Casual Fridays: When do you stop for pedestrians?

Greta walks a mile to work every day. I work at home, so I don't walk around town much. I'm much more likely to be driving down the street where we live than walking on it.

Does this affect our attitude towards pedestrians when we drive? Greta and I have also both noticed that there are certain situations where drivers seem more likely to stop for pedestrians than others. Is it a universal rule? Or are our own observations biased by our personal experience?

This week's study may give us a way to find out. I've taken several photos of a pedestrian at/approaching a crosswalk. Your job is to imagine you're driving a car and describe how you would react in each situation. Be honest! If you have your own theory about when drivers will and will not respond, be sure to let us know about it in the comments.

Click here to participate

The study has about 20 questions; it should take about 3-5 minutes to complete. You have until Thursday, December 4 to respond. There is no limit on the number of responses.

Don't forget to return next week for the results!

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I didn't have a car of my own until after college, so I did a lot of walking. I also drove cab for several years, discovering that obeying traffic laws is dirt-simple and easy. While I drove cab, I could walk to work so I didn't have a car during that period.

Pedestrians are defenseless and need our protection. Fairness and safety are two reasons to drive sanely and responsibly.

I'm the guy who will make a full stop first, and then point to a pedestrian, or a driver trying to pull into traffic, and wave for them to go ahead. I make a point of trying to make up for all of the pricks out there on the road.

What a strange intersection. Is there a reason why there is apparently no painted crosswalk to the far right corner from the opposite side of either road? Is there a reason why one of the visible crosswalks is zebra striped and the other isn't?

Until a few years ago, I didn't drive, I walked everywhere. I always stop for pedestrians, even if they're not crossing at an intersection or crosswalk.

During the week I walk or cycle everywhere, I only drive on the weekend if we're going away. One thing I've really noticed around here is that people who previously would happily drive over a pedestrian crossing while I'm walking on it, or make me leap backwards out of their way, will now stop even when there is no crossing if I look like I'm trying to cross the road because we know have a 6mth old in a pram. Suburban speed limits here are 50km/hr, but the average motorist speed is 65-75.

In several of those situations, I would slow down to determine what the pedestrian is doing, so that I will have time to stop if the pedestrian decides to cross the road, but not actually stop, if the pedestrian decides to wait, basically if the pedestrian wants the right of way I give it to them, and I try to signal to them that they can have it if they want it.

You should have put in some jaywalking examples. I know some people will stop for anyone even if it's a dangerous place to cross.

In some of the situations it seemed to me there were things that made the decision pretty clear-cut regardless of how you feel about pedestrians. For example, in a lot of the pictures our paths wouldn't even intersect, so there's no reason to slow down.

Crosswalk laws in Georgia are pretty logical: crosswalks are generally placed in safe, logical locations for pedestrians, and they are required to use them instead of crossing wherever they feel like it. Likewise, cars are required to stop whenever a pedestrian is in or entering a crosswalk. The law is primarily to protect pedestrians, but it also serves to make traffic more consistent and predictable. Stopping for anyone who is stepping into the street without a crosswalk is, by creating unexpected change in traffic, inviting an accident. Consistency and predictability are the key to safe roads. Attentive drivers, cyclist, and pedestrians cannot be counted on.

I can understand the idea of making driving so inconvenient and unpleasant that humans abandon automobiles entirely - that would be a lovely outcome. However, it ain't gonna happen. Bicycle and pedestrian laws have evolved greatly over the last century. They protect cyclists and pedestrians while maintaining traffic flow as best they can. Of course, there will always be uninformed pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers who flout the laws and cause problems for everyone else.

I stop for pedestrians when they are using a Walk/Don't Walk crosswalk or a striped crosswalk with a PED XING sign. Otherwise, I won't stop unless I will hit them otherwise. I don't believe in rewarding poor behavior. By poor behavior, I mean walking in front of cars when they shouldn't.

American pedestrians have it really good, and they still push it. It's no good, because if they are conditioned by having cars stop for sloppy jaywalking, they might do it when they don't realize an oncoming car doesn't even notice them. And the car isn't the one that is going to get hurt.

