clothing if walking at night.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by your smartphone when crossing the street.


  • Always stop and allow pedestrians to cross in crosswalks.
  • Yield to pedestrians in unmarked crosswalks, and watch for pedestrians when making turns.
  • Keep your car well-maintained to ensure your brakes and other safety systems are at peak performance.
  • Obey posted speed limits and street signs.
  • Be alert for pedestrians at all times.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by your smartphone while driving.

With increased focus on safety features and more vigilance by both drivers and pedestrians, we can decrease, or even eliminate the number of pedestrian-related traffic accidents and fatalities. 

ELTEC has been a world-class manufacturer and innovator in traffic control signs, traffic safety equipment and overall traffic control products for nearly 50 years. Our goal is to significantly reduce the number of fatalities on our roads each year by implementing warning systems, and we are constantly coming up with new ways to innovate our products to provide you with the best possible safety and warning systems for your community.  Contact ELTEC Traffic Products and Warning Systems today to learn how we can meet your pedestrian warning sign needs with state-of-the-art systems that are built to save lives.