What Are the Common Causes of Pedestrian Accidents?

Over the last century, even as the average lifespan of Americans has lengthened significantly, increasing numbers of people have died in preventable accidents. Pedestrian injuries and fatalities in traffic crashes, which were more or less unheard of 100 years ago, are now more common than ever.

Learning the common causes of pedestrian accidents could help you avoid falling victim to one. And if you’ve already suffered injuries in a pedestrian crash, understanding what causes them can help to explain your rights to seek compensation from the party at fault and how an experienced pedestrian accident attorney can help.

Common Causes of Pedestrian Accidents in the United States

Traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of death and injury in the United States. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), tens of thousands of Americans die in traffic crashes annually, and millions more suffer injuries.

Many of those victims are pedestrians. In one recent year, traffic accidents killed 6,516 pedestrians and injured nearly 55,000. And in big cities like New York, pedestrian deaths and injuries have significantly increased.

What explains this troubling tally of death and injury among pedestrians? Here are some of the most common culprits.

Distracted Driving

According to data gathered by the NHTSA, distracted driving led to the deaths of at least 480 pedestrians in a recent year, accounting for 15 percent of fatalities caused by distracted drivers nationwide.

Potential distractions abound behind the wheel.

They include:

  • Interacting with passengers or pets in the vehicle.
  • Reaching for an object on the floor or in the back seat.
  • Cell phone and GPS use.
  • Tuning the radio or adjusting the heat or air conditioning.
  • Looking away from the road.
  • Eating, drinking, or smoking while driving.
  • Daydreaming.

Traffic laws universally require drivers to take care not to get distracted. Many states also outlaw specific distraction-inducing behaviors, like texting and driving, subjecting violators to civil and criminal penalties. Still, it seems that no amount of regulation can completely prevent lapses of driver attention that put pedestrians in mortal danger.

Drunk Driving

According to data collected by the NHTSA, drunk driving led to 11,654 traffic deaths in one recent year. One thousand forty-eight (1,048) drunk driving victims were pedestrians, accounting for roughly one-in-six pedestrian accident deaths that year.

Consuming alcohol impairs a wide range of driving abilities. A drunk driver suffers from slowed reaction times, decreased motor control, clouded judgment, and an inability to judge speed and distance. These impairments make drunk drivers extremely dangerous to pedestrians crossing a city street or walking on a road shoulder.

Failing to Yield to Pedestrians

Drivers must operate their vehicles in a manner that ensures pedestrian safety. That includes yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks and, in many states, stopping for pedestrians waiting to cross. No state permits drivers to ignore pedestrians in their path, even if a pedestrian has broken the law by stepping into a traffic lane.

But drivers often ignore these laws in large cities and on country roads. Some speed up as they approach an intersection, trying to beat a yellow light. Others fail to give a wide berth to pedestrians on a road shoulder. This disregard for pedestrian safety can easily lead to a catastrophic accident.


Speeding is another common cause of pedestrian accidents, especially in urban areas. Speeding shrinks driver and pedestrian reaction times and lengthens the distance needed to bring a vehicle to a safe stop. It also exponentially increases the force of a crash impact and thus the risk of death and catastrophic injury when a speeding vehicle strikes a pedestrian.

All states require drivers to obey posted speed limits and operate at a safe speed for road and environmental conditions. For instance, a citywide speed limit of 30 miles per hour does not make it safe to drive that speed down a street swollen with pedestrians leaving a ballgame or a concert. Drivers who make the dangerous choice to speed around pedestrians put the public at risk for severe injuries and senseless fatalities.

Backing Up

In a study prepared for Congress, the NHTSA examined four years of crash data to estimate the number of deaths and injuries from vehicles backing up into pedestrians (so-called backover crashes). The report estimated that backover accidents caused 292 pedestrian deaths and 18,000 pedestrian injuries annually.

The study also found that a disproportionately high number of pedestrian backover injuries and fatalities involved SUVs and pickup trucks. Children under age five constituted an outsized portion of the victims. These statistics show what many drivers intuitively know—the risk of hitting a pedestrian while backing up is highest while driving a vehicle with a large rear blind spot and in areas (like school parking lots and residential driveways) frequented by children.

Unsafe Road Design

Road design has a significant impact on pedestrian safety. Some pedestrian safety advocates go so far as to argue that in many U.S. cities and towns, roads are dangerous by design, prioritizing vehicle flow over pedestrians’ lives.

The location of crossing points, the types of signals used to alert drivers of pedestrian traffic, and the physical barriers placed between vehicles and pedestrians can all significantly impact pedestrian safety. Injuries and fatalities will inevitably occur if civil engineers, city planners, and local leaders do not sufficiently maximize pedestrian utility and safety when designing intersections, crosswalks, sidewalks, and roads.

Pedestrian Accident Victims Have Rights to Compensation

Motor vehicles should never strike pedestrians. When they do, usually it’s because someone failed to take reasonable actions to keep the pedestrian safe. That is why, if you or someone you love suffered injuries in a pedestrian accident, you likely have the right to demand significant financial compensation from the party at fault (and that party’s insurer).

