Crosswalk Safety and Pedestrian Fatalities - A Difficult Case When The Driver Is Sober

Thanks to Beckley Mason for this guest post on pedestrian safety in crosswalks. The article is very timely as the Charlottesville Daily Progress just had a special feature about pedestrian accidents at the University of Virgina. The article came only a few days after a bicyclist was struck in a crosswalk.


Across the country, crosswalk laws are designed to protect pedestrians and encourage drivers to act cautiously and responsibly around intersections. Drivers and cyclists are expected to slow down and stop when a pedestrian wants to cross the street, and to generally cede right of way to the more vulnerable people. But a car, even traveling at 25 miles per hour, is harder to control than you might think. So pedestrians have a responsibility too, and aren�t protected by the law for crashes in which they leave the curb without giving approaching drivers a chance to see them and slow down.

According to California law, the driver's liability is mitigated by pedestrian's "duty of using care for his or her safety. No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard."

This provision is a necessity, but it creates a strange dynamic when it comes to fatal pedestrian crashes in which the driver is sober. Here�s a relatively common scenario in fatal pedestrian crashes: at night, so the driver has a harder time making out pedestrians, and away from busy or well-lit intersections, so few witnesses besides the driver and the victim see the collision. In such an instance, if the driver was sober and there is no hard evidence that the driver was distracted at the time of the accident, criminal charges are almost never pursued an in civil court, a plaintiff's verdict is not a foregone conclusion.

Take a recent case in Portland, Oregon. Two women were killed in the second lane from the crosswalk by a driver going the speed limit at night. The position of the crash implies that the women were well into the crosswalk at the time of impact. Also, the driver passed by four signs warning of crosswalks and received a call near the time when the collision occurred. All these signs point to culpability on the part of the driver. However the jury ruled that there simply was not enough evidence to prove the sober driver was indeed distracted. In the end, the civil trial jury did not give a verdict in favor of the families of the deceased women
Certainly, every case and every jury are different. The laws that are in place are the best attempt to create a fair system. What this case reminds us is that crosswalks present a dangerous situation that requires the full attention of both drivers and pedestrians.
Beckley Mason writes a street safety blog for GJEL Accident Attorneys.


Francis P. Hajek
Wilson & Hajek, LLC, a personal injury law firm Experienced Injury and Accident Lawyers Serving Virginia, including Albemarle, Charlottesville, Fluvanna, Louisa, Madison, Nelson, Orange, Staunton, Waynesboro

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