Alabama remains a car-focused state. Historically, we have been a rural state with few areas where both cars and pedestrians are present. Naturally, most pedestrian injuries occur in the downtown areas of our largest cities or near our college campuses. I have read the research on pedestrian accidents and have prepared several serious pedestrian death cases for trial. I’ve also seen the many lawyer advertisements that beg for calls but provide no substance on these difficult cases. So, here are a few brief observations of mine related to Alabama pedestrian accidents.
Pedestrian Injuries Are Increasing
In a recent tweet, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) noted that over the last 10 years pedestrian deaths have increased 69% across the United States. The data shows increases in both pedestrian and bicyclist deaths. In its 2017 Alabama Statewide Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) recognized the rise in serious accidents:
Similar to national trends, pedestrian and bicycle crashes have experienced a general increase in Alabama since 2009. Moreover, as walking and bicycling travel expands, greater exposure may result in constant or elevated crashes despite overall improvements in traffic safety.
Why have pedestrian accidental death rates risen so drastically? The statistics reveal that traffic deaths in urban areas began surpassing rural areas in 2016. Pedestrian and bicycle use increases in urban areas and college communities. The ALDOT plan contains an interesting map which clearly shows higher rates of cycling accidents in Alabama’s more metropolitan areas.
The changing numbers from rural to urban across the United States explain the rise in both pedestrian and cyclist accidents. This population change is evident in Alabama where the largest cities have grown while the most rural areas have lost population. As urban areas increase, pedestrian safety needs to be a priority.
Pedestrian Rights Are Limited In Alabama
A survey of lawyer ads begging for calls might make you think pedestrian injury cases are easy. That’s simply not true. Pedestrian accident cases can require a skilled attorney, especially in fatality cases where the pedestrian cannot testify.
While I won’t discuss all Alabama pedestrian laws in this short post, pedestrians must follow all traffic control devices and signs. Generally, any pedestrian crossing a roadway somewhere other than an intersection or crosswalk must also yield to cars on the roadway. When a pedestrian “jaywalks” the car has the right of way. And, pedestrians generally cannot walk on the roadway if a sidewalk is present.
Maybe you’ve heard the old saying that the pedestrian has the right of way. However, that old saying is simply not true in many situations.
Since Alabama is a contributory negligence state (if you are even partially at fault, you cannot recover) these laws often make winning a pedestrian case very difficult. I’ve handled some pedestrian death cases where the issue of whether or not the pedestrian was actually in the crosswalk when struck was the deciding factor. We’ve had to engage experts in accident reconstruction just to help with these claims. The issues can be difficult.
In a car-oriented state, a certain bias in favor of drivers may also exist at trial. If you don’t believe me, read some of the comments to news articles discussing local pedestrian deaths. I read these lengthy comments while preparing for jury selection in a prior pedestrian wrongful death case. As a pedestrian (or pedestrian’s family) with a claim, you face serious biases against your case. Both our law and biases make these claims difficult.
But, as Alabama’s largest cities grow and pedestrian numbers increase, the perception of pedestrian safety also changes. Around Alabama’s largest cities and schools, more people seek safe walking areas. I see changing trends in the number of pedestrians, the desire for safe pedestrian areas, and the biases when pedestrian accidents occur. We need to plan so we may achieve increased pedestrian safety.
Pedestrian Safety Involves Traffic Planning — Huntsville Paves The Way
Huntsville does a great job posting articles about its efforts to grow as a community. The City’s blog contains a number of articles about traffic and pedestrian planning. Our local government has developed long-range plans to continue downtown Huntsville’s development as a center for work and play. Some of the articles on their blog discuss long-range efforts to increase pedestrian areas and pedestrian safety as part of the bigger plan. If you travel through downtown Huntsville, you can see areas where the City is trying to incorporate walking and biking into daily transportation. It’s great to see a positive focus on safety planning for pedestrians.
At the Blackwell Law Firm, we focus on cases involving serious injury. It’s all we do. We believe hard work, preparation and legal scholarship make the difference for our clients.