Pedestrians and Drivers May be Held Responsible in Motor Vehicle/Pedestrian Accidents.
Whenever a pedestrian is struck by a motor vehicle, the results are often tragically fatal. Take, for example, the recent incident that happened in Jonesboro at GA 138 and Devonshire Drive, near Swint Elementary School. According to initial newspaper reports, an unidentified individual was struck by two different vehicles and ultimately killed as a result of the accident. Clayton County officials have not completed their investigation, and as such, the details of the incident are not yet available. While we do not know the age or identity of the victim or what the victim may have been wearing, we do know that the person was struck before dawn while crossing GA 138 outside of any crosswalk and not at a traffic signal. Given the time and location of the incident, the victim may have been a parent, schoolchild, or teacher heading for the nearby elementary school. Regardless, this accident is tragic, and ultimately could have been prevented.
Every year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) reports statistics on pedestrians killed in motor vehicle-related accidents. For example, in 2012, nearly 5,000 pedestrians died in the United States in motor vehicle-related accidents, and approximately 76,000 pedestrians suffered serious injuries after being struck by a car or truck. These statistics have been generally consistent over the past decade.
Determining fault, if any, in a motor vehicle-pedestrian accident is fact-specific to the incident. Usually, liability hinges on whether the pedestrian or driver violated his or her respective duty of care owed to the other. Both drivers and pedestrians are obligated to obey traffic laws and exercise reasonable care.
Hundreds of pedestrians are struck and killed yearly within blocks of a school. Children between the ages of 5 and 9 are at the greatest risk of being hit by a vehicle. Drivers owe a heightened duty of reasonable car when operating their car nearby a school, especially around dawn before crossing guards assume their post. Whether the pedestrian in the Jonesboro incident was a child or an adult will be something that the Clayton County investigators will consider in determining fault, if any.
Another key factor will be whether the pedestrian who was attempting to cross GA 138 was somewhere other than at a traffic signal or a marked crosswalk, as it appears from first reports. Had the pedestrian been in a marked crosswalk, he had the right of way under Georgia law pursuant to a 1995 law that requires that drivers who encounter pedestrians in crosswalks "stop and stay stopped," not just yield. Georgia does not recognize "jaywalking" as a legal term. Still, the term is generally used to describe a pedestrian who crosses a roadway outside of a crosswalk.
It is likely that the Clayton County investigators will not bring charges against the two drivers in this tragic incident. Had the pedestrian been in a crosswalk, or properly yielded to traffic if outside a crosswalk, one or both driver might have been negligence. Had one or both drivers been speeding, particularly in a school zone, or somehow been distracted, liability might also attach. On the other hand, if the pedestrian put himself or herself in harm's way, careless attempting to cross a busy highway outside of a crosswalk or against a traffic signal, liability is unlikely. Under any circumstance, this tragic fatality should be a reminder to all of us to obey traffic laws and to be particularly mindful when crossing busy roads.
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