Pedestrian Accidents at Night:  A Deadly Time to Travel On Foot

It’s hard to believe that with roughly 5,000 fatal pedestrian accidents every year in The United States that those figures are actually lower than they were 30 years ago. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Traffic Safety Facts 2015 Datasheet from 2016 shows that a pedestrian was killed in a collision with an automobile every hour and a half. (That’s just slightly lower than the number of fatalities in 2015 when roughly 15 pedestrians were killed by automobiles every day.)

While cities, safety agencies, and public awareness campaigns have made a noticeable difference in the number of pedestrians being killed on our roadways every year, that figure is still far too high. One common cause of pedestrian injuries that could (and should) be targeted in order to make a more impactful improvement in those tragic numbers is pedestrian accidents at night.

The Dangers of Walking at Night

Nationwide statistics show that 70% of all pedestrian accidents are at night. That figure hasn’t changed much in recent years—fluctuating only three to four percentage points from year to year. Think about that a minute and let that statistic really sink in. While the term “nighttime” can encompass any times between dusk and dawn, let’s take a look at the actual hours of darkness here in California.

Taking San Francisco as an example, there is an average of 11 hours and 44 minutes of daylight per day throughout the entire year. That’s almost 50% of the day. However, only 30% of pedestrian accidents occur when the sun is above the horizon.

That means the number of pedestrian accidents at night is vastly disproportionate to the number of similar accidents in the daylight.

What’s the Most Dangerous Time of Night?

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has further broken down pedestrian accident data to determine which specific segments of time during the day are most dangerous to be on foot. By analyzing injury and fatality statistic from various agencies and collating time of day with pedestrian strikes, the agencies discovered that the most dangerous time to walk is between 6 PM and Midnight.

That six-hour stretch of evening/night is when well over 50% of all pedestrian accident occur.

If you think about it, it makes sense that this should be so. This is a busy time of day when many people are going home from work, heading to dinner or other evening plans, or traveling for mundane purposes like fetching groceries. Earlier most folks are either at work or at home and later most people are at home and often in bed.

Not coincidentally, pedestrian accident rates at night are higher in urban areas, where there is a considerably higher percentage of pedestrians on the street at any given time and also where there are more activities in which to engage at night.

Not Every Pedestrian Accident at Night Occurs in the Street

While crosswalks (either marked or unmarked) and non-crosswalk locations are the sites of the majority of pedestrian accidents which occur at night, roughly 10% of these accidents happen in other locations. These uncommon dangerous spots include:

  • Parking lanes and lots

  • Bicycle lanes

  • Shoulders

  • Sidewalks

  • Crossing islands

  • Driveways

  • Shared use paths and trails

  • And non-traffic areas

Any location in which cars and foot traffic come into contact can be the site of a pedestrian accident at night.

Why Are There So Many Pedestrian Accidents at Night?

As mentioned above, many pedestrian accidents at night are caused simply because there are so many people (in cars and on foot) on the streets and sidewalks during that dangerous 6-hour window between 6 PM and Midnight. However, proximity is only one reason for the increase in pedestrian accidents at night.


“I didn’t even see them.” It’s one of the most common excuses that police officers responding to injurious and fatal pedestrian accidents at night hear when questioning drivers involved in the crash. Drivers simply fail to see pedestrians at an alarming rate. This is especially true in accidents where cars hit pedestrians while backing up.

While roughly 9% of the population actually suffers from some degree of night blindness—not being able to see as well in low-light conditions—the vast majority of pedestrian accidents at night in which drivers fail to see people walking can’t be chalked up to physical deficiencies.

There are a number of underlying causes for this selective attention including:

  • Poor lighting

  • Driver inattention

  • Poor clothing choices (on the part of the victim)

  • Failure to drive at “prudent” speeds

All of which can be collected under the term negligence. Indeed, drivers have a legal responsibility to protect pedestrians at all times—and especially at night. One cannot simply operate an automobile in the same manner at night as one would during daylight hours.

Driving at night requires:

Failure to see a pedestrian is failure to exercise due caution.

Pedestrians can help protect themselves from negligent drivers by:

  • Wearing bright clothing

  • Using lights/flashlights when appropriate

  • Always obeying signs and signals

  • Crossing only in well-lit areas

  • Giving cars extra space (while walking on shoulders, crossing, and traversing driveway access points)


The number of people (drivers and pedestrians) who travel city streets, highways, and roads while intoxicated (moderately or severely) dramatically increases as the sun goes down. Again, this makes a sort of sense. People get out of work, head out for dinner and drinks, and then head home.

While the majority of fatal car accidents involving alcohol impairment occur between Midnight and 3 AM (according to the NHTSA), almost 1/3 of fatal crashes occur between 6 PM and Midnight. That fits squarely within the danger zone for pedestrians. Indeed, according to the CDC, 15% of all fatal pedestrian accidents involve drivers with blood alcohol content levels above the legal limit. That amounts to roughly 800 deaths each year that are completely avoidable.

However, that same report shows that over 1/3 of fatal pedestrian accidents involve pedestrians who are legally intoxicated.

The easiest way for pedestrians to protect themselves from impaired drivers is by moderating their own alcohol intake.

Individuals must also be aware that there is a much higher percentage of impaired drivers on the road at night and they should act more cautiously themselves:

  • Always crossing at marked crosswalks

  • ​Yielding to drivers even when they have the legal right of way

  • ​Staying as far away from the flow of traffic as possible

Driver Negligence is a Leading Contributing Factor to Pedestrian Accidents at Night

As is the case with any type of pedestrian accident, driver negligence plays the biggest role in pedestrian accidents at night. Drivers who operate their automobiles above prudent speeds, allow their attention to be split, fail to obey traffic laws, signs, and signals, or those who choose to get behind the wheel while impaired are all breaking the law.

Indeed, drivers are deemed to be at-fault in over 50% of all pedestrian accidents in California. That means that victims can seek financial compensation for damages (including lost wages, medical expenses, and property loss) regardless of whether the driver is facing criminal charges as well.

While it is a pedestrian’s responsibility to safeguard themselves as much as possible (by staying visible, obeying traffic laws, and being wary of drivers), if a negligent driver strikes an individual, they could be legally liable for the injuries their poor decisions, inattention, or recklessness have caused.

If you or someone you love has been seriously injured in a pedestrian accident at night, contact our experienced and trustworthy pedestrian accident legal team for a free case evaluation now.