Pennsylvania Car Accident and Personal Injury Laws



If you've been injured in a car accident in the State of Pennsylvania, you may have questions about how the laws will affect your property damage and/or personal injury claim. In this article, we'll review the laws most commonly associated with car accidents. To read the entirety of each law, click the link to the specific State of Pennsylvania statutes in each section.

Here are the Pennsylvania car accident and traffic laws we'll cover:

Pedestrian Laws

Pedestrians and Crosswalks

When traffic-control signals are not in place or not in operation, drivers must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.
Section 75-35-3541

Restrictions on Pedestrians Crossing Roadways

No pedestrian is permitted to suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close as to constitute a hazard.
Section 75-35-3541

Pedestrian Control Signals

Whenever special pedestrian control signals are in place such signals shall indicate as follows:

  1. "Walk" or walking person symbol. Pedestrians facing the signal should proceed across the roadway in the direction of the signal and must be given the right-of-way by the drivers of all vehicles.
  2. "Don't Walk" or upraised hand symbol. Pedestrians should not start to cross the roadway in the direction of the signal, but any pedestrian who has partially completed the crossing on the "Walk" signal should proceed to a sidewalk or safety zone while the "Don't Walk" signal is showing.
  3. Flashing "Walk". Pedestrians facing the signal are cautioned that there is possible hazard from turning vehicles, but pedestrians may proceed across the roadway in the direction of the signal and must be given the right-of-way by the drivers of all vehicles.
  4. Flashing "Don't Walk" Signal. Pedestrians should not start to cross the roadway in the direction of the signal, but any pedestrian who has partly completed crossing during the "Walk" signal should proceed to a sidewalk or safety zone, and all drivers of vehicles must yield to the pedestrian.
Section 75-31-3113

Crossing at Other Than Crosswalks

Pedestrians intending to cross a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles on the roadway.

Pedestrians must use only the marked crosswalk to cross between two adjacent intersections that have traffic-control signals in operation.

Pedestrians can cross an intersection diagonally only when it is authorized by traffic-control devices.
Section 75-35-3543

Pedestrians on Roadway

Where sidewalks are provided, it is unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon adjacent roadway, bicycle lane, or bicycle path.

Where sidewalks are not provided, pedestrians are permitted to walk only on or along the left side of the roadway or on it's shoulder facing traffic from the opposite direction.
Section 75-35-3544

Pedestrians' Right of Way on Sidewalks

The driver of a vehicle emerging from or entering an alley, building, private road, or driveway shall yield the right of way to any pedestrian approaching on any sidewalk extending across the alley, building entrance, road, or driveway.
Section 75-35-3547

Pedestrians Under the Influence of Alcohol or Controlled Substance

A pedestrian who is under the influence of alcohol or any controlled substance to a degree which renders the pedestrian a hazard musty not walk or be upon a highway except on a sidewalk.
Section 75-35-3550

Driving Laws

Obedience to Traffic Control Devices

A driver must obey any traffic control devices applicable to the driver, unless directed by a traffic or police officer.
Section 75-31-3111

Driving on Right Side of Roadway

Drivers must drive in the right lane of roadways with the following exceptions:

  • When passing another driver in the same direction
  • When there is an obstruction in the right lane
  • When traffic-control devices indicate that one or more lanes to the left side of the center of the roadway are available for use
  • Upon a roadway restricted to one way traffic
  • When making a left turn
Section 75-33-3301

Passing On the Left

Driver proceeding in the same direction must pass to the left at at a safe distance and shall remain in the passing lane until it is safe to return to the right lane. Drivers being passed must not increase the speed of their vehicle until their vehicle is completely passed by the overtaking car.
Section 75-33-3303

Limitations on Overtaking on the Left

Drivers may drive to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle only if the left side is clearly visible and the overtaking vehicle can return to its lane without coming within two hundred feet of oncoming traffic.
Section 75-33-3305

Passing On the Right

Drivers may pass on the right under the following conditions:

  • When the driver about to be passed is about to make a left turn. However, the driver attempting to pass on the right must not do so without driving off the pavement of main-traveled portion of the roadway.
  • When the roadway has two (2) or more lanes of traffic moving in the same direction.
Section 75-33-3304

