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NHTSA and CT lawmakers act to address increase in pedestrian fatalities

The United States Department of Transportation’s (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently reported a national increase in pedestrian fatalities. According to the agency’s most recent information, pedestrian deaths due to traffic crashes increased by 3% in 2018. This translates to 6,283 fatalities.

To address this increase, NHTSA launched a pedestrian safety initiative. In a recent announcement, the agency stated October will officially be National Pedestrian Safety Month. The agency is using this platform to provide information to both pedestrians and drivers, with the hopes that education will translate to a reduction in these catastrophic accidents.

In addition to this national effort, Connecticut has taken a more localized approach. Pedestrian deaths in the state have increased at an even higher rate compared to the national level, up 20% from 2017 to 2018. Recent reports note the state was off to an “exceptionally deadly start” when it came to pedestrian accidents in 2020. This led safety advocates to call for more than just educational efforts. They are calling for legislative change.

As such, lawmakers are currently considering a new proposal that would lead to the following changes:

  • Right of way. Current law requires drivers grant pedestrians the right-of-way when in a crosswalk. This proposal would extend that law to include those who show an intent to enter the crosswalk.
  • Speed limits. The law would also allow cities and towns more flexibility when changing speed limits. Current law requires the state approve all changes. This would allow changes without approval, but still require notification to state officials.
  • Increased penalties. The law would also increase the penalties for distracted driving. A first offense would increase from $150 to $187.50 and a second from $300 to $375.

The proposal also calls on the state to prohibit dooring. Dooring, the opening of a vehicle door into an oncoming bicyclist or pedestrian, is not currently addressed by state law. Connecticut is one of only nine states that does not have a law addressing this practice. As such, advocates are hopeful that this, and the other provisions noted above, will have a smooth passage through the legislative process and become law in the near future.

How can we reduce the rate of pedestrian accidents?

Regardless of the future of the proposal outlined above, pedestrians can take steps to help better ensure their safety. Pedestrians can walk on sidewalks whenever possible and walk facing traffic if a sidewalk is not present so they can clearly see oncoming traffic.

Pedestrians should also be aware of their surroundings. Do not look down at a phone or other distraction. Focus on the road and be prepared to react to any oncoming traffic. It can also help to wear bright clothing during the day and reflective material at night.

What if there is a pedestrian accident? Are there remedies for victims?

Unfortunately, even when these steps are taken, accidents can happen. In the event of a pedestrian accident, the victim may have legal remedies. State law requires drivers to operate their vehicles with care. As a result, legal remedies are generally available if there is an accident. In most cases, the pedestrian will need to show that driver was negligent. Courts will consider a number of different factors when looking at this type of case. A victim could show the driver was negligent if they were not following traffic laws. This could include speeding or simply failing to pay attention while driving. If successful, the pedestrian can receive compensation to help cover the expenses that result from the accident. Expenses like medical bills, the cost of rehabilitation and missed wages.