As the weather turns from winter to summer (does spring even exist anymore in New England?) and as we move back to normal, we will find ourselves outside more often. Walking is a great way to get outside, clear your mind, and generally improve your well-being. Most cities and towns have clearly marked areas for pedestrians to walk, usually in the form of sidewalks and crosswalks. However, accidents do occur. So what happens when, through no fault of their own, a pedestrian is struck by a vehicle? And what are the responsibilities of each party; the pedestrian and the driver?
To answer that we should look at where the accidents typically take place. Two (2) common locations where pedestrian accidents occur are in crosswalks and parking lots. Intuitively, this makes sense as these are areas where people and cars intersect. By their nature, these are high pedestrian-traffic areas. Drivers are taught to be aware of pedestrians in these areas.
When a vehicle approaches a crosswalk, drivers are instructed to slow down and be vigilant for pedestrians. If a person is already in the crosswalk, then they have the “right of way” and drivers must always yield to them. From the pedestrian’s perspective, the different types of crosswalks have slightly different rules.
For example, some crosswalks are controlled by a walk signal button, i.e., there is a button to push that will expedite a red light, making it safe to cross. At these types of crosswalks, upon pressing the walk-signal button, the pedestrian must wait until the “walk” signal flashes and it is safe to cross. Some intersections do not have a walk signal button and only have painted crosswalks. At these crossings, pedestrians always have the right of way. Finally, some intersections have no crosswalk at all, e.g., side streets, driveways, and parking lots. Again, pedestrians have the right of way and drivers are required to yield as if a crosswalk was there.
Another common site for pedestrian accidents are parking lots. Parking lots provide a unique situation where cars and pedestrians are constantly around each other. So it makes sense that the potential for pedestrian accidents is higher. Most parking lots do not have marked crosswalks and if they do, they only mark a path across the main roadway between the store(s) and the actual parking spaces. Therefore, as mentioned above, pedestrians do have the right of way and drivers must yield to them.
Within the context of parking lots, but also applicable to driveways, many accidents involve a driver who is backing up. Often, drivers rely solely on their mirrors, which leaves the driver with blind spots. Even cars with rear-facing cameras cannot clear all possible blind spots. While the safety impetus falls on the driver, it is always good practice to keep an eye out for any vehicles backing out of a parking space or driveway.
That last line is notable. It is important to remember that simply because the law is on your side and you have the right of way, it does not mean you should not be vigilant. Pedestrian-vehicle accidents are mostly one-sided when it comes to physical damages. Further, the most common reason for these accidents are carelessness of the driver. Checking our phones, changing the radio station, or turning to talk to the person next to us are things we have all done and only take a second or two.
Unfortunately, when driving a vehicle, these lapses in focus can be dangerous. Combine the vast discrepancy in size between a vehicle (even a slowly moving one) and a pedestrian, and the potential for serious bodily injury is high. That is why it is incumbent on drivers and pedestrians to pay extra attention in high pedestrian-traffic areas, like parking lots and crosswalks.
However, if you find yourself the victim of a pedestrian accident, it is in your interest to contact an experienced attorney who can help you determine the legal remedies available to you.