Cars And Pedestrians -- Can't We All Just Get Along?

With the weather warming, more people will be out walking and on bicycles. They'll be crossing streets in front of cars and trucks, sometimes in a crosswalk, sometimes not. This is a good time to review Iowa law regarding the rights and duties of pedestrians. Iowa Code sections 321.325-321.340 contains Iowa's rules concerning pedestrians and motor vehicles.

In areas where there are traffic signals (traffic lights, pedestrian walk/don't walk signs, etc.), Iowa Code 321.325 requires pedestrians to obey the signals, just like any car would have to. When there are no traffic lights, but pedestrians are still crossing in a marked crosswalk or at any intersection, Iowa Code 321.327 mandates that "the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way, slowing down or stopping if need be to so yield, to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection." On the other hand, Iowa Code 321.328 requires pedestrians that cross outside of a marked crosswalk or an intersection to yield the right-of-way to motor vehicle traffic. But, regardless of whether a pedestrian is crossing legally or illegally, Iowa Code 321.329 states that "every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway and shall give warning by sounding the horn when necessary and shall exercise due care upon observing any child or any confused or incapacitated person upon a roadway."   

Truthfully, these laws get broken all the time. Pedestrians, especially children (which is why they get a special mention under Iowa Code 321.329), cross where they're not supposed to or when they're not supposed to. Drivers blast on by pedestrians when instead they should be stopping, yielding the right of way to the pedestrian, and allowing them to cross. Luckily, most of the time vehicles go past pedestrians without hitting them in situations in which one of them has broken the above rules. But when pedestrian/vehicle collisions do occur, the unprotected pedestrian can often suffer catastrophic, if not fatal, injuries.

If a lawsuit happens because of a pedestrian/vehicle accident, one major fight in the case will be both party's compliance with their respective Iowa Code obligations, summarized above. Pedestrians who are hit while crossing a street at an illegal place or at an illegal time may find that their legal recovery is barred or significantly reduced through their own fault, as manifested through their failure to obey Iowa's pedestrian laws. And drivers who fail to yield the right of way to a pedestrian and hit someone, especially in a marked crosswalk, are guaranteed to be found liable and face substantial money damage exposure, especially if they plead guilty to or are found guilty of a criminal offense related to the pedestrian accident.      

Harley Erbe