I'm all for practical jaywalking. The most excellent form of jaywalking I've seen is in Chicago, where the pedestrians will beautifully skip across what appears a busy street, without encumbering a single driver. As long as the pedestrian realizes that by jaywalking, they must not impede the flow of traffic in any way--no harm, no foul. Otherwise, use a correct crosswalk.

It's a bit confusing for me because you people drive on the wrong side of the road :P
That said, I would've liked a "I'd slow down" option - for the situations where the person is either quickly approaching the crossing but not yet (getting) on it, and for those situations where the person is possibly going to cross at a non-crossing, I'd slow down and evaluate what they're going to do.

I have to say I have no idea what 25 mph or 45 mph is, so I'm assuming they're approximately urban area speed vs slowish highway speed or something.

I also would have liked a slow down option . . . I live in an urban area and I often stop for pedestrians (unless they stop to me). When approaching people near the roadway I often cut my speed to see what they are going to do. If I did not, I am sure that I would have faced vehicular manslaughter by now. People jump out in front of moving cars all the time!

By Charlotte (not verified) on 28 Nov 2008 #permalink

I walk almost everywhere (I also ride a bicycle, but don't have a drivers license), and one of the things that jumped out at me from the pictures is that in a lot of them it's hard to see the pedestrian. Are we really that hard to see? Drivers? (On the other hand, as another pedestrian, I can safely treat them as invisible unless I'm almost on top of them (which is a luxury people on wheels don't have), so it might just be that it's not something I've learned to look for.)
When I'm waiting to cross, I make a habit of standing right next to the road while I check/wait for traffic, in an attempt to make both the fact that I'm there and my intent to cross as clear as possible. Does this actually work?

As far as car behavior, I'm with Mike@#9.
One of the things that really annoys me as a pedestrian is when I'm waiting to cross without right of way, and cars slow down for me. Not only do I have to wait while I figure out what they're going to do (are they waiting to see what I'll do? Are they going to stop for me even though they have right of way?), but they often end up closing the gap behind them that I was planning to use. (This is especially bad when they're in the far lane of a road I've entered assuming they'll be past by the time I get to their lane, which I do quite often. I've always attributed this particular habit of mine to playing too much Frogger during my formative years.)
When I do have right of way, though, I will cheerfully assert my right of way and expect any cars to stop for me.
(In general, whether on foot or on bike, the most reliable way to annoy me is to try to yield when you have right of way. Predictable is always safer, and that means following the same rules as everybody else.)

Add me to the list who would have liked a "Slow Down" option. Even when it seems clear that the pedestrian would be across the street by the time I get to the corner, I slow a bit "just in case" the pedestrian moves more slowly than expected, or falls, or ...

I typically walk 20 to 30 miles a week in an heavy-traffic urban environment, yet find this quiz almost completely wrongheaded. I don't much expect cars to slow or stop for me trying to cross the street, and in fact, their doing so can make crossing an urban street more difficult, since a pedestrian is timing gaps in traffic from both directions. (The special crosswalk in the example is an oddity.)

My most frequent "near misses" are 1) from SUVs being backed out of a driveway or parking space, and 2) from cars turning right, where the driver has eyes glued left waiting to jump into their gap in oncoming traffic, but ignoring pedestrians crossing from their right. If I could change one thing about drivers, it would be to have them pay more attention, always.

The changes I would favor to urban roads to make them more pedestrian friendly are: a) no streets that force pedestrians into the traffic lanes, b) more one-way streets and streets with medians, both of which make crossing far easier, c) traffic lights designed so that pedestrians can see their state from behind, d) overhead or underground pedestrian passes for highways and other truly horrendous roads.

I'm more interested in pedestrian behavior than driver behavior. For the record, I drive frequently.

I live in California but grew up in the northeast. The rules and expectations seem quite different in the two places. I usually describe the California rules as protect suicidal pedestrians. My own hobby horse is pedestrians who cross without even looking at the traffic.

My own behavior seems to confound drivers around here. If a car is coming and I would have to speed up to get in front of it I assume it will keep going. If it starts to slow down, so do I. I don't care what the law says, I'm not stepping in front of thousands of pounds of moving metal. I sometimes end up with both the car and myself stopped. Now the driver is mad at me for holding him or her up, so I have to turn my back in order to get them to go. Also if a car reaches a stop sign in front of a cross walk and I haven't started to cross I wait for it to go. I sometimes have to signal vigorously to get them to move. I've noticed that many people think it's polite the cross quickly once a car has stopped for them. I think it's even more polite to let the car go.

