As vehicles are made safer and safer, be it crash resistant exteriors or self-braking vehicles in high end models, vehicular deaths have dropped dramatically in recent years. However, despite such technological advances, there is one disturbing exception to the trend: pedestrian deaths. Nationwide, the number of people killed by vehicles while on foot was essentially unchanged from 2003 to 2012, even as total vehicle deaths were falling. Can anyone account for the discrepancy?
New York Times executive editor — Jill Abramson has a searing essay on pedestrian accidents in this weekend’s Metropolitan section. In it, she describes her own experience being hit by a truck in a Times Square crosswalk in 2007. She also describes the experiences of three other Times colleagues – Denise Fuhs, Andrew Kueneman and Mick Sussman — who have been struck by vehicles. Fortunately, the numbers show pedestrian fatalities are just a fraction of pedestrian accidents, noted Jill Abramson. “It is natural and right that the worst (and fatal) cases attract the headlines and public horror,” she wrote. “But being hit by a vehicle changes the way a pedestrian experiences the city, even years after recovery. Every time I see a white delivery truck coming down the street, an almost daily sight, my thoughts rebound to my accident.
The reality is that technological advances do not made up for human error, the most common cause of vehicular/pedestrian collisions. Many drivers waiting to make right turns against red lights or from stop signs, check left for oncoming traffic, but often fail to look right where a pedestrian or bicyclist may be ready to cross with what they perceive is the legal right of way. Even left turning vehicles are not immune from such oversights, ensuring clearance from oncoming traffic but failing to check for parallel pedestrian traffic. Lest you think all fault lies with the motorist, think again.
Too many pedestrians think a walk signal ensures their safe passage. While it may give them the lawful right of way, it does not ensure that an approaching vehicle going straight or turning will yield to them or even sees them. Pedestrians crossing business driveways are often surprised when an vehicle exiting the business parking lot fails to stop for them. Pedestrians running across the street (often at an angle and not at the corner or in a crosswalk) do not realize that motorists only focus on what they expect to see, that being other motor vehicles. This is especially true when a driver is driving towards the rising or setting sun, or at night.
Ms. Abramson noted that “[S]ome changes, like never stepping off the curb until the light has actually changed, or looking both ways before crossing (sometimes twice), are probably salutary. But you are never again sure that a vehicle that should stop will stop, and carefree pedestrian wanderings in the metropolitan area end abruptly and forever.”
As a phoenix personal injury attorney, I’ve been involved in way too many vehicular/pedestrian collisions. I’ve had many clients tell me they looked at the driver and was sure that the driver saw them. As a pedestrian or bicyclist, don’t think you’ve made eye contact with a motorist unless that motorist gives you some type of return signal confirming they both see you and are yielding to you. As a motorist, always look all ways, then look again, before proceeding with any turn. When other motorists are slowing down, accept that as a reason to exercise extra caution. Saving thirty seconds is not worth the risk, not as a driver, pedestrian, or bicyclist.