A recent Triple AAA Foundation for Traffic (“Triple AAA”) study draws attention to the risks of distracted driving. Distracted driving refers to drivers who talk, text, and dial, including hands-free devices, while operating a motor vehicle. It can also include those that eat or drink while driving. Triple AAA’s study illustrates that driving while distracted is very dangerous and plays a significant role in motor vehicle accidents. Continue reading
On March 24, a train accident occurred in Mentz, NY resulting in the death of a passenger in the vehicle. The accident occurred at the North Main Street railroad station when a work van drove around the flashing lights and horizontal bars that signaled a train coming; one person was ejected from the vehicle and died. The accident occurred at approximately 6:50 a.m., leaving one line open for the passing of freight trains with both lines being open by 12 noon; the two sets of tracks are major routes with 50-60 freight and Amtrak passenger trains passing through daily.
Rob Doolittle, communications director for the CSX railroad, stated that the Federal Railroad Administration estimates that every three hours a person or vehicle is struck by a train. In 2015, there were 31 incidents in New York where a train struck a vehicle at a railroad crossing. These accidents resulted in eight deaths and 59 injuries. Doolittle said the deaths were unfortunate and that people should pay attention at all times. People who live near train tracks may think they know the train schedule; however, it is never a good idea to ignore the warning signs because trains today travel quickly and are much quieter. In some instances, drivers may not realize that as one train passes another could be passing in the opposite direction.
Each year, an astonishing 1.3 million people die in car crashes, and a whopping 20-50 million are injured. Car accidents are the 9th leading cause of death among adults and the #1 cause of death among young people. These crashes cost U.S. citizens over $230.6 billion each year. The vast majority of these accidents are caused by negligent and reckless drivers.
In fact, a new study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, described in the NY Daily News, has shown that 80% of car accidents in the U.S. are caused by distracted drivers who are eating while driving. While many drivers feel confident in their multitasking abilities, the facts show that eating while driving is dangerous. An alarming 70% of drivers eat while driving, and 83% drink beverages. Eating and drinking distracts drivers. Rather than focusing on the road, drivers are focused on rooting around in the bag for the last French fry and unwrapping a sandwich.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that burgers are the most commonly eaten food during food-related car accidents. Given the prevalence of fast food restaurants and the relative ease of grabbing a burger to-go from a drive thru, this is not surprising. What is surprising, though, are the other top contenders on the list. Soup, tacos, chili dogs, ribs, wings, fried chicken, jelly donuts, and chocolate are all top culprits. In addition, coffee and soda have been notorious for causing spills that distract drivers and cause 65% of near misses.
The United States Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released a research note on the prevalence of drivers using hand held devices while driving. NHTSA is tasked with keeping the roads safe. It does so by conducting research on driver behavior and traffic safety, enforcing safety performance standards for motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment and providing information to consumers and other road users.
The note is based on a survey by the National Center for Statistics and Analysis which along with NHTSA is part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The survey, the National Occupant Protection Use survey (NOPUS), is the only nation-wide probability based survey of device use conducted in the United States. The NOPUS is based on in-person observation taken by surveyors at intersections during daylight hours. The information is only recorded from stopped vehicles by trained volunteers and the data collected includes such information as age, gender, race and vehicle type (car or truck).
Perhaps counterintuitively, the NOPUS found no statistically relevant increase in the use of drivers text messaging or visibly manipulating electronic devices with the rate increasing only marginally from 1.3 percent in 2011 to 1.5 percent in 2012. Driver’s hand-held cell phone use remained steady at 5 percent. The rate of drivers holding a phone directly to their ear while driving also stayed at 5 percent. This figure translates into 66,000 drivers driving while holding a phone to their ear at any given daytime moment during 2012. The statistics also mean that at any given daytime moment in 2012 9 percent of drivers were using some type of device.
The parents of Even Lieberman, a 19-year-old college student killed in a 2011 car accident, are calling upon lawmakers to toughen distracted driving laws in New York. In response to their son’s death, which was caused in part by distracted driving, parents Ben and Debbie Lieberman formed the organization DORCs–Distracted Operators Risk Casualties. The organization seeks to inform the public about the dangers of distracted driving and calls upon state legislators to treat distracted driving as seriously as drunk driving.
While Plains resident Jacy Good, an advocate for DORCs, lost both of her parents and suffered a life-long injury as a result of being in a distracted driving car accident. Highlighting the dangers of distracted driving, Good stated, “It is critically important that distracted driving laws are as strictly enforced as drunk driving laws have become. We know that the simple act of having a conversation on a cell phone delays our reaction time and causes cognitive impairment resulting in attention blindness that leaves a driver with the same or worse driving ability as a driver with a .08 percent blood-alcohol content–the legal threshold for driving drunk.”
As detailed in a USA Today story, on the early morning of June 16, 2011, 19-year-old Michael Fiddle was driving Evan Lieberman and two other friends to their summer job on Long Island. Fiddle got into a head-on collision that killed Lieberman and injured the two other passengers. Fiddle claimed that he fell asleep at the wheel. He never faced any criminal charges as a result of the fatal accident. However, as a result of a civil lawsuit filed against Fiddle by Lieberman’s parents, investigators were able to subpoena Fiddle’s cell phone records at the time of the crash. Administrative Law Judge Donna Marinacci ruled that the records showed that Fiddle was texting at the time of the accident which “constituted gross negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle” and showed a “reckless disregard for life.” Fiddle’s license was suspended for one year as a result of the ruling.