I really like the rule that I've seen posted in some Canadian cities. If you want the car to stop then you signal them to do so. If not they can keep going.

I don't normally deface signs, but I've seen signs saying drivers should be more careful watching for pedestrians and warning them of the fines for not stopping. When I can I add a note telling pedestrians to watch out for cars and warning them that the penalties for failing to notice a car are a lot worse.

By Jerry Schwarz (not verified) on 28 Nov 2008 #permalink

Jerry Schwarz @#15: "Also if a car reaches a stop sign in front of a cross walk and I haven't started to cross I wait for it to go. I sometimes have to signal vigorously to get them to move. I've noticed that many people think it's polite the cross quickly once a car has stopped for them. I think it's even more polite to let the car go."

No, it's more polite to follow the same rules of the road that everybody else is following.
A pedestrian crossing at an unsignalled crosswalk (or at a signalled crosswalk when they have a "walk" light) has right of way over any vehicle, unless the vehicle is close enough and moving fast enough that it can't reasonably stop in time to not hit the pedestrian.
Refusing to cross when you have right of way slows everybody down and annoys people. It also increases the risk of accidents by making you less predictable.

My results were probably skewed. I drove a cab for several years and made it my personal mission to provide pedestrians a chance to cross the street.

I would even go as far as opening the driver's door to my vehicle when a car behind me would get it in their head to speed up and swerve around me while a pedestrian or child was crossing in front of me.

Better their car damaged than a person.

I expect your answers will vary widely by city. In Seattle almost everyone stops for pedestrians, which sounds great, until a Seattleite moves to some less-friendly city and gets flattened on the first crossing attempt.

You know when I wish people would stop? When I standing underneath the giant sign that says "RIGHT TURN YIELD TO PEDS". I stand there and stand there and cars just keep on going by. It makes it hard to catch the bus. I've had about 5 people actually follow instructions. [shakes head]

keldwun@#17: "I would even go as far as opening the driver's door to my vehicle when a car behind me would get it in their head to speed up and swerve around me"
Bwahaha. Awesome. "Oh, look! There's a car stopped at a crosswalk. I wonder what for? Never mind, I'll just pass it."... yeah, that's going to end well. I'd love to hear somebody you caught trying to explain it to their insurance company.

One more vote for the "slow down" option. There are clear-cut cases where I would absolutely stop - when the pedestrian is in or at the crosswalk and clearly intending to cross - but there are many ambiguous situations as well. I've not only seen many times, but BEEN the person standing at or near a corner waiting to flag down someone who was lost. I don't expect people to stop for me when I'm simply standing there showing no intent to cross. Likewise, if someone has a crosswalk available but chooses not to use it, or is simply standing at the corner not moving toward the road, I don't stop unless I'll hit them if I don't. (Crosswalks are there for a REASON. USE them.)

Also, the examples showing someone approaching the corner but not AT the corner - for all I know they're going to turn and walk down the street/road I'm driving on. I would watch to see what they were going to do, but I wouldn't stop for someone who was only walking to the corner and not crossing.

The other factor you did not address in setting the situation is how aware the four cars behind you are. I've stopped for a pedestrian and come a whisker's breadth from being rear-ended many times. I've had the car behind me have to swerve and end up beside me twice. If I know the person behind me is NOT paying attention that plays into my decision as well.

(In general, whether on foot or on bike, the most reliable way to annoy me is to try to yield when you have right of way. Predictable is always safer, and that means following the same rules as everybody else.)

As a pedestrian (and as a cyclist) I hate second-guessing games. I absolutely do not depend, ever, on a 4,000-lb car moving 30mph to stop for my fragile little body. People are distracted, they're stupid, they're mean. I wait for a gap in traffic and cross.

Also it's generally safer to cross in mid-block, where the speed and direction of cars is more predictable, than at intersections.

I started to take the survey and gave up. As a driver, I look far ahead and adjust my speed a little to give the pedestrian time to clear my lane before I pass. I don't speed.

Stopping and starting results in a traffic 'flow' that is unpredictable. Depending on some rule, and the attention and obedience of drivers, is suicide.

