Protecting Pedestrians

Every sixty-six minutes, a motor vehicle kills a pedestrian in our country.  Every day, over 280 pedestrians are injured seriously enough to require hospital emergency room treatment¹

Most of us drive cars; almost all of us are at times pedestrians.  When we get behind the wheel of a car, we have dozens of safety features to protect us, mostly thanks to decades of product liability cases that have led to everything from padded dashes to seatbelts and airbags.  When we walk across the street, there is nothing between us and moving motor vehicles that typically weigh one to two tons.  Pedestrians include some of the most vulnerable among us, including the elderly, children, and people with disabilities.  Drivers have a special responsibility to protect pedestrians, but not every driver understands or always follows the safety rules.  Beyond the critical basics of not driving while distracted or impaired, paying attention, and not speeding, too many drivers do not seem to be aware of the following safety laws.  These laws were passed by the Oregon Legislature in a democratic process based on painful and sometimes fatal experiences.  We see or hear of these problems too often in our work:

One common driver misunderstanding is what is a “crosswalk.”  Many crosswalks are unmarked, and drivers still have special safety duties even at unmarked crosswalks.  In Oregon, while the definition of an unmarked crosswalk sounds technical, unmarked crosswalks are basically at intersections where a crosswalk could have been marked, but wasn’t (see Oregon Revised Statute [ORS] 801.220(1) and (2)).  When a car is driving straight ahead toward a pedestrian crossing in a marked or unmarked crosswalk, the driver must stop and remain stopped while the pedestrian is in the driver’s lane or the adjacent lane.  ORS 811.028(1).

One too-frequent driver mistake is turning while a pedestrian is too close to the lane the driver intends to turn into.  The turning driver has a duty to stop and remain stopped while the pedestrian is in a crosswalk in the lane they are turning into and while the pedestrian is in the adjacent lane.  ORS 811.028(1)(b)(A) and (D).  (Sometimes the law allows the driver to proceed if the pedestrian is six or more feet from the lane in which the driver’s vehicle is turning, but why push it?)

Another common driver mistake is passing a car stopped ahead at an intersection.  If the car ahead is stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross at a marked or unmarked crosswalk, it is a legal offense for a driver approaching from the rear to overtake and pass the stopped vehicle.  ORS 811.020.   If you are driving ahead and see a car stopped at an intersection, stop.  You may not be able to see the pedestrian the other car is stopped to protect.

The last problem we hear about too often is a driver not stopping when emerging from alley, driveway, private road, or building.  When doing so, the driver must stop before the sidewalk; if there is no sidewalk or sidewalk area, the driver must stop at the point nearest the roadway to be entered where the driver has a view of approaching traffic.  ORS 811.505.  While this is not a pedestrian-specific safety law, having drivers stop under those circumstances is an important part of keeping people on foot safe, as they may otherwise be difficult for the driver to see until it is too late.

When we talk with injured pedestrians, we sometimes wonder if many of these problems arise when some drivers do not treat pedestrians with sufficient respect, and do not treat crosswalks and sidewalks as a sanctuary for those on foot.  It would be a nightmare for a driver to injure a pedestrian, and all the worse if the driver broke one of the safety rules.  When we are pedestrians, we literally put our lives in the hands of drivers, and count on them to follow the law.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Pedestrian Safety