Everyone at some point in their life becomes a pedestrian. No matter if you stroll, jog, run, sprint, or just casually amble, there’s no escaping the rules, responsibilities, and not to mention the risks that come with being a pedestrian in the great state of Montana.
Don’t fret. Montana has relatively common sense right-of-way laws that are easy to understand in case you encounter a roadway situation lacking in visible traffic signs and signals. The following is a definitive guide to everything you should know before lacing up your Nikes and hitting the hot (likely snowy) pavement of Montana.
Basic Montana Pedestrian Laws
There’s no escaping it. Both pedestrians and automobile drivers are required to obey Montana’s right-of-way laws. Regardless of whether a pedestrian is illegally crossing a road or highway, motorists are required by law to yield to any pedestrian in their path. Unless a pedestrian is secretly superhuman, they will likely be seriously injured after a collision with an automobile. An additional note for drivers is to be attentive for pedestrians being lead by a guide dog or who are equipped with a white cane. These pedestrians are likely handicapped and always have the right of way according to Montana law.
The only times pedestrians are legally protected to cross a roadway either in a crosswalk or at an intersection. If you absolutely must cross a roadway that does not have a designated crosswalk or an intersection nearby, you should only do so when you are 100 percent certain there is no traffic coming in either direction. If there is a sharp curve that you are unable to see around walk further down the road until you are certain no vehicles are approaching in either direction.
Montana Crosswalks and You
Every pedestrian and driver should know that there are 2 types of crosswalks, how to correctly identify them, and what exactly are the laws governing their use. Below is what you should know about each type of crosswalk:
Marked Pedestrian Crosswalks
A marked crosswalk is easy to identify. Most marked crosswalks in Montana consist of two bright white lines that outline precisely where pedestrians are sanctioned to cross the road. When approaching a marked crosswalk, drivers should be attentive to any nearby pedestrians attempting to use the crosswalk. If a driver encounters a pedestrian in a crosswalk, they should slow down and come to a full stop at a safe distance from the marked crosswalk and the pedestrian. Only after the pedestrian is completely clear of the crosswalk may the driver proceed along their path of travel. Failure to yield to a pedestrian carries serious penalties.
While pedestrians have the right-of-way in a marked crosswalk, they should use common sense and not step directly in front of a speeding vehicle. Pedestrians should stay alert to approaching vehicles and give them enough time to properly stop before entering a crosswalk.
Unmarked Pedestrian Crosswalks
While unmarked crosswalks are more difficult to identify, they are far more prevalent than marked crosswalks. Put simply, unmarked crosswalks are the section of the street connecting the lateral lines of two sidewalks across the intersection. Drivers are advised to follow the same rules for unmarked crosswalks as they would for marked crosswalks.
Drivers are allowed to make a right turn at a crosswalk as long as the pedestrian has already passed the driver’s vehicle. Drivers are also not allowed to pass other vehicles that are stopped at a crosswalk.
Pedestrians and drivers both can be confused by just what pedestrian laws govern intersections in Montana. The following is a helpful list of the most pertinent intersection rules every Montanan should know:
- Examples of what constitutes an intersection are cross streets, side streets, freeway entrances, and roundabouts
- Pedestrians should wait for a traffic signal before crossing an intersection
- Driven should yield to pedestrians who are already in the intersection
- Any driver who crosses an intersection that is without a stop or yield sign should decrease their speed and be fully prepared to stop
- Drivers should be especially alert for pedestrians when driving through a roundabout
- Whomever arrives first at an intersection with a stop sign, whether they be driver or pedestrian, has the right-of-way according to Montana law
Miscellaneous Montana Pedestrian Laws
There are a number of additional pedestrian laws Montanan commuters should be aware of. Some may seem obvious matters of common sense, while others are a bit more esoteric. Check out the list below and see how many you know.
Funeral Processions: According to Montana law, funeral proccessions have the right of way over not just motor vehicles but pedestrians as well. If you are one day crossing a street and come across a funderal procession be sure to give the fleet of cars the right of way.
Bicyclists Versus Pedestrians: Pedestrians win this round. Bicyclists are required to typically give pedestrians the right of way in most situations. If a bicyclist approaches a pedestrian on a sidewalk, in a crosswalk, or in a multi-use lane they should not only afford the pedestrian the right of way, they should also give an audible signal as well.
Sled and Sleigh Laws: Near the end of the 19th century it was illegal in Montana for sleighs and sleds to cross intersections without at first ringing a bell to warn nearby pedestrians. The fine for violating this law was a maximum fine of $100, which today would be close to an astounding $3,000. Thankfully this law isn’t needed much these days.
The Sleigh law brings us to our final and likely least favorite pedestrian laws: traffic fines. Ask anyone in Billings or Butte and they will tell you that Montana Police take jaywalking very seriously. They will not hesitate to write you a ticket for crossing the street outside of a designated crosswalk or intersection. Do your wallet a favor and take the time to cross at the intersection.
Likewise, any motorist who fails to yield to a pedestrian risks being saddled with hundreds of dollars in fines. For example, in the city of Helena right-of-way violations can reach up to just under $200. You could also receive two demerits on your driver’s license as well, so it’s best to be cautious out there. When in doubt just do the right thing and yield already.
If you have any further questions be sure to check out Chapter 4 of the Montana Driver Manual, and remember to always be safe out there, Montanans.