July 30, 2009

Recent Study says that Texting while Driving Increases risk of Crashing by larger margin

A recent study that videotaped truck drivers for 18 months found that the risk of texting while driving “sharply exceeds previous estimates based on laboratory research – and far surpasses the dangers of other driving distractions” (New York Times, Richtel, 7/27).

The new study found “that when drivers texted, their collision risk was 23 times greater than when not texting.” The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute compiled the data and also studied the amount of time drivers took their eyes off the road to send or receive texts. Before a crash or near crash, “drivers spent nearly five seconds looking at their devices – enough time at typical highway speeds to cover more than the length of a football field.”

For the purpose of comparison, several field and laboratory studies found that drivers who are talking on their cell phones are four times more likely to cause a crash than other drivers not talking on their cell phones. Many studies have confirmed the notion that texting while driving is the riskiest among many causes of distracted driving.

As a Chicago personal injury lawyer and a parent, I urge everyone to speak with his or her children and loved ones about texting while driving, as the 16 to 24 year old range was over twice as likely to do so than drivers in older age groups. However, older drivers are also guilty of texting behind the wheel, so all drivers should be aware of the severity of the data compiled on texting while driving.

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July 30, 2009

Support Grows for Alcohol Interlocks on Cars

The New York Times’ blog, Wheels, discusses a recent campaign to “stop drunken driving by putting some form of alcohol interlock in every new car” (Wald, 5/19). The Alliance of Automobile Manufactures suggested that Congress budget for “spending $30 million a year on developing devices that would sense alcohol in a driver.”

The problem with the current means of regulating drunk drivers is that drivers without a prior history of drunk driving cause many accidents. These drivers would not have interlocks in their cars because current protocol calls for installation of such devices only when the driver has previous, and often multiple offenses.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety “estimated that in 2007, if anyone with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher could have been prevented from starting a vehicle, almost 9,000 lives would have been saved.” In New Mexico, for example, interlocks are installed after a first drunk driving conviction. Alcohol related accidents in the state are down 30 percent.

To combat heavy criticism, proponents stated, “no one is proposing a breathalyzer in every car,” and offered several other less intrusive means of detecting a driver’s blood alcohol level such as bouncing near-infra-red wavelength light off the driver’s skin, measuring the sweat on the driver’s skin, or analyzing eye movements.

Although drunken driving is a clear cause of many accidents and fatalities annually, I understand that whatever method is chosen to regulate driving while intoxicated needs to be both cost effective and efficient. As a personal injury lawyer in Chicago, I support further researching the many alternatives for reducing alcohol related crashes.

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July 24, 2009

Ford Focus and Volvo C30 excel in Crash Tests

The New York Times (Jensen, 7/21) discusses crash tests performed on two-door versions of popular sedan vehicles. The 2009 two-door models of the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cobalt, Honda Civic, Scion tC, and Volvo C30 were recently tested.

The crash tests were just released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which usually focuses its testing on four door models generally used by families, but “the organization said the results of these tests could not automatically be applied to two-door versions of the same car because of design and structural differences.” The cars underwent a series of crash tests including frontal, side, and rear impact crash tests. None of the vehicles tested got a poor rating on any of the three tests, and the Volvo C30 and the Ford Focus qualified as “Top Safety Picks,” meaning these vehicles earned at least a rating of good in all three tests and have an electronic stability control option.

All five cars were rated acceptable or better in the side-crash test, which simulates a crash with a larger S.U.V. – a concern of many driving small cars. Overall, the small cars fared well on safety ratings, and those given “acceptable” ratings on certain crash tests were given a lesser rating only because of the possibility of relatively minor injury.

As a personal injury lawyer, I am pleased to see that the recent safety checks on cars were thorough. Given that all the cars tested fared well on the crash test, I am encouraged that the automobile industry appears to be making safety a top priority.

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July 24, 2009

Data on Distracted Drivers withheld due to Political Pressures

Matt Richtel reports for the New York Times, (7/21) results from a 2003 long-term study of 10,000 drivers to determine the effects of distracted driving were withheld from the public partly due to political pressures. The goal of the study was to determine the real danger posed by drivers using cell phones, however hundreds of pages of research and warnings about cell phone usage while driving were not made public, in part, because of concerns about angering Congress.

Today, “the full body of research is being made public for the first time by two consumer advocacy groups, which filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for the documents.” In recent interviews, officials who withheld information have asserted that they were “urged to withhold the research to avoid antagonizing members of Congress who had warned the [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] to stick to its mission of gathering safety data but not to lobby states.”

