Collisions with Pedestrians

The Stats

When a pedestrian and a car collide, the pedestrian is always the loser. In 2009, about 5,900 pedestrians lost their lives in such collisions in the United States, or one every 90 minutes. These deaths account for 11 percent of all fatalities involving motor vehicles. Another 80,000 or so pedestrians are injured annually.

As you would expect, a large majority of pedestrian vehicle collisions occur in urban areas, where there is a higher volume of both traffic and pedestrians. Almost as high a percentage of pedestrian vehicle collisions occur at night, when pedestrians are harder to see.

Because pedestrian vehicle collisions happen when cars and people on foot interact, they are most common when a pedestrian tries to cross a street. Interestingly, pedestrian vehicle collisions occur almost as frequently at crossings controlled by a signal as at those with no signal or crosswalk.

The Causes

There are many different causes for this kind of collision. Inattentiveness to one's surroundings (by either the driver or the pedestrian) is the most common cause, with cellphone use, map reading and MP3 players all contributing. Another common cause is confusion: Drivers who are trying to figure out whether they can turn, what lane to drive in, or where they are on the map are more likely to hit a pedestrian than are those who know where they are going.

Overly aggressive driving and/or driving too fast for the situation are often factors. Poorly designed intersections, where traffic backs up or where drivers cannot see pedestrians crossing, can also contribute, increasing the chance of a collision.

The Advice

For pedestrians, the best option is to avoid a collision altogether. Like drivers, walkers must obey traffic laws and the laws of the road. Cross only at marked crosswalks, and then only with the light — don't jaywalk.

If you are crossing a street (especially near a cross street), stay alert for cars that are not paying attention. Use caution when you are walking on a sidewalk that crosses an alleyway or parking lot, where drivers may be turning. Look all around before getting into and out of cars parked by the side of the road.

If you have to walk at night, wear a light color (preferably white), and if there are no sidewalks, always walk against the traffic to give cars the best chance to see you. Finally, don't insist on your rights. You may have the legal right of way, but it is far better to let the car do something it is not supposed to do than to take the right of way and get hit.

For drivers as well, avoidance is the best option. Be aware of pedestrians, especially if you are in a city or when the sun has gone down. Remember, pedestrians have as much right to be there as you do. Don't drive too fast, and watch for people emerging from behind obstacles such as parked cars, trash cans, city buses and the like.

Keep in mind that not all people who are walking will obey the law. Watch for people jaywalking or crossing after the signal has changed to "Don't Walk." Be especially wary around schools and in residential neighborhoods: Children often don't know the rules, and they may dart out from behind a car or cross unsafely to get to the school bus.

There is a role for government, too. Installing sidewalks where there are none, overpasses and underpasses for walkers to use to cross the road, and "islands" in the middle of busy streets to give shelter to pedestrians if they don't make it all the way across can all reduce the chances of such a collision. Better lighting can also help.

Don't become a statistic. Keep your eyes open, your ears alert, and yourself alive.

IF YOU ARE HIT BY A CAR

The rules to follow when you are involved in a pedestrian vehicle collision are very similar to those in an all vehicle collision:

  • Remain calm. Call the police.
  • Do not leave the scene before the police and, if necessary, the paramedics arrive.
  • Get the names and phone numbers of those involved and of any witnesses.
  • Do not make any statements to anyone about the collision except the police.
  • Do not admit fault.
  • After the collision, consult a doctor for your injuries and contact our firm to make sure that your legal rights are protected.