Everyone has heard it before- Don’t drink and drive. Fatal automobile accidents increase dramatically during high traffic seasons, and holidays are the worst, combining more vehicles on the road with an increased number of intoxicated drivers.
But what about intoxicated pedestrians? New Year’s Eve has the fifth highest number of crash fatalities overall, but it is the number one day for pedestrian crash deaths. The same factors that are involved with general crash fatalities are present on New Year’s Eve, with the added component that many pedestrians choose to walk home intoxicated, rather than risk their lives and the lives of others behind the wheel.
However, drunken walkers are still engaging in a risky undertaking. Alcohol negatively affects the brain‘s ability to focus and it slows down the whole body’s reaction time. Consequently, intoxicated drivers and intoxicated pedestrians have less coordination, difficulty processing information, and following moving objects. The physical limitations imposed by drinking heavily makes driving or even walking near traffic dangerous in itself. However, drinking also limits a person’s mental faculties. In addition to the physical effects of alcohol, intoxicated persons experience loss of judgment and a decreased ability to perform two tasks at once. In other words, a drunk person makes more bad decisions than a sober person, but is less capable of handling the consequences.
For example, a pedestrian may leave a bar with a group of friends headed to the night’s next destination. The group has a boisterous conversation and is quite unaware of their surroundings. The leader of the group walks backwards in order to see everyone. Although he is aware that a crosswalk is coming up, his brain has trouble processing risk, and he does not stop to determine whether he has the right of way. Crossing without a second thought, the pedestrian is hit by a driver with a green light who thought the pedestrian would stop at the edge of the sidewalk.
To prevent such tragedies, pedestrians who plan on drinking should find a friend to look out for their safety and might consider taking a taxi or public transportation instead of walking. Drivers should never assume that a pedestrian will yield to an oncoming car and should approach crosswalks with caution.
California Vehicle Code Section 21950 gives the right of way to pedestrians in marked crosswalks and at unmarked intersections. The statute places a heavy burden on drivers of vehicles. Despite having the right of way at a green light, drivers are still responsible for slowing down at intersections for bold or inattentive pedestrians who challenge the light. The statute imposes a duty on drivers to exercise due care for the safety of any pedestrian in a marked crosswalk and at intersections. Pedestrians also have the duty of using due care to ensure their own safety, and they are admonished not to walk into the path of oncoming vehicles. However, the statute also provides that the pedestrian’s duty to act in a safe manner does not relieve any driver’s duty to exercise due care. Drivers who are not reasonably cautious may find themselves fully or partially liable for the costs of an accident for breaching the duty imposed by California Vehicle Code Section 21950.
Finally, December is the darkest month in the United States and low visibility increases the chance of pedestrian fatalities on days like New Year’s Eve. The Brod Law Firm encourages pedestrians and drivers to remain prudent and to plan their night ahead of time to limit exposure to dangerous situations. Revelers can celebrate at a hotel, hand their car key over to a trustworthy friend, and keep a taxi’s number on hand.
Greg Brod is an experienced personal injury lawyer practicing in the San Francisco Bay Area and surrounding regions. If you need advice on recovering damages following an accident, please call for a free consultation.