The National Safety Council estimates that there are more than 50,000 parking lot accidents each year that cause more than 60,000 injuries and claim more than 500 lives. According to the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers Association, nearly 20% of all automobile accidents in America occur in parking lots. These figures do not include the dents, dings, and scratches that cause property damage and often go unreported. When moving vehicles are operating within the confines of a parking lot in close proximity to pedestrians, driver behavior plays a considerable role in raising the risk of having an accident. In a parking lot accident, motorists or pedestrians may be at fault for causing the accident.
Behaviors That Cause Parking Lot Accidents
Driver distraction is a leading cause of parking lot accidents. These include distracted driving behaviors including texting while driving, adjusting radio/temperature controls, talking on a cell phone, grooming, eating/drinking, and conversing with passengers. These actions take the driver’s focus away from events and people in the parking lot. Even at low speeds, the moments these actions require significantly slows the response time necessary to prevent a collision.
Right of Way Within the Parking Lot
Most drivers are unaware of who has the right of way within parking lots. This can create congestion and increases the risk of an accident. Parking lots have two types of lanes including thoroughfares and feeders. The thoroughfare is the driving lane that connects the parking lot to the street and the feeder is the lane that connects the parking lot to the thoroughfare. In the thoroughfare, those who are driving have the right-of-way over those entering the thoroughfare from the feeder lanes. Further, those exiting a parking space are required to yield to vehicles moving through the feeder lane. At no time do vehicles exiting a parking spot have the right-of-way over other vehicles or pedestrians within the parking lot.
Common Low-Speed Injuries
Because of the typically low-speeds typically involved in parking lot collisions, most are not at risk of suffering a fatal injury. However, low-speed accidents can cause whiplash, bone fractures, concussions, and contusions. Pedestrians are at greatest risk of parking lot collisions. Pedestrians can suffer potentially life threatening injuries if they become trapped between a moving vehicle and a parked vehicle or if they are “rolled over” by a vehicle passing through the feeder or thoroughfare lane.
Determining Fault in a Parking Lot Accident
Determining who is at fault starts by determining who violated the right-of-way and the actions that led to the accident. This determination can be achieved through eyewitness statements, examination of the damage pattern, police reports, and photographs/videos that show the accident in progress such as those captured by security cameras. A car accident lawyer in Illinois can help sort through this evidence to determine the factors and individuals responsible for causing the accident.
The fault may be shared in a parking lot accident. For example, the investigation may determine that both drivers or both the driver and pedestrian bear a portion of the responsibility for causing the accident. Such examples might include two vehicles that back into each other while pulling out of a parking space, or a pedestrian and a motorist who are both talking on their cell phones at the time of the collision.
Pedestrians can be at fault for causing a parking lot accident. Behaviors such as jaywalking, crossing against traffic signals, walking while intoxicated, or “horseplay” are actions that can contribute to the cause of an accident. Pedestrians whose actions cause an automobile accident can be held liable for the property damage and personal injuries that result from these behaviors.
The owner of the property may also bear a share of the responsibility in the accident if poor parking lot design or maintenance are determined to be contributing factors to causing the accident. For instance, if snow, ice, or obstructions such as potholes or inventory deliveries create unnecessary hazards.
Preventing Parking Lot Accidents
Drivers can minimize the risk of being involved in a parking lot accident by slowing down and paying close attention to pedestrians in the vicinity of their vehicle. In particular, drivers should pay particular attention to children who may be exiting nearby vehicles or walking to their vehicle while the motorist is backing out of a parking spot.
Whenever possible, it is best to park away from crowds and to make sure that they don’t engage in any distractions such as adjusting the air conditioning or radio after they have put the vehicle in motion. Drivers should also make sure that they have removed all fog/ice/snow prior to moving, and as always, it is the law that individuals must put their seat belts on before the vehicle starts to move.