In the typical pedestrian accident case, an injured pedestrian can take legal action seeking compensation for:

  • Medical expenses related to treating your pedestrian accident injuries, including emergency care, surgeries, follow-up appointments, therapy, medications, and medical equipment.
  • Costs of repairing or replacing your damaged personal property.
  • Expenditures to help you live independently while healing or adapting to your injuries, such as hiring help with transportation and childcare.
  • Loss of income from the time you took off work to recover after the accident.
  • Loss of earning capacity if your injuries prevent you from returning to work in the same position or capacity as before the accident.
  • Scarring, disfigurement, and humiliation.
  • Physical pain and emotional suffering.
  • Loss of independence or enjoyment of life.
  • Loss of companionship or consortium.

After a fatal pedestrian accident, the victim’s surviving spouse and family members can often seek compensation for their financial and non-financial losses through a wrongful death lawsuit.

The most reliable way to determine the types and amounts of damages you may have the right to receive is to hire an experienced pedestrian accident attorney to handle your case. A lawyer can evaluate the harm you suffered and build a case for compensation sufficient to pay your bills and get you back on your feet.

Who might owe you compensation for a pedestrian accident?

In addition to evaluating your injuries and building a case for damages, an attorney can investigate your pedestrian accident to determine who should face legal and financial accountability. As our review of common causes of pedestrian accidents illustrates, multiple individuals, businesses, and entities might play a role in causing a crash.

They might include:

  • A distracted, speeding, careless, or drunk driver.
  • The employer of a driver who hit a pedestrian with a work vehicle.
  • A government or private entity responsible for having designed and built unsafe pedestrian infrastructure.
  • An automotive manufacturer that sold unreasonably dangerous or defective products that increased the likelihood of a pedestrian crash.

These are just a few examples. The best way to find out who may owe you money for your pedestrian accident losses is to work with an experienced attorney with a track record of favorable case results and the resources to hold even the most powerful parties accountable for harming you.

Injured in a pedestrian accident? Here’s what to do.

Follow these tips to safeguard your wellbeing and protect your rights to compensation after a pedestrian accident, even if you don’t yet know its cause.

Seek Medical Attention Immediately

Always go to the doctor after getting hit by a vehicle as a pedestrian. What might feel like a bump or bruise could reflect a far more severe injury. Pedestrians face high risks of certain types of catastrophic injuries that might not show symptoms immediately, such as traumatic brain injury or internal bleeding. If you wait to seek care, an injury could worsen and might even threaten your life.

In addition to protecting your health, getting medical attention also enhances your legal rights. The medical records the doctor keeps of your injuries and treatments can serve as powerful evidence in a legal claim. They can also shield you from accusations that you make your injuries worse by failing to care for yourself.

Do Not Agree to a Quick Settlement

At-fault drivers sometimes offer cash to a pedestrian crash victim on the spot to avoid involving law enforcement or insurance in the accident. Never take this money. Doing so might violate the law and will certainly jeopardize your right to sue for compensation.

Additionally, drivers’ auto liability insurance companies frequently offer settlements directly to injured pedestrians. Do not agree to take this money, either. It’s virtually guaranteed to fall far short of what a lawyer can get for you, and it comes with strings attached. In exchange for payment, the insurer will require you to give up your rights to sue them and their policyholder.

Do Not Wait to Contact a Pedestrian Accident Lawyer

You have limited time to seek compensation for your pedestrian accident injuries. If you miss a deadline for filing your claim or putting the at-fault party or an insurer on notice, you might lose your rights completely. In addition, long before any deadlines expire, crucial evidence supporting your case could go missing if a lawyer does not take steps to preserve it.

Until you have a skilled pedestrian accident lawyer on your side fighting for you, in other words, your rights remain at risk. That’s the last thing you need to worry about when recovering from pedestrian accident injuries.

Do Not Worry About the Cost of a Lawyer

Contacting a lawyer to discuss your case won’t cost you a dime. All reputable pedestrian accident lawyers offer free consultations to victims like you. In a meeting with a knowledgeable legal professional, you can learn about your rights and explore your options for seeking compensation.

Personal injury attorney Andrew Finkelstein managing partner of Jacoby and Meyers LLP

Andrew G. Finkelstein, Pedestrian Accident Lawyer

It also won’t cost you anything to hire a lawyer who will begin working on your case immediately. Pedestrian accident attorneys represent their clients on a contingent fee basis. That means they do not charge upfront fees or bill by the hour. Instead, they work in exchange for a percentage of any money they obtain for you. In other words, they only get paid if you get paid.

Contact a Pedestrian Accident Lawyer Today

If you suffered injuries as a pedestrian in a traffic accident, you may seek compensation to pay your bills and assist you in returning to living your life. You do not have to bear the burden of your losses alone.

A skilled pedestrian accident lawyer can help you take full advantage of your rights by investigating your case, advocating for your interests, and pressing your claim with insurance companies and in court. An attorney will handle the whole process of securing money for you, giving you the time and space you need to heal and rebuild.

So don’t wait for a second longer. To learn more about your options after a pedestrian accident, contact an experienced pedestrian accident lawyer near you today.