Imagine you’re zipping down the road in your car and approaching an intersection with a four-way stop. Seemingly out of nowhere, a pedestrian crosses the street — but not at the designated crosswalk.
You screech on the brakes but still run into the pedestrian. Fortunately, the pedestrian is not seriously injured. Nonetheless, you, as the driver, must wrestle with the consequences of hitting the pedestrian. You’re in what you might call a jaywalking jam.
The slang term “jaywalking” refers to the illegal crossing of a street by a pedestrian who doesn’t have the right of way, such as going from one side of the road to the other but doing so outside a marked crosswalk.
What happens with my car insurance if I hit a jaywalker?
Once the shock wears off from your car-hitting-a-jaywalker situation, you’ll likely ask, “What happened with my car insurance?” There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. But Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the industry-backed Insurance Information Institute, walked us through several scenarios for a driver whose car runs into a jaywalker:
If a driver hits a jaywalker and carries collision coverage, the driver can turn to that coverage to pay for damage done to his vehicle, minus the deductible. “The insurance company will investigate and determine fault,” she says.
If it’s determined you’re at fault after hitting a jaywalker, the portion of your car insurance dedicated to bodily injury liability would financially cover the pedestrian’s injuries or death, but only up to the limits of your insurance policy. (Confused by collision and liability coverage? No worries, we've got a full explainer on how car insurance works here.)
If for some reason another driver is discovered to be at fault, then your insurer typically will approach the insurer of the at-fault driver to recover what it paid out for your claim. This process is known as “subrogation.”
If the jaywalker is found to be at fault and your insurance company decides not to go after him financially, then your insurance would cover damage to your car but you wouldn’t be able to recover the deductible you paid.
What if I’m the jaywalker?
Now, if you’re an insured motorist who’s hit by a car when you’re a pedestrian, you might be able to fall back on three types of coverage under your car insurance policy — personal injury protection (PIP), medical payments and uninsured motorist bodily injury — if the driver’s insurance doesn’t cover your injuries.
Under any of these scenarios, filing a claim with your car insurer might result in your premiums going up.
Jaywalking: Risky ... & controversial?
Jaywalking is dangerous — and, across the U.S., considered a crime, though there’s some controversy over whether it should be illegal.
Pedestrian researcher David Schwebel, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, maintains walking laws are necessary. He cites federal data indicating the vast majority of pedestrian deaths occur at non-intersections — where jaywalking is common — rather than at intersections.
“Drivers wouldn’t run a red light or dart their vehicles into an intersection when traffic is coming the other way, so why do some pedestrians feel that is OK?” Schwebel wrote in a 2013 news release. “When you jaywalk, you are openly and blatantly breaking the law, which you don’t usually do when driving near intersections, but many pedestrians feel it’s justified.”
Critics of walking laws, however, insist the focus should be on improving traffic safety, not on punishing jaywalkers.
In a report about U.S. jaywalking, BBC News noted in 2014: “Advocates for walking say drivers are most often to blame for pedestrian deaths and injuries, and that there is no evidence to prove that anti-jaywalking campaigns are effective.”
Safety issues surrounding jaywalking (considered by some to be a derogatory term) are misunderstood, according to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center. In fact, some experts assert that "careful" jaywalking saves lives.
“In some instances,” the center says, “it may be safer to cross away from an intersection, which gives a pedestrian the benefit of fewer conflicts with turning motor vehicles — the source of most crashes at signalized intersections.”
Got more questions about car insurance? We've got more answers over in our Auto Insurance FAQ.