Everyone is a pedestrian at some point in the day. Alarmingly, recent nationwide data demonstrates that pedestrians are experiencing increased fatalities on roadways as compared with other road users. On average, a pedestrian was killed every 1.5 hours in traffic crashes. Traffic Safety Facts: Pedestrians, March 2018. In Connecticut, in the year 2016, there were 293 traffic fatalities: 54 of those were pedestrian fatalities (that’s almost 20% of all traffic fatalities). This rise in pedestrian versus car collisions seems to coincide with the rise of mobile phone use. The fact is that while a lot of attention has been directed toward distracted driving, including education campaigns, laws and public information ads, very little attention has been focused on distracted walking.
We predict this lack of attention to distracted pedestrians is about to change in Connecticut, and nationwide, with some cities already placing new criminal laws on the books to address the problem. (Honolulu becomes first major city to ban the use of cell phones in intersections – Business Insider, Oct. 25, 2017)
Walking through intersections and around cars requires critical thinking skills. Many of the same concerns about distracted driving apply to pedestrians. A pedestrian needs to see cars on the road, anticipate their route and speed, be prepared to speed up or slow down their pace, anticipate that the driver may not see the pedestrian, and many more cognitive functions. If those important critical thinking skills are impaired in any way, the pedestrian’s chances of being struck by a car are greatly increased. This explains a few statistics including that almost half of the car versus pedestrian crashes involved alcohol use by either the pedestrian or driver. Unsafe pedestrian behaviors clearly contribute to many pedestrian collisions. Impaired pedestrians are a key causal factor for many pedestrian collisions, and alcohol involvement was reported in 48 percent of traffic crashes that resulted in pedestrian fatalities. Traffic Safety Facts at 5.
How does this play out in our Connecticut courts? A good representative case is Kelly v. Alcaraz, 2016 Conn. Super. LEXIS 598, Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Waterbury at Waterbury, March 18, 2016, UWYCV146022615. Kelly involved a pedestrian who was struck by a truck owned by the City of Waterbury. The pedestrian suffered a fracture of his tibial plateau (knee joint) leaving him permanently partially disabled and unable to perform most of the basic activities that he enjoyed prior to the crash. The judge awarded the plaintiff (Kelly) more than $43,000.00 in medical bills and $200,000.00 for his pain and suffering ($200,000.00) for a total award of $243,000.00. However, even though the truck driver was found to be negligent in his operation of the truck, the judge found that Kelly, the pedestrian, was also negligent for entering the crosswalk while it was red for pedestrians, for not paying attention to his surroundings, and for failing to observe that there was traffic turning into his direction of travel. Consequently, the court found Kelly 40% comparatively negligent for causing the collision. Bottom line? A final judgment entered in favor of the pedestrian – but with a 40% discount for his own negligence as a pedestrian – resulting in a net award of approximately $146,000.00 (60% of the total award). That’s a $100,000.00 mistake. Lesson? Pay attention when you are crossing the road, stay in your crosswalk, and put your cell phone away.