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America classifies its interstate highway system as “access-controlled roads.” Therefore, it is illegal for pedestrians to “access” or walk onto this highway. It is also unlawful for slow-moving vehicles such as bicycles to enter the interstate highway. This law keeps both drives and pedestrians safe. Experts agree, even in an emergency, you should do everything in your power to avoid walking on the highway.

What is an access-controlled road?

It is illegal to walk on the highway such as I95 interstate freeway, pictured here.  | Joe Raedle/Getty Image
I95 is part of the US Interstate Highway System | Joe Raedle/Getty Image

The word highway means a road designed for motor vehicles with a limited number of access points. These are usually on/off ramps. Many, but not all, US highways are part of the American Interstate system. This is a system of highways the federal government designed to make travel between states easier. In some parts of the country, people also refer to highways as freeways.

One more definition: A pedestrian is simply a person walking alongside people using other forms of transportation. Pedestrian deaths have been spiking since 2017. The number of pedestrians involved in fatal accidents continued to rise through 2020. The government wants to keep pedestrians safe. Therefore, lawmakers control where pedestrians are allowed.

Is it illegal to walk on the shoulder of the highway, freeway, or interstate?

Highway entrance and exit ramp signage prohibits walking on the highways | Donald Miralle/Getty Images
Highway entrance and exit ramps | Donald Miralle/Getty Images

It is illegal for pedestrians to walk on the highways of the US Interstate Highway System. Therefore, a “prohibited” sign marks most Interstate Highway entrance ramps. It usually reads: “PEDESTRIANS, BICYCLES, MOTOR-DRIVEN CYCLES PROHIBITED.” These signs also sometimes specify that horses, other animals, mopeds, or self-propelled machinery are prohibited.

One reason for this law is that high-speed cars and low-speed traffic on the same road is a recipe for accidents. In addition, most highways in the Interstate Highway System have a minimum legal speed of 40 MPH. Traveling below this speed interferes with traffic and will get you a ticket.

Another reason for this law is that traveling on the highway requires approved safety equipment. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) creates these guidelines. It also tests cars to make sure they are safe to drive on the highway. A pedestrian is much less likely to survive a collision with an automobile than the driver of another car.

Is it illegal to walk in the middle of the road?

This pedestrian is legally allowed to walk on the shoulder of a road without a sidewalk. | Steve Pfost/Newsday RM via Getty Images
Pedestrian walking on the shoulder of a road | Steve Pfost/Newsday RM via Getty Images

Though not allowed on highways, pedestrians may use many other roads in the US. According to legal experts, the law actually protects pedestrian access to non-highway roads. That said, specific traffic laws control pedestrians.

Whenever a sidewalk is available, pedestrians must stay on the sidewalk and off the road. When marked crosswalks exist, pedestrians must use them to cross the street. On a street with no sidewalk, pedestrians are allowed to walk on the road. However, they must walk in the opposite direction of traffic for maximum visibility. They must also walk on the shoulder or as close to the edge of the lane as possible. Therefore, it is never legal to walk in the middle of the road.


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