Articles Posted in DWI/Criminal

Even as overall traffic levels fell over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of crashes and fatalities at work zones has risen, according to a recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Workers patching potholes, striping roads, directing traffic or building highways are more at risk than ever,” it states, “as drivers zoom through work zones or are preoccupied chatting or texting on their phones.”

These trend in spite of a steep reduction in vehicle miles traveled: 40% in April 2020 (compared to April 2019) and 26% in May, per federal data. The report goes on to state that work zone crews continue to deal with reckless motorists even as traffic volume resumes. It cites a series of instances in Michigan, in which “vehicles struck three county employees in a state contractor” over the course of a single week, killing two of those victims. Pew stresses that motorists and passengers also suffer the consequences of reckless driving, noting that of the 672 fatal work zone crashes with 755 deaths in 2018, only 124 of those deaths were among the work zone crews. Of the 123,000 work zone crashes in 2018, it said, 45,000 people suffered injuries.

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Data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration this month show an increase in unsafe driving by young men. The data specifically shows an uptick in reckless behavior by motorists in rural areas of the country, as well as increased use of drugs and alcohol, after the Covid-19 pandemic began. These trends are part of a broader spike in motorist fatalities, even as there were fewer cars on the road amidst lockdowns and other travel restrictions.

According to a recent analysis by Car and Driver, the NHTSA began studying the role of drugs and alcohol in motorist fatalities in the fall of 2019, testing blood drawn in morgues or emergency rooms for alcohol and various narcotics. Over the course of the pandemic, the NHTSA determined that “the number of people who died who tested positive for alcohol went from 21.3 percent before March 16 to 26.9” by mid-July. Cannabinoids rose 21.4% to 31.2%, and opioids 7.6% to 12.9%. The data reveals that 64.7 percent of fatally injured motorists tested positive “for at least one active drug compared to 50. percent before the public health emergency began.” Men were found to be more likely to test positive than women, according to Car and Driver, and there were higher rates of positivity during the week than on weekends.

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation, has released sobering data about US traffic deaths. According to NHTSA analyses, although traffic fatalities were down in the second quarter of 2020 compared to  the same period in 2019, the fatality rate itself has gone up. Specifically, overall traffic deaths have declined 3.3% (a total of 8,870 deaths), while the fatality rate has increased to 1.42 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles, a jump of 30% over Q2 2019’s numbers.

As the NHTSA notes, the second quarter of 2020 was “the height of the Covid-19 public health emergency,” during which overall traffic volume in the US “decreased by more than 16% in the first six months of 2020.” The agency suggests that the increased fatality rate might mean that while there are fewer drivers on the road, the drivers who remain are taking more risks. The NHTSA’s Deputy Administrator, James Owens, said in a statement: “Road safety is always our top priority, and while we are encouraged by today’s reports showing a continued decline in total fatalities in 2019 and into the first half of 2020, we are concerned by the trend since April showing an increased fatality rate… Now, more than ever, we should be watching ourselves for safe driving practices and encouraging others to do the same.  It’s irresponsible and illegal to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, taking risks not only with one’s own life, but with the lives of others.”

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From August 19 until September 7, New York law enforcement agencies carried out Governor Andrew Como’s “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign, in which they ramped up enforcement on impaired driving. The city released the results of that campaign on September 18. Throughout the entirety of the action, law enforcement “issued 3,262 tickets for impaired driving,” according to a release by the Governor’s Office, as well as “116,292 tickets for other vehicle and traffic law violations, such as speeding and distracted driving.”

The “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” is coordinated in part by the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee, or GTSC, which carries it out several times each year in an effort “to reduce alcohol and other drug-related traffic crashes.” The press release cites research by the Traffic Safety Management and Research at the University at Albany’s Rockefeller College showing that campaigns like this one have reduced DWI-involved fatalities by “more than 19 percent from 2010 to 2019.”

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Alcohol impaired driving accounted for 32.6% of driving fatalities in New York in 2018, according to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, and 28.8% of driving fatalities in the United States that same year. In an effort to combat alcohol-impaired driving, last year New York state legislators introduced bill #A07494A, which would amend state laws concerning the state’s ignition interlock program. Unfortunately, the bill has seen little progress, and today remains in committee.