Following Too Closely

A driver must not follow another driver more closely than is "reasonable and prudent", having due regard for the speed of other drivers and traffic conditions along the roadway. A driver who is towing another vehicle must leave sufficient space ahead of their vehicle to allow an overtaking vehicle to enter and occupy this space without danger.
Section 75-33-3310

Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices

Drivers must not drive while using a mobile electronic device to send, read or write a text-based message. Drivers are permitted to read, select or enter a phone number.
Section 75-33-3316

Drivers and Intersections

When two (2) drivers approach an intersection at approximately the same time the driver on the left must yield to the driver to their right.
Section 75-33-3321

Drivers Intending to Turn Left at Intersections

A driver who intends to turn left at an intersection, or into an alley, private road or driveway must yield the right of way to drivers approaching from the opposite direction.
Section 75-33-3322

Drivers Entering or Crossing a Roadway

A driver about to enter or cross a roadway from any place other than another roadway must yield the right of way to all other drivers and cyclists on the roadway to be crossed.
Section 75-33-3324

Bicycling Laws

Bicyclists must obey the same traffic laws as drivers of cars, and are subject to the same penalties as are drivers for violating traffic laws.
Section 75-35-3501

Motorcycling Laws

Motorcycles

Motorcyclists must obey the same traffic laws as drivers of cars, and are subject to the same penalties as are drivers for violating traffic laws.
Section 75-35-3521

Motorcyclists and Lanes of Traffic

Motorcyclists are entitled to the full use of a traffic lane and drivers must not take any action to deprive a motorcyclist of his or her right to use a full lane on a roadway. A motorcyclist must not pass another driver in the same lane. Motorcyclists must not ride more than two (2) abreast in a single lane.
Section 75-35-3523

"Lane Splitting"

Motorcyclists must not pass another driver in the same lane. Commonly known as "lane splitting," motorcyclists sometimes attempt to pass other drivers when traffic is slowed, or bumper to bumper. To move forward through traffic motorcyclists sometimes drive between cars. Doing so is not only illegal, but quite dangerous.
Section 75-35-3523

Helmet Law

All motorcyclists must wear helmets and eye-protective devices while riding on roadways. Motorcyclists who are not required to wear helmets include:

  • A person 21 years of age or older who has been licensed to operate a motorcycle for at least two years, and their passengers who are at least 21 years old.
  • A person 21 years of age or older who has completed a motorcycle rider safety course approved by the department or the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, and their passengers who are at least 21 years old.
Section 75-35-3525

Motorcycles and Headlights

At all times, every motorcycle riding on a roadway must equipped with a lighted head lamp system.
Section 75-43-4303
Section 75-35-3526

Driving Offenses and Accident Requirements

Careless Driving

Any person who drives a vehicle in careless disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of careless driving, and can be fined and imprisoned.
Section 75-37-3714

Reckless Driving

A driver who drives in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving, and can be fined and imprisoned.
Section 75-37-3736

Alcohol and Minors

A driver under the age of twenty one (21) must not drive upon any roadway after drinking any amount of alcohol.
Section 75-37-3718

Driver's Duty to Give Information and Render Aid

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury, death or property damage must give their name, address, vehicle registration number and, upon request, exhibit their driver's license and car insurance information to any person involved in the accident.

Moreover the driver must render to any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including making of arrangements to transfer the injured person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent medical treatment is required.
Section 75-37-3744

Accidents Involving Death, Personal Injury, or Substantial Bodily Injury

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death must immediately stop, remain at the scene of the accident, and give their name, address, vehicle registration number and, upon request, exhibit their driver's license and car insurance information to any person involved in the accident.

Moreover the driver must render to any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including making of arrangements to transfer the injured person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent medical treatment is required.
Section 75-37-3742

Accidents Involving Only Damage to Another Car or Property

A driver involved in an accident resulting in property damage must immediately stop, remain at the scene of the accident, and give their name, address, vehicle registration number and, upon request, exhibit their driver's license and car insurance information to any person involved in the accident.
Section 75-37-3743

Accidents Involving Damage to Unattended Car or Unattended Property

A driver who collides with a parked car or who collides with other property which is unattended must immediately stop at the scene of the accident or as close to it as possible and must attempt to locate and notify the driver or owner of the damaged car or damaged property.

