There's no question that cars, in general, are becoming safer. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's studies confirm as much. The number of people injured in auto accidents in 2015 (2,443,000) was significantly lower than its recent peak, in 1996, of nearly 3,500,00. The movement towards semi-autonomous cars is likely to lower the number even further.
A disturbing statistic, however, is the significant increase in the number of pedestrian, bicyclist and other non-occupant fatalities over a ten-year period. In 2006, this group comprised 13% of fatalities; that number jumped to 18% in 2015, and when the statistics are viewed in more recent terms (between 2014-2015), the numbers are even more significant.
So why, when car and truck manufacturers are becoming more and more safety conscious, are more pedestrians and bicyclists involved in auto related accidents and fatalities?
One answer, we would argue, is the increased use of cellular/smart phones while driving. Over the past ten years these devices have become significantly more prevalent in our society, and it now goes without saying that nearly every driver on the road has a cell phone in the car. As cars become safer, their drivers become more distracted.
As we have written elsewhere, distracted driving and texting while driving are, we believe, the most dangerous element of road safety today. And despite laws prohibiting texting and emailing while driving, the practice remains ubiquitous.
So, what rights does a pedestrian or bicyclist have if they are hit by a distracted driver?
The short answer is that they generally have the same legal rights as a passenger in another car – that is the right to pursue a claim of negligence against the distracted driver who hit them. Pedestrians and bicyclists are also generally entitled to pursue no-fault benefits for medical and other expenses when struck by a distracted driver.
Pedestrians and bicyclists who are hit by a distracted driver should also be aware of other concerns.
It is critical that the injured pedestrian or cyclist obtain a copy of the police report of the accident as well as, if possible, relevant insurance information from the distracted driver who struck them. The victim will want to provide notice to the insurance carrier of the claim as soon as practical following the accident.
The injured pedestrian or cyclist should also be cognizant of the potential need to notify his or her own insurance company of the possibility of an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim. In the event that your carrier does not offer you coverage if you are a pedestrian, and if the other driver did not have insurance, you may be able to file a claim with the New York Motor Vehicle Accident Indemnification Corporation (MVAIC).
Be careful about tickets.
On some occasions the pedestrian or bicyclist is issued a ticket – for walking outside the crosswalk, riding on the sidewalk, or some other infraction. If this happens to you after you are struck by a car you must be very careful about how you resolve that infraction. A guilty plea can have a negative impact on your potential personal injury lawsuit against the driver that hit you, even if despite a technical legal violation, you were not really doing anything wrong. If you were injured as a result of the accident contact a lawyer before you make any plea to the ticket.
With distracted driving become more prevalent every day it is critical to understand the myriad potential issues effecting pedestrians and bicyclists. If you have other questions about distracted driving accidents contact us today.