Don: To answer your question, Ace went straight to the source: the Code of Virginia (for Ace’s less legally inclined readers, that’s the big book of laws that breaks down what you can and can’t do in the Old Dominion). Unfortunately, Ace got a little distracted once he flipped to the section on traffic violations. Did you know that it’s against the law to coast down a hill in neutral? That there’s a law entitled “Riding animals on highways after sunset?” That you can’t drive more than 13 hours at a time? Which begs the question of enforcement: Would a cop have to follow you for over 13 hours—during which you’re apparently driving in circles, since 13 hours in any direction puts you outside state lines—to make the arrest? Wouldn’t he then be in violation of the law himself? Can police officers arrest themselves? Pressing questions, all of them, but for another day and another column. Luckily, the section on right-of-way came right after section 46-242.1, “Driving over fire hose,” so Ace has some answers for you.
Does the pedestrian always have the right of way? Are there any circumstances when you could get hit by a car while walking and it’s your fault, not the driver’s?—Don Twalk
In Virginia, a driver must yield to pedestrians at “any clearly marked crosswalk” and at “any intersection…where the legal maximum speed does not exceed 35 miles per hour.” So does that mean that if the speed limit is 40 mph and there’s no crosswalk, you can just barrel through an intersection, sending schoolchildren and senior citizens flying like so many fleshy bowling pins? Ace doesn’t recommend it, but if they’re just standing in the middle of the street and you did your best to stop, you’re not going to be held criminally liable for any broken hips or cracked iPod screens. As far as the law’s concerned, the pedestrian has to look both ways, and that’s about it—use of the buddy system is helpful but not legally enforced. That is, if pedestrians “carelessly or maliciously interfere with the orderly passage of vehicles” or “enter or cross an intersection in disregard of approaching traffic,” they’re being negligent. If they get hit, well, too bad.
So, Don, the pedestrian has right of way when it’s reasonable and doesn’t when it’s not. As long as you’re not out on 250 playing chicken, you should be all right.