Once located, the driver who caused the accident must give their name, address, vehicle registration number and, upon request, exhibit their driver's license and car insurance information.

If the driver or owner of the damaged car or property cannot be located, the driver who caused the accident must attach a written note to the damaged property in a conspicuous place giving their name, address, vehicle registration number and car insurance information.

The driver must immediately notify the nearest police state of the accident.
Section 75-37-3745

Driver's Duty to Notify Police Department

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury, death, or property damage that renders a car inoperable must immediately by the quickest means of communication give notice to the nearest police office, and no later than five days after the accident. If the driver is physically unable to give immediate notice and there is another occupant in the car, the other occupant must immediately by the quickest means of communication give notice to the nearest police office.
Section 75-37-3746

Accident Reports Filed By Police Departments

Every police department that investigates a vehicle accident involving injury, death, or damage that renders a vehicle inoperable must prepare a written report of the investigation within 15 days of the accident. The investigating officer must also forward an initial written report of the accident to the department. If the initial report is not complete, a supplemental report must be submitted at a later date.
Section 75-37-3751

Accident Report Forms

The department must prepare and upon request supply to all law enforcement agencies and other appropriate agencies or individuals, forms for written accident reports. The written report forms must call for detailed information about the cause, the conditions then existing, and the persons and vehicles involved in the accident.
Section 75-37-3752

Open Alcohol Container Law

A driver or passenger must not be in possession of an opened container of an alcoholic beverage or consume a controlled substance while the car is on Pennsylvania roadways.

Passengers of a hired vehicle and passengers in the living quarters of a motor home can consume and possess an opened container.
Section 75-38-3809

Driving Under Influence of Alcohol or Controlled Substance

A driver must not drive after drinking an alcoholic beverage or consuming an intoxicant in an amount which renders the driver incapable of driving safely along roadways. In Pennsylvania, a driver is guilty of the offense of Driving Under the Influence if the driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08% or higher.
Section 75-38-3802

Ignition Interlock Device

A driver who is guilty of driving while under the influence of an intoxicant might be ordered to have installed at his or her own expenses an ignition interlock device. The ignition interlock device will serve to restore the driver's driving privileges during the pendency of the driver's probation. If an ignition device is installed, it must be installed in every car owned or operated by the driver.

An ignition interlock is a device which measures any amount of alcohol contained in a driver's body. Before starting the car the driver must blow into a tube emanating from the ignition interlock device. If the device then detects a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than is permitted by law the car will not start and the violation will be reported to the prosecutor, the probation officer, and/or the judge. At that point the driver may be subject to loss of driving privileges, immediate arrest and incarceration up to the maximum term provided by law.
Section 75-38-3805

Liability Laws

Pennsylvania Dram Shop Law

Pennsylvania has a modified Dram Shop Law. Dram Shop Law refers to the liability of private social hosts, bars, hotels nightclubs and other commercial establishments who serve alcohol to patrons or to minors for injuries intoxicated patrons or minors cause to third parties such as in car accidents.

A private social host is the host at a private party, such as a wedding reception, a corporate sponsored event, a gathering of friends at a private residence, where alcohol is served not for profit.

Under Pennsylvania law, a licensee who sells, furnished, or gives alcohol to a person is not liable for the personal injuries or property damages that person causes off of their premises, unless the person who caused the injuries or damages was visibly intoxicated when they were served alcohol.
Unconsolidated Section 21-4-497

Financial Responsibility Car Insurance Minimum Limits

In the State of Pennsylvania, each motor vehicle must be covered by an insurance policy that includes liability coverage of the following amounts for all damages resulting from an accident:

  • At least $15,000 per person
  • At least $30,000 for two or more people
  • $5,000 per occurrence for property damage
Section 75-17-1702

Pennsylvania Insurance Information

For information about auto insurance requirements, see the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance Handbook.

Comparative Negligence (51% Rule)

In Pennsylvania, the victim in a car accident can sue the negligent driver for compensation. The victim's liability in causing the accident, their comparative negligence, affects the amount of compensation the victim receives.

