When Can Pedestrians Cross On A Red Light? (Explained)

Recently, more thought has been given to the upgrading of cities to be more pedestrian-friendly.

This is to help reduce the emissions of harmful greenhouse gasses and create safer and more accessible walking routes for pedestrians.

With this in mind, it has become increasingly important for pedestrians to know when they can safely cross the street.

In this article, we take a closer look rules for pedestrians at red lights.

Here are the Rules for Pedestrians at Traffic Lights:

At a crossing, pedestrians must always follow the traffic light signals. A red light always means stop. If the light is red but there are no cars, pedestrians must still follow the crossing signals. Jaywalking is a ticketable offense in most states, though the specifics vary from state to state.

Can Pedestrians Ever Cross at a Red Light?

Knowing the road rules for pedestrians and vehicles is crucial–it saves lives.

For example, in 2020, there were sadly 65 pedestrian fatalities in Connecticut. This number could have been reduced if more drivers and walkers had been fully aware of the rules of the road.

A red light, whether a traffic light at an interesting or a pedestrian crossing light, is a universal signal to STOP.

If the traffic or crossing light you are facing is red, it means the light elsewhere is green and cars will be moving.

In some states, vehicles are allowed to turn right at a red light. However, this is not the case for pedestrians; they must stop at a red light.

Do the Rules Differ Across Different U.S. States?

Based on our research, the rules for pedestrians at red lights are the same in each state.

At an unmarked crossing at an intersection, the general rule is that pedestrians should yield the right-of-way to vehicles when crossing.

However, the rules here may vary across different states.

If you are unsure about the rules in your specific location, we suggest you contact your local traffic authority so that you’re in the know.

Can Pedestrians Cross at a Red Light if There are No Cars?

There seems to be some confusion about what pedestrians may or may not do at a red light if there is no oncoming traffic.

In some European countries, pedestrians sometimes cross at a red light if there are no cars. However, in the USA, the rule is that pedestrians should always follow the rules of the traffic lights.

In addition to following road rules for safety, this is also advisable for legal reasons if there were to be an accident.

However, we weren’t able to find clear state-specific information on this.

If you have found yourself in this situation or need to walk late at night, we recommend contacting your local traffic authority for further information.

Can you Walk Through a Red Light at a Pedestrian Crossing?

If you are at an intersection that has crossing lights, do not cross on a red light.

Signals that mean stop are:

  • A solid red light
  • A red man
  • “Don’t Walk” sign
  • “Wait” sign
  • An upraised hand

Pedestrians have the right of way at these marked crossings with lights, and cars must yield to walking pedestrians.

If the signal is red/stop and you want to cross, press the push button on the crossing light. Wait until the red light changes to green, “Walk” or a green man.

If the pedestrian crossing does not have lights or signals, you should check carefully for moving cars, and if there is a decent gap, you may walk across the road with caution.

If you are visually impaired and struggle to see the lights or signage, in many places, there are rapid “beeps” or “clicks” that sound out to indicate when it is safe to walk. Though, we realize that this may not be sufficient in noisy cities.

Can Pedestrians Avoid Red Lights by Jaywalking?

The safest place to cross a road is at a marked crosswalk. If there is no marked crosswalk, the next best choice you can make is to cross at an intersection.

Unfortunately, many towns are designed primarily for vehicle transportation.

So, what do you do if there is no intersection and no marked crossing anywhere nearby?

In many states, jaywalking is not legal, and if you are caught crossing a road outside of a marked crossing, you can be given a ticket and fined.

However, the specific rules regarding jaywalking differ from state to state.

In most states, pedestrians may never jaywalk, and it is always a ticketable offense. This means that you must walk along the curb until you reach a crossing or intersection.

However, the specific rules regarding jaywalking differ from state to state.

For example, in California, new state law was passed that now permits pedestrians to cross the road outside of marked crossing in certain circumstances.

Pedestrians may now cross the road outside of a marked crossing, provided that:

  • there is a reasonable distance between oncoming vehicles
  • the pedestrian is not obstructing the road or causing a delay in traffic

We recommend that you also read our article answering the question, Can Pedestrians cross the road anywhere?

Final Thoughts

Whether you are a vehicle driver, cyclist, or pedestrian, it’s crucial that you know and follow the rules of the road.

These rules have been made to keep lives safe and prevent accidents. Unfortunately, some rules for pedestrians are not always entirely practical or safe.

We hope that town planners will continue to be more aware and inclusive so that our towns and cities are more accessible for all people.


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