March 2012 Archives

Using Technology To Stop Distracted Driving

March 29, 2012

distracted driving accident attorney.jpgThough it is aimed primarily at parents of new drivers, many cell phone carriers and other services are offering technological solutions to distracted driving. The basic premise is that cell phones can be automatically deactivated, or some functions can be automatically deactivated, when the phones internal GPS system detects the device moving at a specified rate of speed.

Some of the programs automatically route incoming calls to voicemail, and send automatic replies to text messages. Most of the teenage programs can be set to send notifications to parents when the features are disabled

Some products, like FleetSafer, are designed for adults and also eliminate the ability to send and receive e-mails, and use internet browsers, while behind the wheel. T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T all have products that work on some of their phones.

Obviously, the phone doesn't know if its owner is a driver or a passenger, and it would cut the phone off in all driving circumstances. But, if the parent knows the teen won't be driving, in some cases the parent can deactivate the program. Or, the teen can deactivate the program (with notification to the parent).

For a list of distracted driving prevention products, see the EndDD (End Distracted Driving) website.

School Buses and Seat-Belts: New Indiana Lawsuit Filed

March 21, 2012

Indiana Bus Crash.jpgThe IndyStar reports in Lawsuit in Fatal School Bus Crash Focuses on Seat Belts, that the family of Michael Watkins, Lenae Watkins and Neveh Hobbs filed an automobile accident lawsuit against the Miller Transportation, Inc. Miller owns and operates the school bus involved in the March 12 collision which took the life of another student (not named in the lawsuit), Donasty Smith. The bus collided into a concrete pillar.

The lawsuit includes claims that Miller did not adequately inspect the bus. At this point, the police have inspected the wreck and concluded that the bus passed inspection on January 3, and there was no indication of anything faulty. However, the plaintiffs are obviously preserving their claim and their right to have their own experts inspect the bus.

The lawsuit also makes claims that Miller did not adequately monitor the health of the bus driver, who died in the collision. The autopsy results have not been released, yet.

Indiana's governor expects that the issue of seatbelts will certainly be raised again in public hearings. The issue is going to resolve mostly around cost, I'm sure. Seat belt companies claim that buses can be safer with seatbelts, preventing injury odds by up to 45%. Some calculations indicate, however, that to improve a single bus costs between $3,000 and $10,000. Some question whether the cost is worth it. Parents don't wonder.

For More Information
We've written on buses, school buses and seatbelts before. See our other posts:

More on Mandatory Back-up Cameras

March 19, 2012

Rear Backup Camera.jpgWe posted on March 6 about Mandatory Back-Up Cameras: Worth the Cost? It seems that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has been getting a lot of criticism for his delay in acting on the proposal.

The Tampa Bay Times has an editorial pointing out that the cost of backup cameras ranges from $58 to $203 per car (in our post, we only had data about the higher-end dollar figure).

But, is this even a worthy issue? Apparently, back-up cameras are already standard on 45% of all 2012 models. Based on that, it might appear that this is something the public is demanding. If so, why the delay in implementing the rule? And why is the automobile industry fighting back so hard? It appears that there is no objection to back-up cameras, just the nuances of the camera. From USA Today:

It's unclear exactly why the delay, but Drive On knows there has been some disagreement on how long it should take for the backup camera image to pop up on the viewing screen after the driver shifts into reverse. NHTSA wanted no longer than two seconds; some automakers argued for three seconds.

Under the extension, we now must wait to about April 13, 2012, the new deadline requested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That is when the NHTSA wants to finalize the collection of comments on the rule.

A public hearing has been set for March 23 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the media center at the Department of Transportation West Building, 1200 New Jersey Ave., SE, Washington, D.C., 20590.

Data on Life-Saving Cell Phone Laws

March 9, 2012

Distracted Driving Lawsuits.jpgCalifornia has a new law on cell phones. There, hand-held cell phone use was banned for drivers in July, 2008. According to data kept by the University of California, Berkeley, overall traffic deaths decreased by 22%, and hand-held driver cell-phone related deaths went down by 47%.

Certainly, it can't all be related to the law, but some of these saved lives are because of the public perception that driving while using a cell phone is just dangerous. But, California offers a big stick--in 2011, there were 460,487 Californian convictions for hand-held cell phone use. The data and the California press release are visible here.