Critics maintain that withholding such important information has fostered a “behind-the-wheel multitasking” culture that has cost many lives. The researchers “estimated that cell phone use by drivers caused around 955 fatalities and 240,000 accidents over all in 2002.”

As a personal injury lawyer in Chicago, I am disappointed that political pressures would keep critical information from becoming public knowledge. The more cell phone usage behind the wheel is studied, the more we are able to understand how truly dangerous distracted driving is. I urge all drivers to avoid driving while distracted as it can cause death or injury not only to youself but also to others on the roadway.

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July 17, 2009

Helping the Elderly Keep Their Driving Skills

As a personal injury lawyer I am pleased to hear of new technology geared towards helping older people maintain safe driving skills. Although losing the freedom to drive is not something most of us like to consider, we all need to be prepared for the day that we can no longer drive safely. As the elderly population increases dramatically with the aging of the baby boomers, technology that may be able to help elderly people have the ability to drive safely longer is certainly intriguing. Consider the following story from the New York Times blog, Wheels (7/17, Mohn).

According to Census projections, “next year there will be 39 million Americans aged 65 or older…that number will jump to 69 million by 2030…by 2025, one-quarter [of the population] will be considered elderly.” Therefore, more elderly people will be on the roads potentially putting both themselves and other drivers at risk. Dr. Bella Dihn-Zarr, the North American Director of Make Roads Safe, a non-profit organization says “we all think we are excellent drivers even when we aren’t,” and as we age our reaction times, night vision, peripheral vision, concentration, and quick decision making skills can be slowed.

A new computer program, Drive Sharp, is designed to help elderly people drive more safely. The “brain fitness program” helps people “retrain their brains and delay the impact of aging.” Drive Sharp includes “two interactive exercises designed to improve focus, reaction time and memory, and increase visual processing speed and the ability to track multiple objects, like cars at a busy intersection.” According to some clinical studies, “when used properly, the program can help drivers see more, think faster and cut crash risk by up to 50 percent.”

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July 17, 2009

Speed Kills but Ticketing Falls

Although no one likes getting a speeding ticket, ticketing serves an important function – to deter drivers from driving too fast and causing injury to themselves and others on the roadway. According to the New York Times blog, Wheels, “even if you speed every day, the laws of probability say you will get only one speeding ticket every 35 years.”

According to the New York City Report, “Executive Order: A Mayoral Strategy for Traffic Safety,” even though “the number of deaths from speeding-related accidents increased gradually, at a rate of slightly more than one per year, between 2001 and 2006, the number of speeding tickets issued fell by more than 20,000.” One report accused New York City Police Department of prioritizing traffic flow over traffic saftey violations.

For the nation as a whole, however, the number of all traffic fatalities “have been dropping steadily over the past two decades.” Paul Steely White said “the decline in fatalities shows that reducing them even further is possible.” Mr. White further stated that New York may consider setting a goal of zero traffic fatalities, a goal some European cities have already adopted. Even though he conceeded that “most people would laugh at that goal in New York…adopting that as a vision and as a goal, however unattainable, is really what’s needed.”

As a personal injury lawyer, I support anything that limits traffic fatalities. Even though zero traffic fatalities may be an extremely ambitious goal, it is a step in the right direction.

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July 10, 2009

An emergency device for motorcyclists

As a personal injury lawyer in Chicago, I favor most anything that increases personal safety. Fortunately, the following story has a happy ending as a result of a relatively new GPS device, the Spot Satellite GPS Messenger. Especially in locations where cell service is inadequate, this emergency tracking device may prove to be critical for survival.

The New York Times (Furchgott, 7/8) covered a story on a motorcycle crash that occurred on a winding mountain road in West Virginia. The crash escalated from shock to horror when the other four riders in the group checked their cell phones to call for help only to see that none of them worked. Fortunately, one rider returned to his motorcycle and pressed the “911 button” on his Spot Messenger. The riders were able to signal for help because “unlike mobile phones or systems like OnStar, which require a cell tower to relay an emergency call, the Spot Messenger sends a call directly to a satellite with GPS position of the call.”

The Spot Messenger was introduced to consumer markets about 18 months ago. Since that time approximately 100,000 have sold mostly to campers, boaters, pilots, and motorcyclists. The messenger is only about the size of a bar of soap and costs $150. Basic service is $100/year, which includes the 911 function, an “I’m okay” message button, and two other pre-typed messages that can be sent to up to 10 people who have been previously specified.

Hundreds of successful emergency calls have been attributed to the Spot Messenger in the past 18 months. For anyone who is planning on partaking in activities in areas without adequate cell coverage, the Spot Messenger may be a worthwhile purchase.

