After decades of decline, pedestrian accidents have been climbing every year since 2010. This national trend bears out in Baltimore and the District as well - an alarming 60 pedestrian fatalities in the Washington metro last year and more than 1,000 pedestrian injuries.
Washington, D.C., is a Vision Zero city. Several measures -- from higher fines for speeding to special stoplights that warn drivers of nearby pedestrians -- have been instituted to make streets and intersections safer for pedestrians. Baltimore City and surrounding counties have likewise taken steps to reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities.
So why the rise in accidents? More people are walking to work or walking for exercise. Too many drivers (as well as pedestrians) are sidetracked by smartphones and other distractions. The D.C. metro is growing, putting more cars on the road and more people on the streets. All of these factors have combined to create double-digit increases in pedestrian collisions.
Who is accountable when pedestrians are hit by cars?
From a legal standpoint, pedestrian accidents are rarely straightforward. On the one hand, pedestrians have the right-of-way at intersections, even if there is no stoplight or painted crosswalk. Yet many pedestrian accidents do not occur at intersections, as when a child runs into the street or an adult "jaywalks." And while motorists have a duty to drive cautiously in a residential or downtown area, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia still recognize "contributory negligence" of the victim. This can negate or reduce compensation even if the driver was chiefly at fault. Police reports frequently assign blame to the pedestrian rather than the driver.
It is very important to retain legal counsel if you or a family member was struck by a vehicle. A good lawyer will keep the focus on the driver's wrongdoing, such as speeding, failing to yield when turning, driving under the influence or texting while driving. An experienced attorney can also tap into all applicable insurance policies, including the victim's family coverages. This is critical because of the serious injuries and losses typically associated with any pedestrian accident.
No law will stop a two-ton car. Be alert to the dangers.
There are more pedestrian accidents in the news these days. How can you keep yourself and your family safe when you are walking?
- Put your cellphone away and be aware of your surroundings.
- Cross only at controlled intersections if possible.
- Use sidewalks where available.
- Watch for cars that may be turning - before stepping off the curb.
- Make eye contact with drivers - don't assume they see you.
- Model safe and legal habits for your children - don't cross in the middle of the block or cross against a red light.
If the unthinkable occurs despite your precautions, (1) try to get the contact information of any witnesses, (2) seek medical attention for injuries and (3) contact an experienced attorney as timely as possible.