I am delighted to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks and will most often do so...if I see them.

For example, one crosswalk I drive past several times a day is just over the top of a hill, so that by the time I can definitely see if there's a pedestrian there, I'm already unable to stop.

The crosswalk is also placed in front of a bus stop, so when I'm coming from the other direction, half the time when I slow down, the person stares at me like I'm nuts, because they're not trying to cross.

In other situations, I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm simply so busy trying to keep an eye on all the other cars that I *forget* to check for crossing pedestrians. I hate when I'm one of the people blowing by a pedestrian trying to cross, but it certainly does happen.

There were a couple where I would have slowed and tried to make eye contact with the pedestrian. Whether I would stop there or not would depend on what the pedestrian does. I put I would stop, because I would - sometimes.

Number 8, to me, was problematic. I put "yes", but that is a tentative yes. From the photo, it's hard to tell whether the pedestrian is aware of me and how fast she's moving.

My first consideration is: is the person on or already entering an official crosswalk? I stop if they are, and if they aren't then other considerations come into play. If they are still on the sidewalk, I'm not as worried and probably won't stop unless there is some other legal directive to do so.

How fast are they moving? Are they just meandering along, with plenty of time to see and react? Are they headed into the road at a fast walk or a jog?

What direction are they looking? Are they aware of me, and are they aware of other oncoming traffic? If they are on my side of the road, and not looking at me, then I don't know if they are aware of me and I better stop; if they are on the other side of the road, I'm not as worried, and maybe my passing them will wake them up a little bit before they get in the path of someone else. If they are on the other side of the road, and there is oncoming traffic, and they do not appear to be aware of the oncoming traffic, then I will slow to a stop and prepare to use my horn if absolutely necessary to wake them and the oncoming driver up if necessary -- I have real aversion to seeing people hit by cars, but I do see too many pedestrians march straight out into the road without paying much attention, too.

Final question is, what ARE the cars behind me doing? If I have a car sitting right up inside my tailpipe, I'd slow to give the pedestrian more time to react but would probably keep going in situations where I would be otherwise inclined to stop, because I don't want the car behind me sitting in my back seat, suddenly, either.

All in all, I'm yet another person who thinks you need a "slow down" option in there, because there were a few situations where I would want to assess what everyone else is doing before I make the decision whether or not to stop. And much of my judgements do overlap with what Mike has written.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 29 Nov 2008 #permalink

In New York City it is hazardous to ctoss streets since there are no right turns on red. I had to ask a NY police officer for clarification since I'm a Californian and we stop for pedestrians, for the most part. No right turns on red means that taxis, cars and trucks are allowed to turn into the crosswalk before a pedestrian has completely crossed the street. Imagine being elderly with a walker or a parent with youngsters in tow witha stroller. It's indeed hazardous. However, NYers are notorious for crossing on reds creating frustration for everyone, motorists and pedestrians.

I second very much of what's been said in previous comments.
I also try to stop, if I see the pedestrian and it seems clear to me that they wish to cross.

However I stop much more often if the pedestrian is a child, or a young woman. Or an old person. I'll stop for an attractive woman anytime.

I would have liked a "slow down" option, also. I try to keep in mind that, even if they are exhibiting bad behavior, I am the one in a "full metal jacket" and if I hit one of these peds, it's going to hurt him/her a lot more than it's going to hurt me. So, yes, I give them plenty of leeway and am happy to do it. I also give even more leeway to pedestrians when the weather is bad. For instance, if someone is out in the rain, I'll give them even more time and space to get where they are going-- even if it means I'll be held up for 30 extra seconds. I am the one safe and sound in a car.
I grew up on a farm and was very used to waiting for traffic going at high speeds (above 55), moved to a very liberal and pedestrian-loving city where walkers RULED-- you could barely drive there, people were always walking in front of you), and then to a large urban area and now a suburban area. I don't see much difference between the last two for my driving style and pedestrians' habits...

Too bad you didn't have a child running after a ball. I will stop no matter what if I see a running child.

I am a frequent walk-to-subway pedistrian. If I am in the crosswalk waiting I like cars to stop. Otherwise I do not expect them to stop.

As someone else noted, I expect that cars will not stop and usually prefer just to wait until no one is coming. On a four lane road I'd rather not walk with a car in one lane stopped because I fear another car in the other lane will zoom right on into me.

