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Crossing accidents caused by public transportation services are among the most common for school bus and transit passengers, who board and alight at designated stops, compared to the door-to-door pickups and drop-offs of “demand-responsive” services like complementary paratransit, non-emergency medical, taxi or shuttle services. In roughly half these incidents, the passengers’ “crossing orientation” is the reverse of what the mode is designed for: School children cross behind the bus, or transit passengers cross in front of it — both places where approaching and oncoming motorists do not expect them to. Otherwise, poor bus stop selection often induces crossing at dangerous positions — including mid-block stops that induce “J-walking.” School bus services are designed for drivers to follow a limited number of procedures, many of which they omit or bastardize. And these problems are compounded by bus deficiencies — such as the failure of most state legislatures to require retrofits of crossing equipment mandated for new equipment by Federal agencies such as NHTSA. On certain modes without designated stops, such as motorcoaches, poor stop choices induce crossing where better stop selection would not require it. (See “Stopping on the Wrong Side of an Intersection,” from the Safety Compromises website launched by Transportation Alternatives.)
Interestingly, while most public transportation crossing victims are struck by third-party vehicles, the principal errors and omissions are made by public transportation drivers, management and policy-makers. This principle should be important to insurance carriers and their attorneys, since most American motorists carry either minimal insurance or none. As a result, plaintiffs’ attorneys are forced to explore, and obsess on, the errors and omissions made by the parties with “deep pockets.”
Differences in comparative negligence formulas (accident victims need be only one percent at fault in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina or Alabama for the defendants to “walk away”) and other statutory differences from state to state (in areas like caps on damage awards, or the immunity of public agencies from an assessment of punitive damages) translate into vast differences in liability exposure involving crossing accidents, since most crossing accident victims are usually at least one percent, or a small percent, at fault — even though the lion’s share of genuine liability may lie elsewhere, particularly when children are involved: Those below age 13, and particularly below age 10, do not possess the ability, as a matter of their age and development, to safely cross a street or negotiate an intersection. Thus, stop selection vis-à-vis an intersection, and its complexity, is often a factor highly related to both risk and negligence.
Largely because of fatigue, and to a lesser extent low pay (and its alter-ego, “the second job”) and drugs, in many crossing accidents I have been involved in as an expert, the drivers swore that they never saw the pedestrian who strolled right across their windshields. In many of these cases, this was probably true. But it hardly serves as a justification or excuse for the incident.