In a perfect world, pedestrians would always cross the street with the light between the lines of the crosswalk, and motorists would always stop behind the line and give these people plenty of room to walk. Alas, we do not live in a perfect world, which is why there are rules governing these situation. The first step to understanding these rules is clarifying two key terms.
California Vehicle Code 21453 clearly prohibits vehicles from entering the intersection on a steady red light unless they are preparing to make right turns. Many people think that the “intersection” begins at the curb, but that’s simply not true. The intersection starts behind the stop line, which is the white line closest to oncoming traffic; if there is no stop line, the intersection begins behind the crosswalk.
In tennis, if any part of the ball touches any part of the endline, the ball is not in play. Being “in the crosswalk” works in about the same way. If any part of the pedestrian’s foot is on any part of either line, the pedestrian is not in the crosswalk. There are some exceptions. For example, a car may be in the intersection illegally, blocking part of the crosswalk and forcing pedestrians outside the lines. Or, there may be so many pedestrians crossing at once that one or more of them must walk outside the lines.
According to the landmark case of Donoghue v. Stevenson, pedestrians and motorists have a duty to take reasonable precautions necessary to avoid injury. Lord James Atkin put it this way: “You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour, [or] persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question.”
Since motorists drive 4,000+ pound vehicles, most of the onus falls on them to avoid crosswalk crashes.
Factors in Pedestrian/Car Accidents
Speed is a primary factor in most auto accidents between pedestrians and motor vehicles. The serious injury rate among pedestrians is only about 40 percent at 30-mph, but it more than doubles, to 90 percent, at 45-mph. Failure to maintain lookout is another common factor. When motorists prepare to make a right turn on red, they usually pull directly to the curb, look only to the left, and gun their engines when they see a break in the traffic. If there was an elephant in the crosswalk, they might not see it. Almost the same thing happens when drivers make unprotected left turns, because they are looking straight ahead and may never check the crosswalk.
The bottom line is that before they walk through crosswalks, pedestrians should always assume that drivers do not see them. Make eye contact before you take that first step, whether you have the light or not.
Injured pedestrians sometimes have issues getting the medical treatment they need, either because their health insurance company refuses to pay for injuries related to MVCs (motor vehicle crashes) or because their primary physician is not experienced with whiplash and other crash-specific injuries. As part of the damages process, an attorney will refer injured victims to injury/accident doctors who do not charge any fees upfront.
In addition to medical bills, lost wages, and other economic damages, victims are also entitled to compensation for their non-economic damages, like pain and suffering, loss of consortium (companionship), emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment in life.
About the Author:
Sherwin Arzani is the founder and co-owner of Citywide Law Group, a Los Angeles personal injury law firm. Mr. Arzani attended top ranked University of Michigan School of Law and has over 10 years experience helping accident victims get the compensation they deserve.