Several cities and towns in California, mostly the ones in the notorious Inland Empire, are among the most deadly areas in the country for pedestrians.
Urban planning may be partly responsible for the rising number of pedestrian fatalities. Wide-laned streets laid out in a tic-tac-toe pattern are well-suited for moving vehicle traffic across long distances where public transportation is either an afterthought or unavailable, but such a layout is not very safe for pedestrians. The wide lanes are hard to cross, especially for any pedestrians who are even somewhat mobility-impaired. Furthermore, most pedestrian-auto crashes occur in non-crosswalk areas, meaning that vehicles are normally moving at full speed moments before impact. Some advocates say these deficiencies are even worse in nonwhite neighborhoods, where infrastructure improvements are notoriously slow in coming. Finally, vehicle traffic has increased significantly since the end of the Great Recession, thus exposing these deficiencies and causing greater danger.
Voorhees Transportation Center researcher Charles Brown suggested that officials routinely perform “walkability audits” to ascertain just how safe, or unsafe, the streets in their communities are.
In terms of driver habits, some people believe it is no coincidence that pedestrian fatalities are rising dramatically at a time when distracted driving is on the rise as well. To attack this problem, California lawmakers approved a much tougher cellphone ban that went into effect in January 2016. Distraction may be an issue among pedestrians as well, a point that is discussed below.
Speed is an even bigger factor than distraction. Excessive velocity makes it difficult, or even impossible, for drivers to suddenly stop safely or otherwise avoid pedestrians. Moreover, since it multiplies the force in a collision between two objects, speed has a direct bearing on injury severity. The pedestrian death/serious injury rate is only about 10 percent if the vehicle is moving less than 25mph, and the rate jumps to about 70 percent if the vehicle is moving more than 40mph.
Pedestrians are completely unprotected from onrushing vehicles, so they are prone to many types of serious injuries, including:
- Head Injuries: Without airbags, helmets, or seat belts, only a thin layer of brittle bone protects the brain.
- Exsanguination: Massive blood loss is the norm in these kinds of accidents, between severe external trauma injuries and internal bleeding.
- Broken Bones: Especially in the extremities, bones are normally broken so badly that they require metal plates, screws, or pins during emergency corrective surgery and months of post-surgery physical rehabilitation.
Since California is a tort state, victims are entitled to compensation for their economic losses, such as medical bills,and their non economic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages are sometimes available as well.
Statistically, distracted walking may be as bad as distracted driving, and insurance company lawyers are ready to pounce on this anomaly to try and reduce victim compensation. In July 2016, two San Diego men rather famously (or infamously) fell off a cliff while walking and playing Pokemon Go, the game that took America by storm for about three hours. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, most pedestrian-vehicle wrecks occur in non-crosswalk areas, and insurance company lawyers routinely argue that such victims “darted out into traffic.”
Legally, defense lawyers often try to raise the sudden emergency defense based on facts like these. This rule excuses a tortfeasor’s (negligent driver’s) liability if the driver reasonably reacted to a sudden emergency, a phrase that has a very specific meaning. A reasonable reaction to a pedestrian in the road is to slow down, change lanes, or blow a horn, not to continue traveling at full speed and then blaming the pedestrian for the accident in court. Furthermore, a sudden emergency is a tire blowout, hood flyup, or another completely unanticipated situation, and not a pedestrian crossing against the light.
According to Sherwin Arzani, a pedestrian accident attorney in Los Angeles, CA, jaywalking pedestrians may give rise to the contributory negligence doctrine, which states that victims who are partially responsible for their own injuries are only entitled to proportional damages. California law divides damages purely according to fault, so even victims who are 99 percent responsible for the accident receive compensation for their injuries.
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