NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Some things come naturally like stopping for pedestrians crossing the street, but do pedestrians always have the right-of-way?
Every year in Tennessee a number of pedestrians and bicyclists are struck by cars, with several of those crashes being deadly, making it all the more important to understand the state’s laws when it comes to crossing the streets and watching out for cyclists.
Pedestrians are defined in state law as those walking or in wheelchairs, and according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), they have the right to travel on all state roads that are not access controlled, such as interstates.
The Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) further outlines the rights and responsibilities of drivers and non-motorists. Below are some of the major laws that apply to bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers when it comes to sharing Tennessee’s roads.
Pedestrians’ right-of-way in crosswalks (TCA 55-8-134)
In a crosswalk, cars have to yield the right-of-way and slow down or stop for pedestrians crossing the street. However, pedestrians cannot suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield.
Drivers also cannot overtake and pass another vehicle stopped at a crosswalk or intersection.
According to TDOT, there technically is a crosswalk at every intersection in Tennessee. Some crosswalks are marked with white paint striping or bricks. These are called “marked crosswalks.”
Most intersections in Tennessee don’t have any striping at all, but they are still legally designated places for pedestrians to cross the street. In this case they’re considered “unmarked crosswalks.”
Other crossing locations are not at intersections but between blocks. These are called “mid-block crosswalks” and they may have signals to assist people crossing by alerting drivers.
Crossing at places other than crosswalks (TCA 55-8-135)
Pedestrians are not required to use a crosswalk, unless they are between adjacent signalized intersections or local ordinances have restricted their crossing. However, they must yield to vehicles on the roadway before crossing the street.
Pedestrians on roadways (TCA 55-8-138)
Pedestrians must use sidewalks when they are available. When sidewalks are obstructed or there are no sidewalks in the area, pedestrians should only walk on the left side of the roadway or its shoulder facing traffic that may approach from the opposite direction.
Not doing so could land violators with a Class C misdemeanor.
Pedestrian control signals (TCA 55-8-111)
At a “Walk” signal, pedestrians facing the signal may cross in the direction of the signal and must be given the right-of-way by drivers.
At a “Don’t Walk” signal, pedestrians should not cross the roadway unless they have partially completed crossing when the “Don’t Walk” signal appears. In that case, they should finish crossing the roadway.
Traffic-control signals (TCA 55-8-110)
At a green light, vehicles can go straight, turn right or left, unless a sign prohibits either turn, after yielding the right-of-way to other vehicles and pedestrians in the intersection or crosswalk, whether it’s marked or unmarked.
Pedestrians should not enter the roadway when facing a red light, unless entry can be made safely without interfering with vehicular traffic.
Drivers to exercise due care (TCA 55-8-136)
Drivers have to “exercise due care” to avoid colliding with any pedestrian on any roadway and should give warning by sounding their horn when necessary. Drivers must also exercise proper precaution after seeing any child or any confused or incapacitated person on a roadway.
This also applies when cyclists are on the roadway, sidewalks or bike paths, and includes using caution when opening a car door. A violation of this section is a Class C misdemeanor.
Bicycles are vehicles (TCA 55-52-103)
A bicycle or adult tricycle is legally defined as a vehicle when on a highway, road, bicycle path or other public right of way.
Bicycle responsibilities (TCA 55-8-172)
Bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as car and truck drivers except as noted in TCA 55-8-171 through 55-8-177. Like drivers of cars or trucks, bicyclists have to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks and obey all traffic signs and signals.
Riding on roadways (TCA 55-8-175)
Bicyclists have to ride with the flow of traffic and as far to the right as safety allows, except when turning, passing, or to avoid hazards such as parked car doors, animals and road debris.
Drivers have to maintain a safe distance of at least 3 feet when passing someone on a bicycle. This subsection is known as the “Jeff Roth and Brian Brown Bicycle Protection Act of 2007.”
Bicycle lights and brakes (TCA 55-8-177)
At night, all bicycles must have a steady white light on the front and a red reflector or lamp on the rear. Both lights have to be visible from a distance of at least 500 feet. Every bicycle should also be equipped with brakes that allow the rider to stop within 25 feet from a speed of 10 mph.
A violation of this section could result in a Class C misdemeanor.