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota called upon Albany lawmakers in June 2014 to toughen the penalties for hit-and-run drivers. Spota stated that many drivers who are drunk or impaired by drugs often flee the scene of accidents because they know that hit-and-run penalties are not as severe as sentences for DWI charges. Spota remarked, “A drunk or drug impaired driver who kills someone may face up to 25 years in prison. But fleeing the accident scene allows the wrongdoer a chance to sober up, and under the current law, any driver guilty of a hit-and-run faces a maximum prison sentence of seven years–even when someone dies or even if the defendant has a prior felony record.”
Spota’s remarks came the day before an Eastport man, Peter Torrillo, a married 48-year-old man with four children, received a sentence of 28 months to seven years after leaving the scene of an accident that killed a young mother and seriously injured her passenger. On November 2, 2013, Torrillo was driving on Montauk Highway in Eastport when he hit Erika Strebel, 27, and Edward Barton, 26. Strebel and Burton were pulled over on the side of the road to fill up their jeep which had run out of gas. Strebel, a mother of a 5-year-old boy, was rushed to Peconic Bay Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead a short time later. Burton was airlifted to another hospital for sustaining serious injuries that have left him in a wheelchair.
According to prosecutors, Torrillo, who was convicted of driving while ability impaired in 2012, knowingly fled the scene of the fatal accident. When Torrillo got home, he showered, shaved and headed back out to a local bar. While driving to the bar, Torrillo passed the scene of the accident. The next day, he took his car to a repair shop in Queens in an attempt to cover up the crime. Relying on a witness who saw Torrillo flee the scene, investigators were able to match paint chips left at the accident with paint on Torrillo’s repaired car. Three weeks after the accident, he was arrested and charged with a fatal hit-and-run.
According to a study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, if all passenger vehicles were equipped with front crash prevention, lane departure warning, blind spot detection and adaptive headlight systems, one in three fatal crashes could be avoided and one in five crashes resulting in an injury could be prevented or mitigated. While it is probably unrealistic to expect all vehicles to have all of these crash avoidance technologies, the study underscores the fact that such technology can help to prevent crashes or reduce their potential for causing serious injuries.
Crash avoidance technologies help drivers to operate a vehicle safely. They monitor a vehicle’s environment through sensors and other devices and warn drivers of potential accidents by sounding a warning or even reducing a vehicle’s speed by automatically applying the brakes. For instance, front crash prevention systems utilize sensors, cameras, radar or light detection and ranging (LIDAR) to detect if a car is too close to the vehicle in front of it. If sensors detect an impending crash, the system may trigger an audible warning or brake the vehicle automatically. Some front crash prevention systems even recognize pedestrians.
Another crash avoidance technology, lane departure warning and prevention, utilizes cameras to track a vehicle’s position within a lane. If the system detects that a car is drifting from a lane, it will alert the driver by either vibrating the seat or steering wheel, or by sounding an alarm. Blind spot detection systems contain sensors on the side of the car that detect vehicles in blind spot areas. The system provides a warning to the driver on or near the sideview mirrors. If the driver starts to make a lane change while a vehicle is in a blind spot, the system will sound an audible warning.
According to figures recently released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,328 people were killed in 2012 as the result of distracted driving crashes. In the same time period, 421,000 people were injured as the result of distracted drivers. To combat the ever-increasing problem of cell phone use and texting and driving, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the start of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April 2014. The program will combine a nationwide advertisement campaign as well as a high-visibility law enforcement crackdown on distracted driving.
The $8.5 million advertising campaign will be on television, radio and the Internet and will be conducted in both English and Spanish. The ads will contain the catch phrase U Drive. U Text. U Pay. Discussing the new ads, Secretary Foxx remarked, “This campaign puts distracted driving on par with our efforts to fight drunk driving or to encourage seatbelt use. Across the country, we’re putting distracted drivers on notice: If you’re caught texting while driving, the message you receive won’t be from your cell phone, but from law enforcement–U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” The advertising campaign will also be combined with a nationwide, high-visibility law enforcement crackdown on texting and driving from April 10 to April 15, 2014. During this time, thousands of law enforcement personnel will use traditional and innovative techniques to catch distracted drivers. Currently, 43 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have laws banning texting and driving for all ages; twelve states, D.C. Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban cell phone use among drivers of all ages; thirty-seven states and D.C. prohibit cell phone use among new drivers.
Before launching the nationwide campaign, the federal government tested the program in California and Delaware. The program, which used the phrase Phone in One Hand. Ticket in the Other, proved to be effective. In California, police issued 10,700 tickets for distracted driving. In Delaware, police issued 6,200 tickets to drivers who were on the phone or texing. In addition, observed hand-held cell phone use dropped by 33 percent in each area. In California, such use dropped from 4.1 percent to 2.7 percent; in Delaware, observed cell phone use dropped from 4.5 percent to 3 percent.
Talking to an elderly grandparent or parent about not driving before they are no longer able to drive is key for seniors who want to make a smooth transition from being a driver to being dependent on others for transportation.
Elin Schold Davis, a coordinator of the Older Driver Initiate at the American Occupational Therapy Association, says, “We talk about finances; we talk about housing; we have to talk about transportation.”
While many senior drivers stop driving on their own, Schold Davis points out that giving up driving can be emotional and create a loss of independence. However, at-risk seniors who give up driving are protecting others as well as themselves. Being in a car crash could render elderly drivers totally dependent on others for care. “That senior is much more vulnerable to have fractured ribs, fractured bones and to have their health status markedly diminished following that low speed crash,” Schold Davis says.
According to the latest studies, driving while hung-over is just as dangerous as driving drunk.
In research conducted by Utrecht University in the Netherlands, study participants had 10 drinks at night. The next morning, when their blood alcohol contents were zero, they took a one hour driving test. The participants had difficulty concentrating and driving in a straight line.
In a similar study performed by the University of the West of England in the United Kingdom, hung-over participants took a 20 minute driving test simulating rural and urban conditions. The participants increased their speeds and showed delayed reaction times.