Understanding the laws impacting pedestrian accidents in Montana
Walking provides enormous health benefits, reduces congestion, and eases the country’s dependence on fossil fuels. Unfortunately, the benefits of walking must be weighed against the risk of harm.
In Montana, the urge to get out and walk is particularly high given the state’s natural beauty. If you’re a pedestrian or a driver in Big Sky Country, it’s important to understand the issues facing pedestrians. This article looks at pedestrian accident statistics, causes of pedestrian accidents, Montana laws regarding pedestrians, and tips to avoid causing a pedestrian accident.
Pedestrian accident statistics
According to the United States Department of Transportation, there were 5,977 pedestrians killed across the US in 2017. Pedestrian fatalities in urban areas have increased by 46% since 2008, while fatalities in rural areas have decreased by 6%.
In Montana alone, 14 pedestrians were killed in 2017 and 205 were involved in crashes.
|Montana Pedestrian Crash Injuries (2017)|
|Injury Severity||Number of Pedestrians|
Pedestrian accident factors
In order to better understand the causes of pedestrian fatalities, it helps to look at the environmental characteristics present when pedestrian deaths occur. Let’s take a look at data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concerning pedestrian fatalities across the country in 2016:
- More pedestrian fatalities occurred in urban areas (76%) than rural areas (24%).
- More pedestrian fatalities occurred at non-intersections (72%) than at intersections (18%). The remaining 10% of fatalities occurred at other locations such as roadsides and parking lanes.
- More pedestrian fatalities occurred in the dark (75%) than in daylight (22%), dusk (2%), and dawn (1%).
- The age groups with the highest percentage of pedestrian traffic fatalities were the 10–14 and 50–54 age groups.
- 70% of pedestrians killed in traffic crashes were male.
- An estimated 33% of fatal pedestrian crashes involved a pedestrian with a BAC of .08 or higher.
- An estimated 13% of fatal pedestrian crashes involved a driver with a BAC of .08 or higher.
Montana laws concerning pedestrians and drivers
Montana laws concerning pedestrians can be found in Title 61, Chapter 8, of the Montana Code Annotated.
The laws can be broken down into those governing pedestrian behavior and those governing driver behavior.
Let’s start by taking a look at the laws governing pedestrians:
- Pedestrians must obey the instructions of any traffic control device applicable to pedestrians.
- Local ordinances can (and in many cities and counties in Montana do) prohibit pedestrians from crossing a road except at a marked crosswalk or an intersection.
- Pedestrians crossing a road at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or intersection must yield the right-of-way to all vehicles.
- Pedestrians must walk on the right half of crosswalks, whenever practicable.
- Where sidewalks are provided, pedestrians must use the sidewalk rather than the adjacent road.
- Pedestrians are prohibited from standing on a road for the purpose of soliciting a ride (no hitchhiking).
- If an emergency vehicle using audible and visual signals approaches, pedestrians must yield the right-of-way to the emergency vehicle.
Now let’s take a look at the laws governing drivers:
- When traffic control signals aren’t in place, the vehicle driver must yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the road within a marked crosswalk or intersection.
- When a vehicle is stopped at a marked crosswalk or at an intersection to permit a pedestrian to cross the road, a driver approaching from the rear may not overtake and pass the stopped vehicle.
- A person may not drive through a crowd of school children crossing a road or past a school crossing guard while the crossing guard is directing the movement of children across the road.
- All drivers must exercise due care to avoid colliding with a pedestrian.
- The driver of a vehicle crossing a sidewalk must yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and all other traffic on the sidewalk.
Fault in pedestrian accidents
All drivers have a legal duty to drive with due care and to obey all traffic laws. If a driver breaches that duty (for example, by failing to yield to a pedestrian crossing at a crosswalk) and the breach causes an accident, the driver can be sued for negligence.
Pedestrians also have a duty to exercise reasonable care while navigating Montana’s roads. Just like a driver, if a pedestrian breaches their duty of care (for example, by crossing the road when the traffic signal indicates that they should wait), the pedestrian can be sued for negligence.
In some cases, the driver and the pedestrian might both be at fault for an accident. What happens then?
Montana is a modified comparative fault state. This means that the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover will be reduced by the percentage that reflects the plaintiff’s degree of fault, so long as the plaintiff’s percentage of fault is less than 51%.
In other words, if the plaintiff’s percentage of fault is 51% or more, the plaintiff is completely barred from recovering any damages from the defendant.
Let’s take a look at an example:
John is driving his truck along Lewis Avenue in Billings, Montana. John is texting while driving and is only periodically glancing up at the road. Allen is standing in front of Burlington Park and decides to bolt across Lewis Avenue, even though he’s not at an intersection or crosswalk (both are located a block away). John’s truck collides with Allen and Allen sustains head and back injuries. Allen sues John for his injuries. At trial, the jury finds that Allen is 55% at fault for the accident and John is 45% at fault.
In the above hypothetical, Allen wouldn’t be able to recover ANY damages from John because he’s more than 50% at fault.
What damages are available in a pedestrian accident?
In Montana, there are three types of damages available to a plaintiff in a pedestrian accident:
- Economic damages (medical expenses, wage loss, etc.)
- Non-economic damages (pain and suffering)
- Punitive damages (money damages intended to punish the defendant)
Economic damages are fairly objective and easy to calculate. The most important thing you can do for your case is to keep track of your economic expenses. This includes saving all of your medical bills and receipts.
Non-economic damages are more difficult to prove than economic damages. But again, keeping good records can help.
- Punitive damages are rarely awarded in personal injury cases. In Montana, punitive damages are only available in cases involving fraud or actual malice.
A defendant acts with actual malice if they:
- Had knowledge of facts that created a high probability of injury to the plaintiff, and
- Intentionally proceeded to act despite the high probability of injury.
Staying safe and preventing pedestrian accidents
Montana Highway Patrol Sergeant Pat McLaughlin has some advice for pedestrians, particularly during the harsh Montana winters:
“Keep your head on a swivel. Understand that, especially if you’re coming up to an intersection that looks slick for you as a runner, imagine what it is for a car that’s coming up to the same intersection. Don’t assume they’re going to stop and be ready.”
In addition, the Montana Department of Transportation recommends the following tips to keep pedestrians safe:
- Obey traffic signals. At intersections where traffic is controlled by signals or a traffic officer, pedestrians must obey the signal and not cross against the stop signal unless specifically directed to go by a traffic officer.
- Walk on sidewalks. If sidewalks aren’t available, walk on the edge of the road along the shoulder facing oncoming traffic.
- Look left, right, and left for traffic. Stop at the curb and look left, right, and left again for traffic. Stopping at the curb signals drivers that you intend to cross.
- See and be seen. Drivers need to see you to avoid you.
- Stay out of the driver's blind spot.
- Never assume a driver sees you. Make eye contact with drivers when crossing busy streets.
- Wear bright colors during the day and reflective clothing when walking at night.
- Carry a flashlight when walking in the dark.
- Watch for vehicles entering or exiting driveways.
- Watch your kids. Small children shouldn’t cross streets by themselves or be allowed to play or walk near traffic. Kids can’t accurately judge vehicle distances and speeds, and may make unpredictable movements.
- Drinking and walking? Alcohol can impair the judgment and motor skills of pedestrians just as it does for drivers. Don't take alcohol risks with walking, just as you wouldn’t with driving. Take the bus, take a cab, or have a friend drive you home.
- Stay alert. Avoid using electronic devices while walking. Cell phones can distract you by taking your eyes and ears off the road.
If you’re involved in a pedestrian accident, as a driver or pedestrian, consider reaching out to an experienced personal injury attorney in your area.