Determining Fault for Pedestrian Accidents Often Depends on Road Design and Built Infrastructure: Study

Pedestrians are found at fault in over a third of pedestrian-involved car accidents, however, researchers warn that road designs and infrastructure may be putting them at risk.

When a pedestrian is involved in an automobile accident, the findings of a new study indicates that the surrounding road infrastructure often has a major impact on who is at fault for the incident, suggesting that more attention to road design could help avoid many of the injuries.

Researchers from the Ohio State University analyzed pedestrian traffic crash data between 2015 and 2019, from the Ohio Department of Public Safety in Franklin County, Ohio. Their investigation focused on four high-crash communities within the county to determine whether the way roadway and crosswalks were built influenced pedestrian behavior and contributed to accidents.

According to the data, pedestrians were more likely to be held responsible for an accident in areas with bus stops, higher speed limits, heavier traffic, and wider crosswalks. As a result of the findings, which were published in the Journal of Transport and Land Use (JTLU) on February 9, researchers called for local officials to consider better-designed roadways and crossings in high-traffic areas.

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Pedestrians Often At Fault

During the study period, a total of 2,757 pedestrian crashes were reported. Researchers examined 1,518 accidents, after excluding those with missing data, alcohol-related crashes without indication of the impaired party, and those with unknown drivers that were not the pedestrian’s fault.

Over 60% of accidents involving pedestrians occurred on high-volume traffic roads that contained retail businesses, and in 36% of those crashes, the pedestrian was walking in the crossing midblock or in a car travel lane. The data revealed that more than a third of pedestrians were held responsible for crashes, and only one in ten pedestrians were not at fault.

Researchers determined that th biggest factors that placed blame on pedestrians, instead of the driver involved, was the location where the pedestrian was located when the accident happened. Pedestrians located in a midblock of a crossing walk or in an unmarked intersection were likely to be held responsible for a crash. Researchers found that in the majority of crashes, neither the pedestrian nor the driver had a stop sign or red light to control who had the right-of-way.

In reviewing where accidents occurred, pedestrians were more likely to be at fault in areas with higher speed limits. The chance of a pedestrian being found at fault increased by 9% with each additional mile per hour. Wider roads with heavy traffic flow and numerous connecting intersections increased the likelihood of the pedestrian being held responsible by 99%, and bus stops increased pedestrian fault odds by 30%, according to the data.

For example, 55.5% of pedestrians were found at fault for accidents in the South Linden area. The road is diagonal and many of the crosswalks do not line up, with over one in four crashes in the area occurring in an unmarked intersection.

Researchers indicate the findings suggest that pedestrian crossing behavior is associated with the design and layout of roads and neighborhoods, which may increase the likelihood of a pedestrian being held responsible for a pedestrian-related crash. They say changes should be made to designing roadways and building around them to prevent further crashes.

“When the determination of fault in pedestrian crashes fails to take into consideration the unequal distribution of pedestrian connectivity and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure between neighborhoods, it reinforces an undue burden on pedestrians in some
areas,” the researchers concluded. “Additionally, it creates inequity within neighborhoods between those who primarily drive and those who primarily walk or use transit, with that latter more exposed to crash risk.”

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