Injury Law Blog

How do we make the roads safe for walkers?

If you like to walk, you’ve probably had a few narrow escapes that made you jump out of the way of a passing car or truck. You might even hear your friends say it is getting too dangerous to walk in California.

Your friends have a point. The number of people injured in motor vehicle accidents while walking has gone up dramatically in recent years. California is one of the most dangerous states for pedestrians. Whether you walk to work or school, or you simply walk across the parking lot to the grocery store, you would be wise to learn how to protect yourself from harm.

Pedestrian accidents: who, where and when

Pedestrian accidents have increased in recent years. Certain groups and situations are more prone to injury or death:

  • 6 p.m. to midnight is the most dangerous time to cross the street.
  • Three-fourths of pedestrian accidents happen in urban areas.
  • Three-fourths of accidents occur when not crossing at intersections.
  • Pedestrians age 50 to 64 are the most frequent victims.
  • 30 percent of pedestrians who were killed had some alcohol in their system

In California, pedestrians account for 24 percent of all traffic fatalities. Only five states have higher rates of pedestrian deaths.

Efforts to make roads safer for walkers

When walking along busy roads with stores or other businesses on either side, you may have a hard time finding a safe place to cross. To prevent traffic jams, road designers may place intersections far apart, which means you have to walk a long time before you get to a traffic light. This makes it more likely for people to put themselves in danger by jaywalking in the middle of the block.

Cities may paint a crosswalk in the middle of the road. However, this doesn’t make it safe for you unless they city also installs lights or signs to alert drivers that a pedestrian is crossing.

Double-red signals, also known as “HAWK” beacons, are one solution. At intersections with lots of pedestrian traffic, the walker or bike rider activates a yellow flashing light to tell drivers to slow down. It changes to two red lights once the person is in the crosswalk. Unlike a regular traffic light, the beacon only stops traffic when there is an actual pedestrian. As soon as the pedestrian crosses, traffic resumes, rather than waiting pointlessly for a green light.

A Federal Highway Administration study found that this type of crossing reduced pedestrian crashes by more than 50 percent. Installing pedestrian “islands” in the median is another way to reduce pedestrian accidents. Walkers only have to get halfway across instead of trying to dodge fast-moving traffic going both directions.

Drivers need to slow down — or be slowed down

It makes sense that a car driving fast will have less time to stop if you are crossing the road. Cities may post lower speed limits in areas where you and others may be walking. They may even place speed cameras to ticket drivers who go too fast.

Posting a lower speed limit does not always mean drivers will slow down. Speeding is one of the most common reasons why pedestrians suffer serious or fatal injuries in an accident. Add speed to a large vehicle like an SUV, and the chances of injury or death goes up even more.

While you may do everything you can to stay safe when you walk, you still may be at risk of being hit and injured by a car, SUV or truck. If you are injured as a pedestrian, never assume that an accident was your fault or that you do not have rights. You should seek advice about your legal options.