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 and should be able to do so without worrying about dodging cars. Drivers have a duty to yield to pedestrians who are lawfully using crosswalks, whether marked or “unmarked.” In New Jersey, an unmarked crosswalk is one which is “implied” to exist between any corner and the opposite side of the roadway (following a straight line). 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 approaching a pedestrian who has already entered a crosswalk, and to wait for the pedestrian to cross before proceeding. Drivers must stop before entering the crosswalk and must not complete the turn until pedestrians have reached the curb. This does NOT mean that a pedestrian can simply walk into the roadway, however.
The same laws which require drivers to yield to pedestrians apply to pedestrians as well. Pedestrians are not permitted to step out of a position of safety and into the road when doing so would place them in imminent danger. In other words, if the car is very close, the pedestrian must wait on the curb for an opening in the traffic pattern before proceeding, even if they have access to a crosswalk.
At controlled intersections, drivers and pedestrians must each obey traffic signals. Outside of crosswalks, pedestrians usually have the duty to yield. Contrary to popular myth, it is usually legal to cross a street outside of a crosswalk, unless the community has a specific prohibition against mid-block crossing (sometimes referred to as “jaywalking”). However, state laws often prohibit pedestrians from crossing the street mid-block when they can reasonably access 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 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 likely an act of negligence.
Examples of negligent driver actions, include the failure to see pedestrians, whether or not the pedestrians are in a crosswalk, because the driver took their eyes off the road. 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.
Statistics suggest that approximately three-quarters of pedestrian accidents occur at dusk and 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. Pedestrians need to be aware of the difficulty darkness presents and use enhanced caution when interacting with motorists. Dusk, in fact, is the single most dangerous time from a visibility standpoint, as changes from dark to light areas place a great deal of stress on driver’s vision.
Alcohol is another factor that helps to explain the increased risk to pedestrians crossing the street 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 likely recover $75,000.
Compensation depends upon the severity of the injuries and the facts of the case. An attorney can help injured pedestrians, and the families of deceased accident victims, understand their rights after a traffic accident.