By Francis M. Smith
In the majority of cases when an motor vehicle collision takes place, the cause can usually be traced to an error or lapse in attention on the part of either someone involved in the crash, or someone who contributed more indirectly to the situation (through faulty vehicle repair, poor road maintenance, and so on). More often than not, however, one or more of the parties involved in the accident will ultimately prove culpable. Everyone who uses the roads has a duty of care toward all other road users to conduct themselves in a reasonably safe and predictable manner in accordance with traffic laws. This includes both motorists and pedestrians, though of course the laws that apply to pedestrians differ from those governing automobiles and trucks. When an auto or truck accident involving a pedestrian occurs, both sets of legal responsibilities are examined to determine where the fault for the accident lies.
Unsurprisingly, given that cars and trucks are large, heavy, fast-moving objects that afford their occupants a huge measure of protection in the event of a collision, the duty of care that drivers hold toward pedestrians is significant, and the legal consequences for breaching pedestrian safety laws are significantly higher for drivers than for pedestrians, even if no accident results. Failure to adhere to crosswalk laws can earn drivers a $200 fine, 15 days of community service, and four points to their licenses. Pedestrians do bear some responsibility of their own, however, as demonstrated by the $54 fine and community service sentences they may receive for failing to yield when appropriate. Of course, in the event that an accident ensues and someone is injured, the consequences for the party deemed at fault may far exceed the cost of a traffic ticket, especially in non-economic terms of pain and suffering and other losses.
As of April 2010, motorists are required to stop (and remain stopped) to allow the crossing of any pedestrian in a marked crosswalk. Likewise, if the motorist is taking a right turn at a red light, stop sign, or yield sign, he must stop and wait for any pedestrian in a crosswalk bridging the road he is turning onto. In addition, if a pedestrian is already in the midst of crossing the street, a driver must stop and wait if the pedestrian is within one lane of his side of the road, regardless of the presence of a marked crosswalk. Motorists behind the stopped driver may not try to pass a vehicle that is stopped for a pedestrian.
Intersections without marked crosswalks or other traffic indicators are considered “unmarked crosswalks,” and pedestrians may cross at such intersections; drivers are required to yield the right of way to pedestrians crossing the street at such unmarked crosswalks. Overall, drivers are legally expected to exercise due care for the safety of any pedestrian who enters the road. Again, due to the difference in power between a motorist and a pedestrian with respect to the speed of an automobile, its size, and the protection it affords its occupants, the law states that if a pedestrian automotive accident occurs when the pedestrian is within a marked crosswalk or crossing at an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, there is a permissive inference that the driver failed to exercise due care for the pedestrian’s safety. “Permissive inference” is a legal term that means a jury is allowed to assume that the fact of a pedestrian accident under those circumstances implies the driver’s failure in their duty of care.
Although a pedestrian has less power to injure a driver than the reverse, pedestrians still have a statutory duty of care, as outlined in traffic laws. Specifically, pedestrians are required to yield the right of way to motorists when crossing the road at any point outside of a marked crosswalk or the unmarked crosswalk of an intersection. Likewise, if the pedestrian is crossing at an intersection with traffic signals and oncoming traffic has a green signal while the pedestrian does not, the pedestrian must yield. Where accessible sidewalks exist, pedestrians must use these instead of walking in the roadway; in the absence of sidewalks, pedestrians must walk on the extreme left side or shoulder of the road, facing oncoming traffic. A pedestrian may never cross a road with a median barrier separating cars traveling in opposing directions, unless a designated pedestrian crossing area is provided. Pedestrians must not enter the roadway in the path of an oncoming vehicle that is too close for the driver to stop or yield, and must otherwise exercise due care for their own safety. This last provision is necessarily subjective, and many arguments involving liability and fault in an accident revolve around whether a driver “could have stopped” or not. This is why it’s crucial for pedestrians injured in car accidents to have an experienced personal injury lawyer on their side: so fault is appropriately determined and they receive the fair compensation they deserve. It is always the duty of a driver of an automobile or a truck to exercise "due care" under all the circumstances prevailing at the time, and it is up to your attorney to fully develop those circumstances to prove your case.