Even trickier questions arise when you are crossing with a light and cars are turning into your street. i'd rather not cross with the light than risk someone quickly swinging into me trying to execute a turn.

Since it's getting dark earlier I now walk with a flashing reflective device.

My jurisdiction has been posting mobile traffic cameras on the route I drive most frequently. I could care less what the cars behind me are doing because I am going 25-30 mph (because I know I'll get a ticket). They can just honk if they want.

I will usually stop for a pedestrian after I have dragged him about 100 feet.

It's a sad, sad world we live in.

By BobbyEarle (not verified) on 30 Nov 2008 #permalink

I'm one of those people who stops for all pedestrians, bicyclists, etc.

Here's a story that encapsulates my experience with drivers on Long Island.

One day I was driving along a fairly busy street (that wasn't particularly busy at the time) when I saw a small elderly woman jaywalking across the street. She was moving extremely slowly. She was crossing 5 lanes from the opposite side of the street and had made it about 1/2 way through the second lane. I had plenty of time to get past her, but decided to stop and make sure she made it safely across the street.

I pumped the breaks twice to alert any drivers behind me (there were none), then stopped completely and waved her across the street. She smile and waved 'thank you.'

After about 30 seconds (the woman was now partway into the center, turning lane), a car pulled up next to me and started honking frantically. The woman was startled and stopped. I waved her across and she continued her trek. The car continue to honk frantically. I kept both eyes on the woman, glancing occasionally in the rearview to make sure everything was clear. The car continued to honk frantically even as the woman completed crossing the street and made it safely to the other side. I looked to my right and saw a 30-something mother in a minivan (complete with "baby on board" sign and soccer equipment and a sticker of stick figures indicating 3 children, husband and two cats) gesturing frantically for me to roll down my window.

I rolled down the passenger window. Did she say "Thank you for stopping for the old woman hobbling across the street. You're a gentleman and a credit to the human race?" Nope. Her exact quote? "What you just did was f***ing dangerous! You could've killed somebody? What the f*** were you thinking?"

I said, "Well, you know, pedestrians have the right of way, and I wanted to make sure the woman made it across the street."

She continued to scream at me for several minutes, how she didn't see me until the last minute, how stopping in the middle of the road is extremely dangerous, how she was in a hurry and not paying attention to the road and suddenly I was stopped there and she nearly hit me and killed me and her and her baby.

I waved and told her to have a nice day. She screamed more profanity at me as she literally burned rubber pulling away.

Not quite as extreme as James, but where I live, if you went 25 in a 25 zone (I do) the four cars behind me in the example would probably be zooming past me, or at least riding right on my rear bumper. I usually go within about 5 miles of the speed limit because I have very bad luck with getting pulled over, but in 25 zones I always go slow. I live on a residential street with kids, dogs, cats, etc. and when I see minivans go screaming by it makes my blood boil.

That said, I stop for pedestrians if they are in the road or very near it, whether they're at a crosswalk or not, because I don't want to hurt anyone, and to heck with whether anyone following me likes it or not. If they're approaching the corner or near it as in some of these pictures I will wait like some of these commenters to see what they'll do. Usually I figure, I'm in my car where it's dry and climate-controlled and I'm sitting down. They're walking in the rain or snow or goodness knows what else! Let them get where they're going first. :-)

I stop if someone is already out in the road, and slow down if I see them moving toward the road. I also slow down whenever I see children, because who knows what they'll do?

I've thought about this myself before, and in paying attention to my own patterns I realized that I am much more likely to stop for joggers or people carrying things than I am a person who is walking empty handed. (I am a jogger and I walk to the grocery store) Also when its raining I'm more likely to stop - I guess due to empathy for people standing outside in the rain. Almost equally though, my actions depend on how deliberate the pedestrian's actions are; are they meandering, or do they seem to be paying attention and actually waiting to cross? Of course, on coming traffic is a factor for me as well, I won't stop if on coming cars don't seem to slow.
An important consideration though is I am an avid runner and biker, and this past summer an oblivious driver nearly hit me mid-crosswalk (in dodging the car i sprained my ankle) and have paid much more attention to pedestrians ever since.

