The Special Rules Regarding Child/Vehicle Accidents

In Norwalk yesterday a 12 year-old boy was seriously injured after being hit by a car while riding his bicycle.  News reports indicate that the child failed to stop at a stop sign and rode into the path of an oncoming vehicle.  This accident raises the question of how negligence law handles vehicle/pedestrian accidents when the pedestrian is a child.

There are two considerations in this regard.  First, what obligations do children have to protect themselves from harm?  Second, what safety duties apply to passing motorists who know or should know that they’re in the vicinity of children?

Concerning children’s responsibility for their own safety, Iowa law holds that children are judged by the standard of behavior that’d be expected of a child of like age, intelligence, and experience under like circumstances.  In applying that standard, courts initially make a subjective determination of the particular child’s capacity to perceive and avoid the specific risk involved, based on evidence of the child’s age, intelligence, and experience.  Once that has been determined, the focus becomes objective: How would a reasonable child of like capacity have acted under similar circumstances?  The particular child in question can be found negligent only if the child’s actions fall short of what may reasonably be expected of children of similar capacity.

Specifically regarding children on bicycles, children have a responsibility to follow the rules of the road and other laws of the state, including stopping and yielding at stop signs.  Further, motorists have a right to assume that others using the highway, including children riding bicycles, will obey the law.  But that right is not absolute; it extends only until the driver knows, or in the exercise of ordinary care, should know, otherwise.

At the same time, Iowa law also recognizes that children will act like children and will sometimes do things that are unexpected and even dangerous, things that an adult may not do.  Iowa has a special rule that pertains to motorists who encounter children on or near a roadway.  When a child is in plain view upon a public street or highway so that the driver of an automobile sees, or in the exercise of ordinary care should see, the child in time to reduce speed and have control of the automobile so as to avoid the child, the driver must realize the child may act without any care or may suddenly and unexpectedly leave a place of safety and move into the path of the automobile.  The Iowa Supreme Court has long held that that special rule applies to children riding a bicycle on or near a road.



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