What Are the Limits of “Pedestrian Error”?

On April 18, 2017, a 44-year-old man was struck and killed while walking across Zuni Rd. SE at Georgia St. SE by a driver going “well above the speed limit,” according to a witness. The driver fled the scene, leaving the following as depicted in the incident crash report:

severed leg position

A careful reading of the preliminary and supplemental crash investigation report through Better Burque’s public records request for all 2017-2018 city pedestrian fatalities leaves it hazy as to whether the “severed leg position” noted above refers to a prosthetic leg. Mentions that the victim was “apparently an amputee” are offset by other references that make this point somewhat unclear; however, what’s crystal clear is that impact was so great as to leave the distance illustrated above between “severed leg position” and remainder of the victim’s body.

So what was the finding in this case of hit-and-run? One involving, by all accounts and evidence, a speeding driver?

finding

Elsewhere in the crash report is the following:

no driver error

The pedestrian was “in the roadway and not in or at a crosswalk.” So it’s the victim’s fault. Period. End of investigation.

Claimed percentages vary, but it is widely purported by law enforcement officials throughout the country that “pedestrian error” is to blame for the majority of deaths to those walking our roadways. Numbers such as 75 to 80 percent are commonly cited. A recent KOAT story on the rise in such deaths included quote after statistic after quote from local law enforcement bemoaning *alcohol impairment and other pedestrian errors, including, in the words of ubiquitous APD spokesperson Simon Drobik:

“These could all be avoided if people just followed the rules of going through a pedestrian crosswalk.”

The findings of the April 18, 2017 case at Zuni and Georgia help illustrate the stated position of law enforcement even more clearly. Speeding and fleeing the scene mean relatively nothing compared with walkers not using crosswalks. That position both generally stated and specifically applied in a case of hit-and-run, let’s take a look at NM State law pertaining to the subject as well as a closer look at Zuni and Georgia.

New Mexico Statutes Chapter 66, Section 7, Articles 334 and 335 state the following:

66-7-334. Pedestrians’ right of way in crosswalks.

A. When traffic-control signals are not in place or not in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right of way, slowing down or stopping if need be to so yield, to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is in the crosswalk.

B. No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield.

C. Subsection A of this section shall not apply under the conditions stated in Subsection B of Section 66-7-335 NMSA 1978.

D. Whenever a vehicle is stopped at a marked crosswalk or at an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection to permit a pedestrian to cross the roadway, the driver of another vehicle approaching from the rear shall not overtake and pass the stopped vehicle.

66-7-335. Crossing at other than crosswalks.

A. Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway (author emphasis).

B. Any pedestrian crossing a roadway at a point where a pedestrian tunnel or overhead pedestrian crossing has been provided shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.

C. Between adjacent intersections at which traffic-control signals are in operation pedestrians shall not cross at any place except in a marked crosswalk (author emphasis).

And to better understand this last section of “Crossing at other than crosswalks,” let’s define “adjacent.” According to Black’s Law Dictionary:

Adjacent: Lying near or close to; contiguous. The difference between adjacent and adjoining seems to be that the former implies that the two objects are not widely separated, though they may not actually touch, while adjoining imports that they are so joined or united to each other that no third object intervenes.

And to give context to the above, here’s a satellite look at areas adjacent and surrounding Zuni Rd. SE and Georgia St. SE (readers will need to click on photo to properly see detail):

zuni and georgia

Georgia SE is roughly 900 feet from the crosswalk at Louisiana Boulevard and just over 1700 feet from the crosswalk at San Pedro SE. There is no crosswalk at Georgia, nor at Arizona SE, California SE, Dakota SE, Florida SE, Indiana SE, or Kentucky SE between San Pedro and Louisiana. As illustrated above, the sole reporting witness told police the victim was diagonally crossing from south to north, indicating an overall westerly walking direction toward San Pedro, not Louisiana.

In other words, the victim had three choices:

  1. Walk 900 feet east to Louisiana, cross the crosswalk there and walk another 900 feet west to get back to Zuni and Georgia;
  2. Walk 1700 feet west to the crosswalk at San Pedro, cross the crosswalk there, and walk east however far was needed to get where they intended to go; or,
  3. Cross Zuni at Georgia.

Given these choices, what provisions of New Mexico law are most pertinent? Quite obviously, it is the position and practice of Albuquerque area law enforcement to ONLY focus on “shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway, regardless of how fast that “vehicle upon the roadway” is moving and what other laws the driver of that vehicle might be breaking.

But what about “adjacent intersections”? What about “adjacent” meaning “not widely separated”?

Taking Black’s Law Dictionary definition of “adjacent,” specifically “not widely separated,” it is unarguable that no “adjacent intersection” has “traffic control signals” (i.e., a crosswalk) anywhere near Zuni Rd. SE at Georgia St. SE. Whether one is walking with an artificial leg below the knee or not.

The legal disregard of the “adjacent intersections” provision in this area of New Mexico law is an important, yet far from only, reason that “pedestrian error” is overstated as primary cause for deaths to those walking our roadways here. The case from April 18, 2017 is a disturbing and poignant illustration of this misleading tendency.

More fully educating law enforcement and others as to what the law states regarding “adjacent intersections” will obviously not bring victims killed trying to cross streets overly distant from crosswalks back to life; however, such education along with roadway engineering that takes “adjacent intersections” into account through far more frequent installation of mid-block crosswalks will result in better law enforcement accounting of blame for such incidences and better chances for survival. Yes, this will cost money and require everyone, drivers included, to consider the distances between crosswalks in better understanding why walkers perform seemingly irrational behaviors.

Case records reviewed by Better Burque up to last Friday do not indicate any subsequent arrest of the driver who fled the scene on April 18, 2017; hence, this person is very likely regularly driving our roadways.

Stay safe out there, everybody.

 

*One finding from research with crash reports is that formal toxicology studies on deceased walkers are done far less often than would seem to be the case based on law enforcement observations and proferred statistics.

 

4 thoughts on “What Are the Limits of “Pedestrian Error”?

  1. That pedestrian was actually very likely in an unmarked crosswalk when he/she was hit.

    APD had this to say on the subject:

    https://www.abqjournal.com/834946/clarifying-rules-of-front-yard-parking.html
    Aug 29, 2016

    “And Albuquerque Police Department officer Tanner Tixier says “technically, all intersections are designated as unmarked crosswalks, and vehicles are supposed to yield to pedestrians. However, at the speed limits set on certain roads in this city, it would be unlikely to expect drivers to slam on their brakes for a pedestrian who walks out into the middle of traffic. The childhood adage of ‘look both ways before you cross the street’ could save your life.”

    I would guess Tanner was immediately fired for even suggesting that vehicles are supposed to yield. Ever.

    Like

  2. Biliruben: Taking the NM statute wording and lack of clarity resulting from “unmarked crosswalks” into account, I note Massachusetts has a more precise meaning of “adjacent intersection”:

    “Pedestrians must cross a roadway within a marked crosswalk when there is an officer directing traffic, a traffic control signal, or a marked crosswalk within 300 feet of the pedestrian.”

    http://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/pedestrian-crossing-50-state-summary.aspx

    I’m off now to find out more in terms of when the “300 feet” provision was included, and if roadways have been changed reflecting the provision.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s