We all assume we’re safe walking on the sidewalk – so how is it that pedestrians are hit by cars? What are the laws for pedestrians and right-of-way in Colorado?
Imagine you're walking down the sidewalk in a nice suburban neighborhood in Colorado, lost in thought or checking Facebook on your phone.
Out of nowhere, a car swerves onto the sidewalk, crashing into you.
In Colorado, pedestrian accidents are more likely to occur at night, and in cities rather than rural areas.
However, most Colorado pedestrian accidents do not happen at intersections, as one might think. Pedestrian mishaps tend to happen on sidewalks, on the side of the road, or in crosswalks.
Wherever the pedestrian accident happens, the injuries can be devastating or fatal.
In these tragic accidents, the driver may liable, and if this is determined by the court, he may be responsible for damages in a personal injury lawsuit.
Damages that the liable driver may have to pay can include:
- Medical expenses
- Funeral expenses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Permanent disability, disfigurement
- Loss of consortium
If you have been hurt in a pedestrian accident, you should understand Colorado pedestrian laws before speaking to a personal injury attorney.
Right of way laws for Colorado pedestrians
Pedestrian laws have been implemented to ensure that walkers are safe when on or around public roads. However, these rules are not always followed by vehicle drivers and pedestrians.
Both you as the pedestrian and drivers of vehicles have legal obligations so that pedestrian accidents are avoided.
Right-of-way laws in pedestrian law in Colorado lay out which vehicles must stop and yield to pedestrians. Drivers must know these laws to obtain their Colorado driver's license.
The Colorado Driver Handbook says:
10.2 Right Of Way
“Where vehicles or pedestrians meet one another, and there are no signs or signals to regulate traffic, there are rules that say who must yield the right-of-way. These rules tell drivers who goes first and who must wait in different traffic situations. The law states who must yield the right-of-way; it does not give anyone the right-of-way, even if your traffic signal is green. You must do everything you can to prevent striking a pedestrian or another vehicle, regardless of the circumstances. Pedestrians: When driving, you should yield the right-of-way to pedestrians under all conditions. Be particularly watchful for children, elderly and blind persons. Most blind persons are easily recognized by the white cane they carry and/or by their guide dog. Pedestrians have the right-of-way at all intersections and crosswalks. Drivers must come to a complete stop and let the person pass safely.”
All drivers in this state should regularly review these pedestrian laws to avoid hurting someone. If drivers fail to obey, they can be successfully sued in civil court:
- Colorado drivers must yield right-of-way to the pedestrian when he or she is using a crosswalk; when traffic signals are not there; and when traffic signals are not working.
- Drivers coming to a crosswalk where other cars have stopped to allow the pedestrian to cross must stop at the crosswalk as well.
- Pedestrians hold the right-of-way at intersections equipped with stop signs or flashing red lights.
- Drivers must stop or slow down when coming to an area without traffic signals, or signals that are not working so walkers can cross.
The 7/7/2016 report “Pedestrian Crossing: 50 State Summary” by the NCSL (National Conference of State Legislatures) says this about pedestrian laws in Colorado:
Colorado: Vehicles must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians within a crosswalk that are in the same half of the roadway as the vehicle or when a pedestrian is approaching closely enough from the opposite side of the roadway to be in a danger. Pedestrians may not suddenly leave the curb on foot, bicycle, or electronic bicycle and enter a crosswalk into the path of a moving vehicle that is so close to constitute an immediate hazard. Pedestrians must yield the right-of-way to vehicles when crossing outside of a marked crosswalk or an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection. Where traffic control devices are in operation, pedestrians may only cross between two adjacent intersections in a marked crosswalk and may only cross an intersection diagonally if authorized by a traffic control device.
Boulder CO has published FAQ on crosswalks and flashing crosswalks.
