People walking are often blamed for crashes when roads are designed for driving

By Megan Link 

A pedestrian’s location at the time of a crash often determines who (whether driver and pedestrian) is found at fault, says a new study. Even with a lack of pedestrian infrastructure nearby, pedestrians who cross high-speed arterial roads with bus stops are more likely to be blamed. 

Researchers at Ohio State University analyzed crash data from four high-crash neighborhoods in Columbus, Ohio, to identify the key factors determining whether pedestrians or drivers are found at fault during crashes. The percentage of pedestrian blame changed based on the built environment of the neighborhood. Drivers were blamed more downtown, where crosswalks and pedestrian-friendly street designs are more prevalent. In these areas, three out of four crashes were found to be driver related. In contrast, pedestrians are blamed over half the time for crashes on the arterial roads in the South Linden neighborhood.  

Pedestrians are found at fault more:  

  1. Outside of crosswalks. Each crosswalk decreased the odds of pedestrian blame by 10%. 
  2. On arterial roads. A crash taking place on a stroad increased pedestrian fault by 99%. 
  3. When bus stops are present. Bus stops increased blame by 30%, likely because pedestrians often cross unsafe streets to reach either the bus stop or their destination. 
Increased blame on pedestrians. Source: Stiles and Miller, 2024.

One of the authors noted 

“What we’re seeing in this research is that the built environment is a key factor. People make errors in judgment, but no one deserves to die or get injured for such errors. And they would be less likely to make these choices if there were more pedestrian infrastructure.” 

Roads that are designed for driving put pedestrians at an added risk. Not only are they more likely to be hit but they are more likely to take the blame for it. This puts an added burden on those without vehicles or the ability to drive. 

Photo Credit: Cameron Casey via Pexels, unmodified. License.