If the victim contributed less than 51% of the negligence that caused the accident, then their compensation is reduced by the amount they contributed to the accident. If the victim contributed 51% or more of the negligence that caused the accident, then the victim is barred from receiving any compensation.
Section 42-71-7102

Example of Comparative Negligence (51% Rule)

One morning, Jackson was driving north on his way to work. At an intersection, he pulled into the left turn lane. At the same time, Melanie approached the intersection from the opposite direction. Suddenly, Jackson turned left into Melanie's lane and their cars collided.

Melanie sustained serious brain injuries and damage to her car, totalling in $100,000 dollars worth of damages.

After their investigation, the police determined that Jackson had failed to yield according to traffic laws. A pedestrian witness told police he saw Melanie texting at the time Jackson's car crashed into Melanie's. As a result, the police issued Melanie a citation for using a mobile device while driving.

Melanie sued Jackson for $100,000 and claimed he was 100% at fault for the accident because he did not yield to her right-of-way. At trial, the jury found Jackson liable for failing to yield the right-of-way. However, the jury also found Melissa liable for using a mobile device while driving and partially responsible for the accident.

The verdict stated Jackson's negligence equaled 70% of the accident, and Melanie's equaled 30%. The jury awarded Melanie only $70,000 dollars.

In the event the jury had found Jackson's negligence equaled 49% of the accident, and Melanie's equaled 51%, the jury would be barred by law from awarding Melanie any compensation for the damages.
Comparative Negligence: Section 42-71-7102
Right of Way: Section 75-33-3322
Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices: Section 75-33-3316

Pennsylvania's No Fault Car Insurance

In Pennsylvania, the law gives car owners the option of purchasing no-fault car insurance. No-fault insurance allows a person, who is injured in a car accident or whose property is damaged, to file a claim with their own car insurance company. No-fault insurance allows a person to avoid pursuing a negligent driver for compensation for damages. No-fault insurance does not compensate for pain and suffering, and the amount of personal injury protection (PIP) insurance purchased by the injured party determines their coverage.

For information about auto insurance requirements, see the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance Handbook.

Statute of Limitations

Pennsylvania has a two (2) year statute of limitations for property damage and personal injury claims. This means if a driver, passenger, or passerby is injured or sustains property damage at the hands of a negligent driver, the victim must file a lawsuit within the two (2) year period, otherwise the victim is barred from pursuing the negligent driver in court.
Section 42-55-5524

Small Claims Courts

In Pennsylvania, victims of car accidents can choose to sue the negligent driver in small claims court. Each judicial district has its own small claims court. The jurisdiction of a small claims court regarding personal injury and property damage is limited to a maximum of $12,000, exclusive of filing fees and court costs.

For a list of judicial districts, see Section 42-9-901.

For information about the small claims court in Philadelphia, see the Philadelphia Municipal Courts brochure.

Pennsylvania Government Tort Claims - Sovereign Immunity

In Pennsylvania, it is possible to submit a claim against a governmental agency or its employees for personal injury or property damage as a result of negligence on the part of the governmental agency or its employees. The claim must refer to an lawful action on the part of the governmental agency or employee performed in the scope of their duties. If the injury or property damage occurred as a result of an unlawful action, then the claimant can sue only the person(s) who caused injury or property damage individually. The governmental agency would not be liable.
Pennsylvania Constitution, Section 1-11

Example

If Melissa, an engineer with the Philadelphia Planning Department, ran a red light on her way to a worksite and caused an accident, then the City of Philadelphia would be liable for the property damage and personal injuries caused by her.

If Melissa stopped for a few drinks and became intoxicated before heading to a worksite and causing an accident, then the City of Philadelphia can claim sovereign immunity. Melissa performed an unlawful act and was not acting in the scope of her duties when she became intoxicated on her way to the worksite.

To seek compensation for damages, injured parties would have to sue Melissa personally. The determination of whether or not Melissa was acting within the scope of her duties would have to be decided during a trial.
Pennsylvania Constitution, Section 1-11
NCSL

Sources

State Government of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

Pennsylvania State Legislature

Pennsylvania Department of Public Safety

Governors Highway Safety Association

Pennsylvania Bar Association

National Conference on State Legislature

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