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How COVID-19 Has Increased the Risk of Injury for Bicyclists and Pedestrians

Illustration of people in a crosswalk

The world has changed quickly over the past few months, with businesses and institutions shuttering their doors overnight. Unless you’re attending an online school like Abraham Lincoln University where you can always participate in classes in any location with Wi-Fi, you’ve most likely experienced a dramatic decrease in the daily commute to work and school. What you may or may not have noticed is that this trend has also brought about an increase in pedestrian traffic and a downright boom in bicycle traffic.

“I’ve been in the [bicycle] industry 15 years and nothing even close,” said Phillip Brown, co-owner of a bike shop in Denver, Colorado. “This is, I would say, twice the demand increase that we’ve ever seen,” according to an article published in The Guardian.

The National Association of City Transport Officials (NACTO) issued a public statement highlighting an “explosion” in bicycling in numerous cities across the U.S.

And a report issued by Eco-Counter (a company that collects data on bicyclists) has revealed bicycle counts have “significantly increased” across the United States since the outbreak. A prime example of this is highlighted by Eco-Counter‘s data, which reveals a spike in bicycle use by more than 100 percent in the Southwest region of the United States.

Along with this surge in bicycle use, there has been a dramatic uptick in people simply venturing outside for a walk. People are on foot more often, taking advantage of a sunny day, some fresh air, and a chance to see what’s going on around their neighborhood. And with this activity, there’s an increase in the use of crosswalks, sidewalks, alleyways, and other areas. The downside is that this invariably increases the risk of getting involved in a collision with a distracted, intoxicated, or reckless motorist. 

More Bicyclists and Pedestrians Mean Increased Risk of Collision 

This increase in bicyclists and pedestrians on roads and streets across America has created a potentially dangerous situation as businesses reopen and life begins a hopeful return to “normal.” The risk is that, as states gradually reopen, more vehicles will be using roads and streets. As a result, there is a higher likelihood of motorists encountering multiple bicyclists and pedestrians. This includes encounters on roads that were typically not utilized by bicyclists and pedestrians prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pedestrian and Motorist Collisions Often Have Deadly Consequences

The unfortunate reality is that when a pedestrian is hit by a motorist, the devastation can be severe. For example, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) issued a report revealing that pedestrian deaths increased by 46 percent since 2009. The IIHS report also highlighted the fact that close to 6,000 people were hit and killed by motorists, and that was just in 2016. 

How to Reduce Your Risk of Collision with Motorists

If you are someone who enjoys taking a walk or riding your bicycle, especially during the warm summer months, apply these four tips. Improve your safety and reduce the risk of getting involved in a serious collision with a motorist. 

Tip #1 – Adhere to Pedestrian Crosswalk Laws

Don’t jaywalk! Each year, thousands of pedestrians are killed while illegally crossing the street (i.e. jaywalking). For example, in 2016, over 4,000 pedestrians were killed by motorists while jaywalking. In addition, more than 37,000 jaywalking pedestrians were injured after being hit by motorists, according to data maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Tip #2 – Do Not Text and Walk

You’ve probably heard of the risks associated with distracted driving. Well, distracted walking can be just as dangerous. For example, according to data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, close to five thousand people were injured while they were walking and using their cellphone, smartphone or other electronic device. And that was just in 2013. 

“Smartphone use that takes a pedestrian’s eyes off the traffic environment has a higher potential safety cost than activities that do not curtail scanning,” said Jeff Caird, co-author of a study about distracted pedestrians that was conducted through the University of Calgary in Canada. 

Tip #3 – Stay on the Sidewalk

When possible, stay on the sidewalk at all times when you go for a walk. If a sidewalk is unavailable, walk on the far side of the road facing traffic. Why? Because this will help increase your visibility to motorists and reduce the risk of being sideswiped. And if you’re riding your bicycle, make sure you stay in the designated bicycle lane.

Tip #4 – Maintain Visibility

If you are walking on a sidewalk or crossing the street, a good rule of thumb is to assume that most motorists are not utilizing their full attention. Exercise extreme caution and be visible. For example, if you are going for a walk or riding your bike in the evening time, or dusk, make sure you wear visible clothing. A reflective vest or jacket, or a piece of bright-colored clothing will help alert motorists to your presence. Also choose to travel on well-lit streets.

Factors that Contribute to Bicyclist and Pedestrian Accidents

According to a report issued by Smart Growth America titled “Dangerous By Design,” the infrastructure of many cities and streets in the United States are intentionally designed to favor the efficient and rapid movement of motorists at high rates of speeds. They are not necessarily designed to favor bicyclist and pedestrian traffic. 

Other factors that contribute to bicyclist and pedestrian accidents include:

  • Distracted driving (e.g. texting and driving)
  • Aggressive or enraged motorists
  • Speeding motorists
  • Drowsy motorists who fall asleep behind the wheel of a vehicle
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Right-of-way mistakes
  • Red light running
  • Failure to stop at stop signs

Legal Definition of “Crosswalk”

Generally, a crosswalk is defined in two ways:

  1. Unmarked crosswalk – The part of a roadway at an intersection measured from the edges, or curbs/sidewalks, of the traversable roadway on each side. 
  2. Marked crosswalk – The portion of a roadway at an intersection or elsewhere distinctly indicated for pedestrian crossing. 

In the majority of states, motorists are legally obligated to yield to bicyclists and pedestrians who are traversing through a marked crosswalk and an unmarked crosswalk.

What To Do if You Are Involved in a Crosswalk Accident

If you are hit by a motorist while crossing the street, either as a pedestrian or while riding your bike, here are some tips on what to do next:

  • Contact the police – taking the time to call 911 is important because police often draft accident reports that capture important details about the accident, including whether the motorist involved in the accident was cited for a traffic infraction. 
  • Pursue immediate medical care – when someone is struck by a motorist, it’s extremely important to seek medical attention as soon as humanly possible. Getting medical treatment sooner rather than later accomplishes two important goals:
    • It helps ensure your bodily injuries are treated; and
    • It establishes a record of your medical treatment and documents your bodily trauma. 
  • Write down what happened – In the aftermath of an accident, you may be feeling overwhelmed. Your mind is most likely swirling with questions and concerns. To ensure the specific events leading up to the accident are captured, take the time to write down everything you remember. This is also important because with the passage of time, your memory inevitably fades. This may make it difficult to recall exactly what happened after a number of days, weeks or months have passed. Examples of the types of facts to record include: 
    • Names of the motorist who hit you
    • Insurance information of the motorist
    • License plate number of the vehicle
    • Contact information for any witnesses who saw the accident 
    • When the accident occurred
    • Whether there were any stop signs or red lights at the crosswalk
  • Consider speaking to an attorney – If you were involved in an accident caused by the potential negligent actions or inactions of a motorist, you should consider speaking to a lawyer to discuss their legal options.  

Rick ShapiroAbout the Author
Richard “Rick” Shapiro is a shareholder with the Virginia Beach personal injury law firm of Shapiro, Appleton & Washburn, P.C.. Rick has practiced law for over three decades, primarily in the eastern United States. He is licensed to practice law in Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C. He is a Board Certified Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy (ABA Accredited) and rated as a “Best Lawyer” for personal injury litigation by U.S. News & World Report (since 2010).

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