Huntsville Pedestrian Death Highlights Growing Problem
An old Huntsville lawyer once bragged that he would not handle pedestrian injury cases. Why did he refuse these cases? They are difficult.
I’ve written previously about the difficult legal issues with pedestrian cases. First, Alabama law makes them difficult. Alabama law has provisions requiring pedestrians only walk in limited places, like crosswalks. Our state laws generally favor cars over pedestrians. Some other states are different. In more urban states, their laws often favor the pedestrian. Second, Alabama is a contributory negligence states. We are one of just a couple states who follow that doctrine. What does that mean? If you are even partially at fault (think 1%) in a contributory negligence state, you cannot recover damages for your injuries. Third, the public perception here favors cars over pedestrians. That’s a real factor at trial. Because of these issues, pedestrian cases often become battles over whether the person was entirely in the crosswalk or not.
A recent al.com story involving a Huntsville pedestrian death highlights some of the issues faced by growing cities like ours. Here is the recent al.com article, Pedestrian struck, killed in Huntsville crash this morning. This pedestrian death raises several issues for discussion. What happened? A pedestrian was killed around Memorial Parkway.
According to a 2016 National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) study, 5987 pedestrians died on American roadways that year. That’s a huge number. As our major cities grow, the number of injuries and deaths will likely increase. That is, they will increase unless we plan for future safety.
Growing Cities Like Huntsville Must Plan For Pedestrians.
I’ve written several times about Huntsville’s active effort to plan for a vibrant city with lots of pedestrian and cyclist areas. Huntsville has really worked to develop key infrastructure on this issue. It’s great to leave my office in the evening and see pedestrians enjoying our downtown area!
In the past few weeks, a number of news reports have highlighted the city’s new plan to provide pedestrian access and greenway space across Memorial Parkway. That’s a major issue. When you have a huge highway that runs north and south directly through the city, you need to plan ways pedestrians can cross safely. The new proposed walkway over the parkway has generated quite a debate due to cost and other issues. I don’t write to argue specifically for or against such a proposal. I do write to applaud Huntsville’s efforts to discuss and plan for these issues. If we want a vibrant downtown, we must plan for safe pedestrian and cyclist travel around cars.
Should Alabama Reconsider Pedestrian-Related Laws?
Our state has long favored cars over pedestrians or cyclists. That’s certainly expected in a state with open, more rural areas. With growth in our major cities, we now face a different set of facts. We now have cities with growing pedestrian needs. Some cities like Huntsville and Tuscaloosa have really planned for these issues.
Another law firm outside Alabama recently posted an article compiling various pedestrian injury and death research. It’s an interesting read. I’ll cite a blog article by that firm, Matthiesen, Wickert & Lehrer. I haven’t independently looked at their data. If accurate, it’s provides some pretty eye-opening information. According to that firm’s research, the worst pedestrian states are mostly in the southern United States and include Alabama. I get that. Most of these states have long had open roadways with few large concentrated urban areas. The article also indicates that 19 states (at the time it was written) put the burden on cars to stop and yield if a pedestrian is anywhere on the roadway. Most other states require vehicles to yield only if pedestrians are in certain areas like crosswalks. In Alabama, our laws significantly restrict the locations where a pedestrian can safely walk and vehicles must yield. Is it time to debate the legal issues as our largest cities work to become more pedestrian and cyclist friendly?
Regardless Of Right-Of-Way Laws, Pedestrians Must Always Be Aware.
While we should discuss safety laws and urban planning for mixed use, these issues are no substitute for awareness. According to a study in Minnesota, only 31% of drivers yielded to pedestrians in areas required by their law. I believe the number is huge everywhere. I’ve seen too many situations where a driver did not see a pedestrian before moving.
If you are a pedestrian, you must be careful. Even when you have the right-of-way in a proper crosswalk, the car driver may not see you. Any collision definitely favors the car.
In some states, legislatures have debated “distracted walking” laws. Maybe we should. Distracted driving is a huge danger with car drivers. This danger has led to numerous debates in the Alabama legislature about cell phone use, texting and other distractions. What about the distracted pedestrian? He may be in the crosswalk but he is still totally unaware of his surroundings because his eyes are glued to the phone. What about the pedestrian that runs across the road wearing earbuds and looking at his or her phone? On numerous occasions in downtown Huntsville, I’ve seen pedestrians walk right out into the road while completely distracted and unaware of events around them. Should that be an issue for debate? Regardless of right-of-way, pedestrians must stay aware and take precautions around moving vehicles.
Pedestrian safety is a growing issue. The rate of pedestrian accidents, injuries and deaths, has been increasing across the United States. That trend is easily understandable as we see our major cities grow. It’s a good time to plan for the future in several ways. I’m glad Huntsville has taken a lead in doing so.
From our office in downtown Huntsville, we are personal injury and accident attorneys who help people statewide. Our lawyers have appeared in courts across Alabama. If you have a personal injury question, let us know. We are happy to discuss your issues confidentially and free of charge. You can reach the attorneys in the Blackwell Law Firm at (256) 261-1315.