Walking near Bellingham roadways at night poses greatest risk for devastating collisions

In fall and winter in Whatcom County, darkness lasts much longer than other cities further south, which means there are more pedestrians out during peak traffic hours. That can be deadly, such as this devastating crash that killed Bellingham resident Kathleen Lord a year ago. Even without alcohol or drugs factoring in, it is simply more dangerous for pedestrians to share the roads with vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) has estimated that a pedestrian is killed every 2 hours and injured every 8 minutes in traffic crashes.  The majority (approximately 78%) of fatalities occurred in urban areas.  The majority (approximately 72% of these incidents occurred while it was dark out.  Doubtless, walking around at night increases one’s chances of being struck by a vehicle.

When pedestrians walk without the benefit of daylight, they are at an increased risk of involvement in an accident with a motor vehicle. In many cases, they will be able to recover compensation for any injuries they have sustained, so it is important that anyone involved in a pedestrian accident have their case fully reviewed by an experienced lawyer. Among the types of losses that are often compensable in a Washington State pedestrian accident case include the following:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost income
  • Loss of quality of life
  • Property damage
  • Physical and emotional pain and suffering

In many cases, pedestrians are severely injured in accidents with motor vehicles, which often in turn result in significant losses. In fact, in serious cases, pedestrian accident victims can claim losses well into the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. As a result, insurance companies (or self-insured at-fault parties) are highly incentivized to do everything possible to avoid or minimize liability. This fact makes it crucial for anyone involved in a pedestrian accident to retain a lawyer who is will protect their rights and is not hesitant to take a case to trial should justice demand it.

Human and Environmental Factors

A number of factors come into play when an accident occurs at night.

  • Low Visibility – Visibility is low and drivers must rely on headlights to see the road. Streetlights might be out, effectively eliminating the chances of a pedestrian being seen.
  • Impairment – there tend to be more drivers on the road at night who operate their vehicles while under the influence of alcohol
  • Pedestrian clothing – pedestrians wearing dark clothing may not be as easily visible during the night
  • Weather Conditions – the roads may be wet, icy, or have obstructions that would be difficult to see at night (such as a pothole)
  • Perception-Reaction time – because of lack of ambient light, humans suffer from a decrease in ability to perceive the objects around them and react accordingly. For instance, a motorist traveling at 40 mph during the day might notice a pedestrian crossing the intersection from afar and brake in time to avoid collision.  At night, the pedestrian would not be as apparent and the motorist traveling 40mph might not be able to brake in time.
  • Distracted driving - pedestrians are vulnerable to distracted drivers any time of day. If a driver is distracted along with the reduction in visibility night brings, there is even less time to react to a pedestrian in or near the roadway.

Assessing Fault

Often times a car or truck driver might claim that a pedestrian suddenly “came out of nowhere” and deny liability or claim that they are not completely at fault for the accident.  These motorists will call to attention a number of the aforementioned human factors along with several environmental factors in an attempt to excuse them from fault.  Accordingly, the motorist may not always be at fault in the event of a pedestrian accident that occurs at night.

However, a motorist still owes a general duty of care to a pedestrian in that the motorist cannot operate their vehicle in a negligent manner.  Running stop sign light because you didn’t “see it” is no excuse for hitting a pedestrian crossing the street.  However, if the street lamps in the intersection were out and it was pitch dark out, the motorist may have an excuse for colliding with the pedestrian. This does not mean that the pedestrian cannot still recover some compensation, however, as Washington State law allows injured accident victims to collect partial recovery when fault is shared. Having an experienced pedestrian accident lawyer on your side is extremely important in this situation to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.

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