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July 10, 2009

Texting is more dangerous than driving drunk

Although neither texting while driving nor driving drunk is ever a good idea, recent studies comparing the two have shown just how dangerous texting while driving really is. Richard Chung writes for the New York Times Automobile blog, Wheels, the current issue of Car and Driver magazine discuses recent results from a study testing the differences in reaction times when texting while driving versus when driving drunk.

The drivers’ reaction times were tested first at 35 mph and then at 70 mph. They were then tested at the same speeds while reading text messages, while writing text messages, and finally while driving with a .08 blood alcohol level (as determined by an on scene by a Lifeloc FC10 breath-alcohol analyzer). Each test was performed five times, and the slowest time in each set was dropped.

The magazine found that reaction time was “much worse for both drivers when they were texting while driving than when they were under the influence of alcohol. At 35 miles an hour, [Driver One’s] average reaction time was .57 seconds, but while texting it rose to 1.36 seconds, more than twice his average reaction time of .64 seconds while under the influence. [Driver Two] fared better, but his average reaction time of .45 seconds rose to .52 seconds while texting, worse than his average time of .46 seconds while driving drunk.”

The results of the test at 70 miles an hour were better in terms of reaction times, but at high speeds, even a small difference in reaction time can lead to a much greater distance before the vehicle comes to a complete stop. For example, Driver One traveled “an average of four feet farther while driving drunk and an average of 70 feet farther while texting.” At high speeds, short distances can make the difference between a minor crash and a fatal crash.

As a personal injury lawyer, it is important for me to emphasize that the point of this article and discussion is not to make driving drunk seem relatively safer, but to emphasize how truly dangerous using a cell phone while driving is. Several states have considered banning texting while driving and some have considered banning cell phone usage while driving outright. Safety on the roadways should be a top priority, and it seems logical that if texting while driving is at least as dangerous as driving drunk, it should be prohibited.

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July 1, 2009

Safety Investigations stepped up on several models

Christopher Jensen reports for the New York Times (6/26) “There were no significant automaker recalls this week, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stepped up safety investigations into three models: the Mercedes-Benz ML, the Chevrolet Corvette and the Toyota Sequoia.”

These types of investigations begin based on consumer complaints. Currently, investigations of the ML, Corvette, and Sequoia are undergoing engineering analysis. Engineering analysis usually occurs when investigators are concerned about what they found in the preliminary stages of investigation.

The Mercedes inquiry involves over 50,000 models from 1999 to 2002. The agency is investigating the brake line from the master cylinder to the antilock brake pump to see if it “may be damaged and rupture from chaffing with a fuel line.” The agency said it had “one report of a crash in which an inspection found a leak that was caused by the fuel line’s rubbing against the brake line, resulting in a loss of braking effectiveness.”

The Corvette investigation involves about 48,000 2005 and 2006 models, which may have an issue with the electronic stability control system. Some consumers claimed the electronic stability control system malfunctioned, “causing a sudden and inappropriate braking action without illumination of the brake lights and causing the vehicle to swerve left or right unexpectedly.”

68,000 Toyota Sequoias are being evaluated after allegations that the electronic stability control or traction control became inappropriately activated. When this occurs, the driver “loses throttle control and one or more brakes may apply, causing the vehicle to slow suddenly,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation. Furthermore, in instances of “inappropriate activation,” the brake lights do not illuminate. In response to the investigation, Toyota has said it believes the traction control system, and not the stability control system, is the source of the problem.

As a Chicago personal injury lawyer, I urge anyone with these vehicles to be aware of the potential malfunctions and pay close attention to upcoming recalls. More information on safety investigations, defective products, and issued recalls is available through the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI).

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July 1, 2009

General Motors attempts to leave injured families behind in the bankruptcy process

American Association for Justice President Les Weisbrod, released an urgent action alert on June 29, 2009 asking all those who seek justice to contact the White House immediately to keep GM from abandoning over 300 people injured by serious defects in their vehicles.

The Obama Administration’s Auto Task-Force, which falls within the Treasury Department, is responsible for the decision allowing GM to leave injured families behind in the bankruptcy process. This is upsetting especially because GM “decided last Friday to take responsibilities for injuries caused by vehicles in the future.”

Mr. Weisbrod called on American consumers to tell GM they “will not stand for leaving hundreds of injured families behind in the GM bankruptcy process… will not buy their cars until these families are protected, [and] will not stop speaking up until GM takes full responsibility for injuries caused by all GM cars.”

Hurley, McKenna & Mertz in Chicago handles product liability cases against automakers when severe injuries are involved. I feel strongly as both an American consumer and a personal injury lawyer that filing for bankruptcy should not give companies a free ticket to abandon those previously injured by their products.

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