Boulder asserts that flashing yellow lights have been used with pedestrian crossing signs in communities across the country. Some other Colorado communities using the same approach as Boulder include Estes Park and Louisville. Other communities, like Lafayette and Broomfield, use flashing yellow lights on top of their pedestrian signs.
Pedestrians also have obligations under Colorado state law. They are not allowed to cross the road except at a marked crosswalk. Also, pedestrians must exercise care when crossing. For example, if a car is speeding towards the crosswalk and is not slowing, the pedestrian is obligated to wait.
In addition, common pedestrian law in Colorado states that pedestrians should walk on the left side of the road in rural areas. If a pedestrian is struck on the right side of a rural road, it is questionable if the driver would be held liable in court.
Generally, state laws are established to favor the pedestrian, but events after the accident do not always go according to the law's intent. Car insurance companies may try to say that the pedestrian did not follow the law.
Why Colorado pedestrian accidents happen
Clearly there are laws in place to protect pedestrians. However, drivers often do not know the laws, or drive in a reckless fashion. Some of the most common reasons for these terrible accidents include failure to:
- Yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.
- Slow down in traffic, bad weather or in presence of crowds or children.
- Come to a total stop at stop signs.
- Drive without drinking alcohol.
- Maintain vehicle control.
- Watch for pedestrians in crosswalks.
Drag racing on the streets in Colorado also seems to be a frequent cause of fatal pedestrian accidents and hit and run accidents.
Types of pedestrian injuries
Anytime a car hits a pedestrian, many serious injuries may occur.
Severe impact injuries are frequent, as there is nothing protecting the person from the vehicle. Severe injuries to the legs are very common.
The forward momentum from the vehicle is then transferred to the walker when he or she is hit. This will cause her to be thrown many feet from where the crash happened.
When the pedestrian strikes the ground, severe head injuries, broken bones and lacerations often happen.
The worst pedestrian injuries include:
- Severe brain injury
- Loss of limbs
How fault is determined in pedestrian accidents
Most pedestrian accidents are the driver's fault, but there are exceptions.
Generally, pedestrians are thought to have a higher chance of avoiding collisions, as opposed to the driver. Car accidents with pedestrians usually occur on the road, and the pedestrian is the one who decides if and when to enter the roadway.
So how is this sorted out legally?
As in almost all personal injury claims, the law of negligence comes into play in these cases.
Each of us is expected to exercise what is called ‘a reasonable level of care' in certain circumstances. For instance, both drivers and pedestrians must obey traffic laws when they are using public roads.
If Person 1 does not act with ‘reasonable care' and hurts Person 2, Colorado law will consider Person 1 negligent. This is regardless of who was walking or driving.
So, if the pedestrian does not exercise ‘reasonable care' and an accident occurs, the pedestrian may be liable. If the pedestrian runs out into a busy road and is struck, the pedestrian is probably to blame.
However, if the driver had enough time to avoid the pedestrian and he then smashed into parked cars, the pedestrian would be liable as well.
A driver and pedestrian can both be to blame. What then?
In Colorado, there is a comparative negligence rule. This law allocates the fault between both parties. The defendant's liability may be reduced if the plaintiff is found to be partially at fault as well.
Colorado specifically has a ‘modified comparative negligence' rule. This means that liability is split per the percentage of fault – to a degree. If the plaintiff meets or exceeds that level, no financial recovery is possible. The limit usually is 50%. So, if the pedestrian is more than 50% at fault for the accident, the plaintiff may not recover damages.
If you have been injured in a pedestrian accident, it usually is worthwhile to discuss the matter with a good personal injury attorney. You probably have serious injuries that will require extensive medical care and rehabilitation.
- "EVERYONE IS A PEDESTRIAN" online resource
- "SAFETY IN NUMBERS" newsletter on pedestrian safety
- DOT unveils new tools to help communities keep pedestrians safe
- InjuryLawColorado.com's Guide to Pedestrian Accidents
- Guidance from Colorado Department of Transportation on right of way rules
- Map of Denver streets with most pedestrian deaths.