In the state of New York, to yield means to give the right of way to another person. That person may be another driver or it may be a pedestrian or cyclist. An upside-down, white triangle with a red border indicates the necessity to yield.
Under the NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL), §1151 Failure to yield to a pedestrian, is the most commonly cited section of law pertaining to motorist-pedestrian interaction. In NYC, you may also be cited with §4-04(b) of the NYC Traffic Rules and Regulations.
Both of these contain the same three basic points:
1. When there are no traffic control signals in place, cars must yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.
2. Pedestrians can’t just suddenly jump or run out from the sidewalk into the crosswalk in a manner which doesn’t give the driver a chance to yield.
3. If you are approaching an intersection and see another car stopped at a crosswalk in the process of yielding to a pedestrian, do not pass this vehicle.
Some things to note here:
1. These sections of law address situations where traffic control signals are not in place. When they are in place, there will likely be walk/don’t walk pedestrian signals that change in conjunction with the vehicular traffic control signals. Even when you are facing a green signal, you must yield to pedestrians who are likely facing a “walk” signal at the same time. NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL) §1112 sets forth that pedestrians facing a “walk” signal must be given the right of way by other traffic.
2. These sections of law address situations where the pedestrian is walking within a marked crosswalk. Pedestrians also have the right of way within “unmarked crosswalks” at intersections according to VTL §1152. It’s crossing in the middle of a block, not at an intersection or within a crosswalk, where pedestrians need to yield to vehicles.
3. Generally speaking, these tickets are a judgment call by the officer. How fast is the vehicle going, how quickly is the pedestrian moving, how big is the intersection, what is the distance between pedestrian and vehicle, was there some eye contact or physical gesture exchanged between motorist and pedestrian…all of these arguably come into play. That said, you (a) hopefully don’t want to hit anyone and (b) don’t know how aggressively an officer may enforce this, so just be extremely cautious and always err on the side of deferring to pedestrians.
4. All violations in NY involving moving vehicles and drivers who fail to yield the right of way are three (3) points on your NY driver license.
Basically, pedestrians will always have the right of way at an intersection, marked crosswalk or not, except when facing do not walk signals. Elsewhere on the road, vehicles have the right of way.
Regardless of the law, fair to say drivers, pedestrians, officers, traffic attorneys and traffic court judges should all be on the same page with this–trying to minimize cars hitting people. Pretty basic.