According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), a pedestrian is injured every eight minutes by a motor vehicle (approximately 64,000 people a year), and about 4,500 pedestrians are killed each year when hit by a moving vehicle. There are a number of reasons why pedestrians are struck by vehicles: speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol and/ or drugs, improperly placed traffic signs, faulty traffic lights, and dangerous road conditions can all cause automobile-pedestrian encounters. But the number one cause of pedestrians being struck by a motor vehicle is driver inattentiveness. Other causes include disregarding a crosswalk, disregarding a traffic signal, disregarding a pedestrian already crossing the roadway, and failing to stop for a school bus that is flashing its red lights.
Crashes involving a motor vehicle and a pedestrian are highest among five-to nine-year-old boys, who tend to dart into the street. Accidents involving elder pedestrians (age 65 and up) are lower than most age groups, but older pedestrians are more likely to be severely injured or killed in a collision than younger victims. For instance, the percentage of pedestrian crashes resulting in death exceeds 20 percent for pedestrians over 75, compared to less than 8 percent for pedestrians under the age of 14. The vast majority of non-fatal crashes (86 percent) occur in urban areas, but the number of pedestrians killed on rural roads is double the rate of non-fatal rural crashes. The reason for this disparity is thought to be higher rural speed limits and a lack of sidewalks, paths, or shoulders to serve as separated pedestrian walkways.
Sixty-five percent of accidents involving pedestrians occur at non-intersections. This is especially true for pedestrians under age nine, primarily due to their darting out into the street. For ages 45 to 65, pedestrian accidents are approximately equal for intersections and non-intersections. Pedestrians 65 and over are more likely to be injured or killed while crossing the street in a crosswalk.
Pedestrian crashes are most frequent during morning and afternoon peak periods, when the volume of traffic is at its highest. Fatal pedestrian crashes often peak later in the day, between 5:00 and 11:00 p.m., when darkness and alcohol use are factors. Nearly one-half of all pedestrian fatalities take place on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Older persons are more likely to be involved in a crash during the daylight hours. The highest number of pedestrian fatalities occurs from September through January, when there are fewer daylight hours and more inclement weather. Child pedestrian fatalities are greatest in May, June, and July, thought to be due to the increase in the children’s outdoor activities.
Pedestrians have the right of way while crossing the street in a crosswalk. The crosswalk may be marked with paint, or it may be an unmarked crosswalk where two roads come together. However, when a pedestrian is crossing the street in the middle of the block and there is no crosswalk, this does not make the pedestrian open game to motor vehicles. The vehicle operator must still use “due care” to avoid hitting the pedestrian.
Of course, when a pedestrian attempts to cross the street outside of a crosswalk, she may bear some of the blame for the accident and the amount of her recovery will be diminished accordingly under the doctrine of “comparative negligence.” In some cases, the pedestrian’s failure to cross the street at a crosswalk is the sole cause of the accident, in which case the pedestrian would not be entitled to any compensation.
A pedestrian should always be alert to her surroundings and nearby traffic. If there is a sidewalk, the pedestrian should use it rather than walking in the road. If there is no sidewalk, then the pedestrian should walk on the side facing traffic. The pedestrian should also wear brightly colored clothes when walking on the edge of a road to make herself more visible to passing traffic.
Because of the weight disparity between a human being weighing one to two hundred pounds and a motor vehicle weighing several tons, it is easy to see that, even in a slight accident, the pedestrian can be severely injured, even killed. The pedestrian may suffer broken legs or arms or serious internal injuries due to the impact. The pedestrian may suffer a spinal cord injury that leaves her a quadriplegic or paraplegic.
If the pedestrian is thrown to the ground, she may suffer serious traumatic brain injuries. If the pedestrian is dragged until the car comes to a stop, the pedestrian may suffer serious friction burns to her body. Of course, when a moving motor vehicle strikes a pedestrian, there is always the risk that the pedestrian will be killed due to the injuries suffered in the collision. The deceased victim’s legal heirs have the right to sue the careless (“negligent”) driver for the wrongful death of their loved one.