Over the years, it has become increasingly dangerous to cross the streets of Wisconsin even where there are marked crosswalks. Whether it is because of an increased population resulting in an increased number of drivers on Wisconsin roadways, or simply a greater number of distractions causing drivers to divert their attention away from the road, accidents involving pedestrians have been on the rise in Wisconsin. According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the average number of crashes involving pedestrians each year between 2011 and 2015 was 1,248. Of those 1,248 pedestrian crashes, an average of 46 pedestrian deaths occurred and 1,196 pedestrian injuries were reported. The year with the highest number of deaths and injuries was 2015. In 2015 alone, there were 1,289 reported accidents involving pedestrians, 54 deaths and 1,227 injuries in Wisconsin.
Many of these pedestrian accidents occur because Wisconsin drivers simply do not abide by the rules pertaining to pedestrians crossing the road in crosswalks. It is illegal in the state of Wisconsin to fail to stop for a pedestrian crossing in a crosswalk. A pedestrian in a crosswalk does have the right of way. A crosswalk does not necessarily have to be marked in order to be considered a crosswalk. As Tom Held, ambassador for Wisconsin Bike Fed, explains it, “Any point where there is a natural crossing for a sidewalk, pedestrians have the right of way. It’s not an option for drivers to stop or not stop – they are obligated by law to yield or stop.”
The pertinent language from the Wisconsin statutes is as follows:
“346.23: Crossing controlled intersection or crosswalk.
(1) At an intersection or crosswalk where traffic is controlled by traffic control signals or by a traffic officer, the operator of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian, or to a person who is riding a bicycle or electric personal assistive mobility device in a manner which is consistent with the safe use of the crosswalk by pedestrians, who has started to cross the highway on a green or “Walk” signal and in all other cases pedestrians, bicyclists, and riders of electric personal assistive mobility devices shall yield the right-of-way to vehicles lawfully proceeding directly ahead on a green signal.”
While pedestrians crossing roadways at any point other than a marked crosswalk (or an area where a sidewalk ends and there is a natural sidewalk crossing) do have to yield the right of way to vehicles, drivers should always be scanning the sides of the roads while they drive to look for pedestrians who may be attempting to cross. Even though pedestrians must yield to vehicles in those situations, many pedestrian involved crashes could be avoided if drivers paid closer attention, even in areas where there are not crosswalks.
346.25, Wis. Stats. governs the rules pertaining to crossing at any point other than crosswalks. It states:
“346.25: Crossing at place other than crosswalk
Every pedestrian, bicyclist, or rider of an electric personal assistive mobility device crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked or unmarked crosswalk shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.”
On Friday, February 15, 2019, 82 year old crossing guard, Gail Bantes, was struck by a vehicle while performing her crossing guard duties in the Peshtigo School District. Prior to getting struck by an SUV, Bantes pushed two young girls to safety. Before working as a crossing guard for the city of Peshtigo, Gail Bantes was a bus driver for 43 years. Bantes spent several days in the hospital due to the injuries that she sustained.
The Peshtigo police chief confirmed that the woman driving the SUV did receive a citation. She allegedly told officers that she was unable to see people in the crosswalk due to the sun glare.
Barriers to vision do not render the laws pertaining to crosswalks null and void. Drivers must exercise greater caution when their vision is obstructed in order to avoid a pedestrian collision. Sun glare does pose an issue, especially when driving directly toward the sun, but a driver still has a duty to exercise ordinary care, particularly in less than ideal driving conditions. Wearing sunglasses, using a sun visor and reducing speed are several ways to reduce the risk of a crash on very bright days.
In the winter, there are other types of hazards drivers face when it comes to being able to see when approaching a crosswalk. Large snow piles block the view of drivers as they approach intersections, particularly in a winter such as this where there are record snowfalls for the season in parts of the state. Many snow piles are pushed so high that it is impossible to see if pedestrians are walking behind them and are about to step into the crosswalk. In these situations, it is important to slow down and exercise greater caution, especially near school zones. Peshtigo police chief warned drivers, “Slow down, watch at intersections, because if you can’t see them, they can’t see you.”
With the ever-increasing number of distractions drivers are faced with nowadays, it is crucial to be aware of the Wisconsin crosswalk laws and exercise an even higher degree of caution when approaching crosswalks. Pedestrians in crosswalks have the right of way, and it is illegal not to stop for a pedestrian who is crossing a street in the crosswalk. Additionally, it is illegal to begin making a turn, even on a green light, if there is a pedestrian crossing in the crosswalk if the turn would endanger or interfere with the pedestrian in any way.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of a pedestrian vs. vehicle crash while crossing lawfully in a crosswalk, the team at Groth Law Firm may be able to help. Time is of the essence in these types of cases, so call the Groth Law firm today to make sure that your rights are protected and valuable evidence is retained and preserved. Call the attorneys at Groth Law Firm at (414) 375-2030 today.