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New York City Crosswalks Give Pedestrians a “Head Start”

On Behalf of | Dec 1, 2017 | Firm News

NEW YORK. According to NPR, approximately 25% of all pedestrian accidents in the U.S. occur when a pedestrian has a cross signal and a car has the green light to turn left. Both the driver and the pedestrian have the signal to go. It’s a situation that is understandably dangerous. Drivers who are turning left may be more concerned with watching for oncoming traffic than watching for pedestrians in the crosswalk. Even in a pedestrian-friendly city like New York City, most pedestrians can recall a close call where a left turning vehicle almost resulted in a crash. Worse, in most cases, when pedestrians get hit, both the pedestrian and the car were obeying their traffic signals.

Why is the left turn so dangerous? As vehicles have become safer, their blind spots have widened. This makes it even more dangerous when drivers turn left. NPR reports that the structure that often blocks a driver’s vision is known as the A-pillar. Wider A-pillars permit manufacturers to install airbags and to protect drivers and passengers in the event of a rollover.

In New York City alone 17 pedestrians have been killed in left turn scenarios. Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to see that number go down to zero under his Vision Zero program. In an effort to protect pedestrians, the city is changing the way its traffic signals work. According to the New York Times, the city is programming some of its traffic signals to give pedestrians a seven to eleven second head start. Drivers will get a green light later, giving pedestrians time to cross the street. Currently, pedestrians have a head start at 2,381 intersections and, under Vision Zero, another 800 are expected to be added each year.

While the measure may not be noticeable to pedestrians, researchers consider it best practice in urban centers and consider it a low-cost measure to save lives. Has Vision Zero worked in New York City? The New York Times reports that the number of traffic fatalities is indeed down. While some drivers have complained about the delay, many say that it clarifies who has the right of way.

The change is also likely to make personal injury lawsuits easier. For example, in the past, if a driver hit a pedestrian when both the driver and the pedestrian had the signal, courts might have had a more difficult time determining the outcome of a case. Now, that more crosswalks are timed to give pedestrians the head start, drivers who hit pedestrians may be in clear violation of the law. Given recent changes to the way New York City’s crosswalks work, it is important to understand your rights if you have been hurt in a crash. Antin, Ehrlich, & Epstein are car accident lawyers in New York who work closely with victims and their families to help them recover damages for their medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering damages. Visit us at to learn more.