Even careful drivers could hit a pedestrian on the road.
Approximately every two hours, a pedestrian dies in an auto accident in the U.S., according to a report released in August by the Governors Highway Safety Association.
"It's a significant problem," says J. Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. "Pedestrian deaths are up 15 percent since the year 2009."
If you hit a pedestrian, your auto insurer will need to get involved. Learn what actions you can take to avoid hitting pedestrians, and what to do afterward.
How to avoid pedestrians
As the driver, there are several things you can do to avoid pedestrians who stray into the path of your car.
- Be watchful at intersections. When a traffic light turns green, wait a few seconds and scan the area for pedestrians still using the crosswalk. Don't depend on them to obey traffic laws. "Inattention accounts for at least 50 percent of the crashes we see each year on our nation's highways, and that's certainly applicable to pedestrians," says Kissinger. "Don't assume any pedestrian sees or hears you."
- Don't multitask. Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, says cellphone conversations and text messaging can take your mind off the road. That means you are less likely to see pedestrians who stray in front of your car. "People need to be alert," she says. "Driving is not a multitasking activity."
- Beware of people crossing the street. Some people take their chances by crossing the street away from the protection of traffic signals and stop signs, says Kissinger. The key to avoiding them is to be alert to your surroundings. Be aware that people may step into the street at any time. "You need to be very defensive with your driving," Kissinger says.
- Be careful driving on streets without sidewalks. In some rural areas, pedestrians must walk on the shoulder of the road. If the shoulder is narrow, pedestrians may stray onto the road.
- Know that electric cars are silent to pedestrians. Some people who have stepped in front of electric-powered vehicles say they didn't hear them coming. A law requiring minimum sound levels from electric vehicles and hybrids is expected in November. But until then, if you drive an electric or otherwise quiet car, don't assume people on foot will notice you.
What should you do if you hit a pedestrian?
If you hit a pedestrian, you could seriously injure the person. Humans have no bumpers or air bags to cushion them from the impact of a vehicle.
Here are steps to take after hitting a pedestrian:
- Make sure the pedestrian is OK. If an injured pedestrian needs emergency aid, call 911 and do what you can to help. Stay with him until paramedics arrive. Be very cautious about moving anyone who is injured, says Walker.
- Contact the police. As soon as possible, contact the police and tell them an accident has occurred. Make sure your statements are truthful. Misrepresented facts could surface when the police investigate.
- Contact your insurance company. Your insurer will want to conduct its own investigation to determine the cause of the accident and who was at fault. A pedestrian may be compensated for injuries either through his own health insurance or through the driver's auto insurance, said New Jersey insurance agent Kevin Foley. Typically, an injured pedestrian would use his own health insurance coverage first, but his insurer might attempt to recover the money from the driver's auto liability policy. If the pedestrian decided to file a personal injury lawsuit against the motorist, the driver's liability policy would be responsible for the driver's legal defense. It also would pay any monetary damages awarded by the court, up to the policy's limits.
- Exchange insurance information. If the pedestrian isn't hurt, exchange insurance and contact information. This information will be used by your insurance company as it conducts its investigation. The investigation will determine who was at fault and whose insurance company should cover the cost of any medical expenses.
- Don't admit fault. It's important not to talk about what happened with the pedestrian or his family and friends, says Walker. If you say the accident was your fault, you may expose yourself to liability through a personal injury lawsuit.
Will your insurance rates go up?
Hitting a pedestrian can increase your insurance costs, particularly if there is a claim against your policy because you were at fault. Each case is different, and each insurer has its own formula for setting rates. Generally, the better your driving record and the fewer the claims you have against your policy, the lower the rate hike will be.
If a financial claim is large enough, you could face a major rate increase or even nonrenewal of your policy, says Janet Ruiz, spokeswoman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute. Each case is different.
If an accident leads to a rate increase, do everything you can to avoid future collisions. If you keep your record clean, eventually your rates will decrease.
Could you face criminal charges?
Civil penalties for any injuries you cause to a pedestrian could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars, says Troy Slaten, a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney.
If you are judged to be negligent in causing a serious accident, you could be prosecuted, he adds. If someone dies because of your negligence, you could face jail time for vehicular manslaughter.
"One accident with a pedestrian can change your life," Slaten warns.
Wondering if making a claim will affect your rates? Find out now.
See what claim amount is worth a potential rate hike: