Your Rights as a Pedestrian

Almost 6,000 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents during 2016, the most recent year for which statistics are available. On average, that’s one pedestrian death every 1.5 hours. About 16% of all traffic-related deaths involve pedestrians.

The most vulnerable pedestrians are children and seniors. About 20% of fatal pedestrian accidents involve children under the age of 15, and another 19% involve pedestrians age 65 or older.

While collisions with pedestrians are more likely to be fatal than a collision between two cars, most pedestrian accidents cause injuries that do not lead to death. More than 125,000 pedestrians are treated in Emergency Rooms every year after being injured in a traffic accident.

The most serious nonfatal injuries to pedestrians are traumatic brain injuries and paralyzing spinal injuries. Small children are more likely than adults to suffer a head injury because cars tend to strike small children in the upper half of the body, while they strike the lower half of adult bodies.

Other pedestrian injuries that require emergency care include organ damage and internal bleeding, broken bones, pelvic injuries, knee and ankle injuries, and soft tissue injuries. Stretched and torn muscles, ligaments, and tendons are common.

Duty to Yield

All pedestrians have the right to use a crosswalk without dodging cars. Drivers have a duty to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. Too many drivers think that “yield” means “keep driving but don’t hit the pedestrian.” Traffic laws typically require drivers to come to a complete stop when a pedestrian has entered a crosswalk, and to wait for the pedestrian to cross before proceeding.

The same laws require drivers to yield to pedestrians when they make a turn onto a street that is occupied by pedestrians in a crosswalk. Drivers must stop before entering the crosswalk and must not complete the turn until pedestrians have reached the curb.

In controlled intersections, drivers and pedestrians must both obey traffic signals. Outside of crosswalks, pedestrians usually have a duty to yield to oncoming cars. Unless a community has prohibited jaywalking, it is usually legal to cross a street outside of a crosswalk, provided the pedestrian allows traffic to pass. When there are traffic lights at both ends of the block, however, state laws often prohibit pedestrians from crossing the street in that block outside of a crosswalk.

Negligence and Pedestrian Accidents

The fact that a pedestrian has a duty to yield to vehicles while crossing the street outside of a crosswalk does not give drivers a license to run over pedestrians. Drivers always have a duty to drive cautiously. If a prudent driver would be able to observe a pedestrian and to avoid a collision, the failure to do so is an act of negligence.

Drivers are negligent when they take their eyes off the road and fail to see pedestrians, whether or not the pedestrians are in a crosswalk. Distracted driving has become an increasingly common cause of collisions with pedestrians. Much of the blame for distracted driving falls on portable technology that commands the attention of drivers who should be watching the road rather than a mobile phone, a tablet screen, or a GPS device.

About three-quarters of pedestrian accidents occur after dark. Reduced visibility requires drivers to exercise extra caution, making sure not to drive too fast to stop when a pedestrian comes into view.

Alcohol is another factor that explains the increased risk to pedestrians who cross streets at night. About 13% of pedestrian accidents involve drivers who have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% (the “legal limit”) or higher. Driving under the influence of alcohol is always a negligent act.

The Right to Seek Compensation

Pedestrians have the right to seek compensation for injuries caused by a negligent driver. Families also have the right to seek wrongful death compensation when a negligent driver causes a fatal collision with a pedestrian.

In some cases, the negligent driver will be entirely at fault. A driver who runs a red light and hits a pedestrian in a crosswalk is an obvious example. Injured pedestrians are entitled to full compensation in those cases.

In other cases, including those in which a pedestrian crosses the street outside a crosswalk, the driver and the pedestrian might share responsibility for a collision. When that happens, the law in most states reduces compensation in proportion to fault. For example, if full injury compensation would be $100,000, a pedestrian who was 25% at fault for the accident would recover $75,000.

Compensation depends upon the severity of the injuries and the facts of the case. An attorney, like a pedestrian accident lawyer Atlanta, GA relies on, can help injured pedestrians, and the families of deceased accident victims, understand their rights after a traffic accident.



Thanks to our friends and contributors from Butler Tobin for their insight into pedestrian rights.