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A report just released by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) highlights some scary new statistics: from 2009 to 2018 pedestrian fatalities increased by 53%, while the combined number of all other traffic deaths increased by just 2%. 2019 is looking even worse: GHSA estimates the nationwide number of pedestrians killed in motor vehicle crashes increased 5% from 2018.

Experts assign a variety of reasons for the increase.  Cars are bigger, heavier, and go faster.  Drivers – and pedestrians – are distracted by their cell phones.  Marijuana and alcohol also contribute to the carnage. 

You might think that in a car vs. pedestrian collision, the vulnerable pedestrian is always right.  But according to the Nebraska Revised Statutes, pedestrians have limited rights to the streets.  

  • Pedestrians must yield the right of way to vehicles when not in a marked crosswalk or an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection. 
  • Pedestrians must yield the right of way to vehicles when crossing a street where a tunnel or overhead crossing have been provided.
  • Pedestrians are not allowed to cross between adjacent intersections where traffic control signals are in operation, except in a marked crosswalk.
  • Pedestrians are not allowed to cross an intersection diagonally unless authorized by traffic control devices.
  • Pedestrians can be prohibited from crossing designated roads and highways except in a crosswalk by local authorities and the Department of Transportation by erecting appropriate official traffic control devices (which is why we rarely see pedestrians on I-80 in Omaha).
  • In addition, pedestrians must obey traffic signal devices unless directed otherwise by a peace officer, and
  • If walking on a highway without a sidewalk, pedestrians must walk as far to the edge of the shoulder or road as possible.
  • Even if there is a crosswalk, a pedestrian cannot suddenly step off the curb and into traffic.

Pedestrians were not always restricted to small portions of the road.  Until the 1920s, streets in cities and towns were public spaces, filled with people and activity.  Then automobiles came on the scene, and right of way battles between humans and machines began.

At first, public sympathy was with the humans.  Children and elderly people were most often victims of these encounters. Cars were considered luxury vehicles for the rich, and concerned citizens circulated petitions to drastically limit speed limits.  The auto industry responded with a campaign branding people who dared to walk in the streets as “jay-walkers” – a jay being a simple country person, ignorant of city ways.  As a result of this, and other strategies, the automotive industry won the public relations and legal war for supremacy on the roads. 

If you are hit by a car and are not incapacitated by your injuries (or are accompanying anyone hit by a car) call 911.  Get the license number and insurance information from the driver.  Use your cell phone to take photos of the scene as soon as you are able.  Ask any witnesses for their name and phone number.  

If you should accidentally hit a pedestrian, do not leave the scene for any reason!  You may not be at fault concerning right of way, and even if you are, leaving the scene will make a bad situation worse.  You would also want to call 911, get information from witnesses, take photos, and obtain information from the pedestrian if possible.

Both pedestrians and drivers need to be alert and aware of their surroundings.  Don’t be distracted –either at the wheel of a two-ton vehicle, or in the path on one.