The issue of distracted driving, wherein a motorist's attention is teased away from the task of operating a vehicle, is known to be a serious threat to occupants as well as others who share the road. However, as the number of fatal pedestrian accidents in South Carolina has risen in recent years, another prominent danger has emerged: Distracted pedestrians.
Primarily, the problem is pedestrians consumed with their smartphones or other electronic devices who aren't paying proper attention to their surroundings, placing them at heightened risk of being struck by a car or truck.
A new report by the Governors Highway Safety Administration reveals the extent of this phenomenon, as the number of pedestrians killed in traffic crashes last year is projected to surpass 6,000 - more than at any time in the last two decades. While the number of overall traffic fatalities has risen 6 percent nationally, the number of pedestrians killed rose by 11 percent.
Puzzling researchers initially was the fact that by many accounts, pedestrians should be safer. Cars are increasingly being designed with advanced technology to assist motorists in avoiding collisions. Plus, many communities are adopting "Complete Streets" models of traffic engineering, wherein leaders invest in designing streets that are safe and accessible to all road users - not just those in cars.
But the one thing that has markedly changed, even in the last couple of years, is the level of distraction. That includes not just drivers but pedestrians too. One recent study by the Pew Research Center indicates that 77 percent of Americans have a smartphone, compared to 35 percent who did just six years ago. That figure is even higher among adults ages 18 to 29, of whom 92 percent have a smartphone.
Although the crashworthiness of vehicles has improved, making those inside of a car less likely to suffer serious injury or death in a crash, pedestrians remain just as vulnerable. As our Columbia pedestrian accident attorneys know, South Carolina has never been an especially safe place for pedestrians.
In 2010, the South Carolina Department of Transportation reported the state ranked No. 4 in the country for per capita pedestrian deaths, with a total of 90 that year. Fast-forward to 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported a total of 123 pedestrian deaths, an increase of 37 percent since 2010. In terms of pedestrian fatalities per capital that year, South Carolina counted 2.51 per 100,000 population. This again put South Carolina at No. 4, just behind Delaware, Florida and New Mexico.
Meanwhile in the first six months of 2016, preliminary figures show South Carolina counted 66 pedestrian deaths, up from 57 during the same time frame in 2015, a 16 percent increase.
With regard to distracted pedestrians, it should be noted that in cases where an individual was partially to blame for his or her own injuries, they may still be able to pursue damages under South Carolina's system of modified comparative fault. Per the precedent set in the 2000 state appellate court case of Ross v. Paddy, a plaintiff's negligence cannot exceed that of the defendant's. We call this "modified comparative fault with a 51 percent bar," meaning plaintiffs who are 51 percent at-fault for their injuries are barred from recovering damages.