I have given this quite a bit of thought. If I'm crossing the street and I can look the driver right in the eye, they stop 100% of the time. It's like if they think they can get away with it they'll clip you but if they KNOW you're watching them straight-up, they always stop. That assumes most drivers are at least aware you're there of course.

I am generally a cautious, well mannered driver. I always try to provide fellow drivers, pedestrians and (especially) cyclists, the right of way. I seldom speed more than 2-3 miles over the speed limit.
However... I found myself claiming that I would not stop in many of the survey questions. Looking back over my answers I appears that my willingness to stop had a LOT to do with whether the pedestrian was looking or not.
The first comment claims that pedestrians "need our protection" ... but they oughtn't trust that THEIR safety is the primary concern of drivers. They should be relying on anyone other than themselves to keep them safe.
A couple of survey questions had me begrudgingly clicking "yes" when what I really wanted was "yes, accompanied with angry honking to awaken them from their daydream!"
The fact that there were other cars behind me was a non-issue. The fact that the pedestrian wasn't paying attention drove me crazy.

I live in South Korea and the pedestrian/driver relationship is a special one to be sure. (lets count bikes as pedestrians in this case since in Korea they are supposed to use the sidewalk) If a pedestrian wants to use a crosswalk (even if there is a green walking man) they have to check to make sure no one is going to blow right through the red light (this is VERY common). The cars will often keep driving as if they don't see the pedestrians (which makes it tricky because maybe they really don't) and they only stop if the pedestrians walk in front of their car. I usually make sure that I'm far away enough that I can take one big strong step toward the street and that usually makes the car stop. If they don't I just wait till they pass and probably curse them under my breath for trying to kill pedestrians.

I've done your test but I have what I think is a very clear criteria on the question of stopping my vehicle for others. And it's due to the fact that I drive a motorcycle and so I'm used to get no respect from car drivers as I'm the weak one in case of crash.

So my criteria is that, besides what's mandated in traffic rules due to right of way and so on, I give way to whoever is weaker than me. As I drive a motorcycle, that means pedestrians, bicycles and so on. Cars and trucks usually do not give me way even if I got right of way so I do not care about them and just treat them as dangerous hazards to avoid.

That means that in the test I gave always way to the pedestrians except when they are very far away and I can pass before them without bothering them.

By El Guerrero de… (not verified) on 01 Dec 2008 #permalink

There were cars behind me? I thought it said NO cars behind me! Hmmm... Anyway, I too would have liked a "slow down" option (because that's what I would have done in many cases).

#31 and #32 reminded me of something I face regularly. I live a block from a middle school. I walk my own kids to their (K-8) school most mornings, and we're walking at the same time that kids are being dropped off. It irks me to no end to see how idiotic some of these drivers are - it's like they think "okay, I got MY kid to school safely, now I can check out!" It's frightening at times.

TJ@#39: "It irks me to no end to see how idiotic some of these drivers are"
Carry a camera.
(Posting pictures on the intertubes is optional.)

Here's how I approach such situations. First, is the pedestrian in the crosswalk or not? Second, is the pedestrian moving towards the crosswalk or standing still? Third, is the pedestrian looking at me or the traffic flow I'm part of or looking somewhere else? Finally, how close behind are vehicles following me?

As for the survey: "slow down" seems a perfectly reasonable option: often, you can't tell from a still photo (or in an instant) what a pedestrian is doing, and slowing makes it easier to stop should that be required but doesn't inconvenience other drivers (or confuse the ped) if the ped has no intention of crossing at that moment.

Anyway: I interpret the law to say that I should yield to a ped *within* the someone standing past the curb isn't *in* the crosswalk, and so does not compel me to yield. (Obviously, if someone's running headlong into the intersection, right-of-way is irrelevant, and I'll stop!) Someone moving toward the intersection catches my attention more than someone standing still: the stander might not be interested in crossing at all. If the ped is paying attention, depending on the situation I may indicate either that I am going through (if the ped is standing on the sidewalk, for example) or I'll stop. If the ped is oblivious, I will slow...or if oblivious, standing, and facing the other way, assume the ped has no intention of crossing. Slowing is also the likelier option if vehicles are following closely. If I can't safely stop w/o being rearended and the ped looks like crossing, this is where I'd use the horn.