In Maryland, it is illegal to talk on a cell phone (unless it is hands-free), and to text or e-mail from a cell phone while driving. These are all primary offenses, and a police officer can give a citation to any driver who engages in this activity without evidence of other offenses. It will be interesting to track the Maryland conviction statistics, to see how aggressive our police officers are. Anecdotally, it doesn't take long to see someone driving down the road, talking on a cell phone without the hands-free device.

In our auto cases, we regularly propound discovery designed to seek out information on cell phone use by the other driver. In the appropriate cases, we will even subpoena that information directly from the cell phone carrier to prove that distracted driving was the cause of the collision. If you have been in an automobile accident, call us at 443.850.4426, or contact us online for a free consultation.

Mandatory Back-up Cameras: Worth the Cost?

March 6, 2012

Backup Camera.jpgI am fortunate that I've never had to litigate a case involving a driver who backed up into a child or a person. Statistically, about 16,000 of these accidents happen every year, with about 300 deaths. The drivers are most often (70%) the parents or family members of children who are injured.

There have been proposals since at least 2008 to require all cars to feature backup cameras. Many thought the rule on rear visibility standards was going to pass this year, but it has been delayed once again. The automobile wants lawmakers to consider other alternatives.

One proponent likens backup cameras to airbags--prevailing wisdom was that the public didn't want them, but they did. Now, we accept that the cost of an airbag is built into the car, and if it increases the price a bit, that's the price for safety. Backup cameras could increase the costs of cars by $200.

To some, the question is a cost-benefit analysis:

An auto alliance presentation noted that the cost of the regulation per life saved is $11 million under the rear visibility rule, compared with $9.8 million per life saved under a roof strength regulation and less than $4 million for side impact regulations.
So, what's a life worth? We actually know the answer to that. In Maryland, the legislature has decided the value of a life by setting the "cap" on damages, including wrongful death. For 2012, a life (in a non-medical malpractice situation) is worth $1,887,500. That doesn't include "economic" damages (lost wages, medical expenses, etc.). It's purely the value of the life and the value of the pain and suffering borne by the surviving beneficiaries. If those numbers are correct (my opinion? They're not), then we shouldn't get back-up cameras because they are too costly. A single Maryland child is not worth $11 million.

Tell that to her mom and dad.

For More Information

  • Stories of children killed because they were in a vehicle's blindzone
  • 60 for Safety: Blindzone Awareness Initiative
  • On a lawyer feelgood note (we're not all bad!), this fall hundreds of lawyers will pledge to give talks to hundreds of organizations in the U.S. and Canada to help increase blindzone awareness. For more information on that initiative, or to help out, click here

More On School Bus Accidents

March 2, 2012

Chesterfield Bus Accident.jpgMax Kennerly of the Pennsylvania-based Beasley Firm writes about school bus accidents in the context of the recent Chesterfield, New Jersey tragedy. There, a dump truck slammed into a school bus, killing one child and injuring many. The dump truck had a flashing yellow light, and the school bus driver failed to stop for a stop sign.

Mr. Kennerly's post is well-written (as are all of his posts), and brings some context to the complexities of automobile negligence litigation. My office is in Timonium, I live in Baltimore, and I try auto accident cases all over Maryland, but it never ceases to surprise me how frequently new fact patterns emerge. There is rarely a truly simple case, especially when the damages and injuries are severe. As Mr. Kennerly points out, the issues in this case include:

  1. driver distraction
  2. driver experience
  3. poor road design (defects including the road, surrounding trees and lights)
  4. bus crashworthiness (ability of bus to withstand crashes
Part of the last issue, crashworthiness, has to do with seatbelts on buses. We discussed bus seatbelts in a prior post. This New Jersey bus apparently had seatbelts, as required by New Jersey law. However, it is unclear what kind of seatbelts the bus had (two-point or three-point). Did the seatbelts prevent injuries or cause them?

These issues require serious consideration, and they crop up time and time again in auto accident cases. The other tragedy is that there is a time limit--because a governmental entity may be at fault, the victims must give proper notice to the state or city within 90 days of the accident. Nevermind that the state and city are obviously well aware of the accident. Failure to give proper notice within those 90 days (when families are trying to grieve for their loved ones, care for their injured, and move back to a place of normalcy) means that those families may be forever barred from recovering in a lawsuit.