When it Comes to Pedestrians and Cars, Who Has the Right of Way?

According to a recent report released by the Governors’ Highway Safety Association, there was a spike in the number of pedestrians killed in traffic accidents last year. The number of pedestrians killed totaled 5,997, an increase of 11 percent over the previous year.

Statistics compiled from the 50 state highway offices also showed there were 2,660 pedestrian fatalities in the first six months of 2016. The same period for the previous year totaled 2,486 deaths. The total number of pedestrian deaths in 2014 was 4,910.

In an interview with National Public Radio (NPR), a spokeswoman with the National Safety Council pointed to a combination of possibilities likely to have driven the number of pedestrian fatalities higher. These included lower gas prices and more cars on the road, in addition to more folks walking around with their eyes glued to cell phones.

Car and pedestrians

While it’s important to consider one’s own safety, as well as the safety of others when walking on public roads, the report on pedestrian and auto fatalities raises other questions about who bears the brunt of responsibility in a pedestrian vs auto accident.

Not surprisingly, the law can be subtle and complex on this issue, with responsibility falling on different parties depending on the specifics of the accident in question. Continue reading to learn a little about what the law says when it comes to pedestrians, automobiles and who holds the right of way. If you’ve been injured in an auto accident, a truck accident, or while walking on a public road, contact a personal injury attorney to help you explore your options.

What Does the Law Say When It Comes to Right of Way?

California Vehicle Code §21950 states, “the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.”

Subsection (b) of the law, however, states that this section does not relieve a pedestrian from the duty of using care for his or her safety. In other words, there may be a cross walk marked in a busy roadway, but this doesn’t mean a pedestrian can step off the curb and into traffic as cars zip past at 45 miles per hour.

Conversely, subsection(c) states that the driver of a vehicle approaching a pedestrian within a cross walk must also exercise due care and reduce the speed of the vehicle. The driver shall also take any other action relating to the operation of the vehicle to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian.

These portions of the law demonstrate once again, that there are often shades of grey when it comes to who might be responsible in an accident or injury. If a question arises in a personal injury case as to whether or not a party was exercising due care, a jury may be required to decide the answer.

It’s important to remember when it comes to the issue of highway safety, pedestrians also share some responsibility.

A Responsibility to Exercise Due Care

California’s civil jury instructions for pedestrians and drivers specifically mention an obvious fact: that while a duty of care applies to both drivers and pedestrians, the same level can’t be applied to both. Clearly, the driver of an automobile, when being careful “will be alertly conscious of the fact that he is in charge of a machine capable of projecting into serious consequences any negligence of his own.”

However, this doesn’t absolve the pedestrian from exercising his or her own care.  California’s civil jury instructions also state:

“When, as here, each motorist has acted reasonably and the pedestrian has failed to exercise due care for her own safety, the law of this state does not permit the technical violation of the pedestrian’s right of way statute to impose negligence on the motorists as a matter of law.”

Should You Contact a Lawyer?

If you’ve been injured, either as the result of a driver’s negligence, or some other highway negligence, contact our office to discuss your case. In any personal injury case, there are a number of factors that must be considered before going to court. These factors range from traffic equipment and road conditions, to driver or even pedestrian negligence. The important thing is that you don’t assume you don’t have a case prior to speaking with an attorney. You might be eligible to recover medical expenses, pain and suffering damages, and even punitive damages.

Contact our office to find out how we can help.

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