Ignition interlock devices are basically in-car breathalyzers. Drivers must blow into a mouthpiece and register a compliant blood alcohol level before they can use their vehicle. The New York State Assembly bill “Describes the role of the ignition interlock monitor as well as requirements of people charged with violations that require the installation of an ignition interlock device to comply with court orders.” Among other things, it would require that people convicted of “misdemeanor-level DWI be prohibit- ed from operating any vehicle without a functioning ignition interlock device” for at least twelve months. It would require regular use of the device, offer a process for people who demonstrate good cause to not install the device, and clarify that failure to install such a device or tampering with a device would constitute a violation of an offender’s “condition of sentence, probation, or conditional charge,” among other provisions.

In New York, as LegalScoops pointed out in a recent post, ignition interlock technology goes back to Leandra’s Law, signed in 2009 by Governor David Peterson after an 11 year old child died in an alcohol-impaired driving accident. The law made alcohol-impaired driving driving with a person below 15 years of age a Class E felony, and provided, among other sentencing guidelines, for the mandatory use of an ignition interlock device for six months for any individual sentenced for Driving While Intoxicated. Eleven years later, as LegalScoops notes, alcohol-impaired driving remains a significant cause of death in New York and nationally. And as the Assembly’s “justification” section in the bill’s webpage explains, ignition interlock technology remains ill-used:

A new law signed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo requires all motor vehicle passengers older than 16 to wear a seat belt. It replaces previous legislation that only mandated seatbelts for people aged 16 and up when they were in the vehicle’s front passenger seat.

In a statement released about the legislation, Governor Cuomo said: “We’ve known for decades that seat belts save lives and with this measure we are further strengthening our laws and helping to prevent needless tragedies… It was under my father’s leadership that New York became the first state in the country to pass a seat belt law, and the nation followed his lead. Now we are building upon this legacy and helping to create a safer and stronger Empire State for all.”

A press release by the Cuomo Administration states that New York was “the first state to pass a mandatory seat belt law” in 1984, under the administration of Cuomo’s father, Governor Mario Cuomo. In that same year, according to the press release, roughly 16% of people in the state wore seatbelts, a number that rose to 98% by 2008. The state’s Traffic Safety Committee estimated that 30% of highway fatalities in the state were not wearing seatbelts. According to the release, experts think that increased use of backseat backseat seatbelts may mitigate more than 66% of vehicular fatalities and other injuries.

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A recent report by Niagara Frontier Publications says that data collected by the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research at the University at Albany’s Rockefeller College shows that “as of Aug. 15, deaths from motorcycle crashes are up more than 17% compared to the same period in 2019.” As a result of the increase in motorcycle deaths New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced increased enforcement of impaired driving laws over Labor Day weekend earlier this month. “Danger does not take a holiday and, with increased traffic on the road this Labor Day weekend, we all have a responsibility to exercise good judgment and caution,” he said in early September. “New York state will continue to crack down on dangerous driving behavior because the safety of all drivers and passengers will always be a top priority for us.”

Figures released by the University of Albany show a stark increase in motorcycle crash-involved fatalities over the last year. In April 2019 there were six crashes compared to 14 in April 2020; in June 2019 there were 20 compared to 24 in June 2020; and overall there were 73 fatalities in 2019 compared to 86 in 2020.

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In 2012, a Long Island man, Daniel Sajewski, rammed his father’s red Mercedes-Benz through a Huntington house, narrowly missing the two elderly sisters that lived in the residence. Sajewski was, perhaps predictably, intoxicated – blowing an off-the-chart 0.30 on a breathalyzer, far exceeding New York’s 0.08 limit. In addition to losing their belongings (including a wedding band that could not be located in the rubble), the car accident left the two 90-year-old sisters homeless for several months. In 2013, the judge sentenced Sajewski to one-and-a-half years to three years in prison.

More recently, State Farm, who insured the house that was destroyed, has decided to pursue legal action against Sajewski’s father, the owner of the vehicle. State Farm is seeking $180,000 from the father to reimburse it for the money spent on repairing the home. State Farm is able to pursue this claim because, under New York law, the owner of a vehicle is liable for the damages caused by its drivers – so long as the driver has the owner’s permission to operate the vehicle.  According to the statute, the permission can be expressly stated or implied.

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Almost 15 million Americans admit they drive while under the influence of marijuana, according to a new study by AAA. The alarming news does not end with the sky-high number of impaired drivers, either. Millennials (25 to 39 years old) were most likely to get high before driving, followed closely by Generation Z (under 24 years old). While unsurprising given their age, AAA correctly notes that the majority of stoned drivers are also the most inexperienced – a dangerous combination. The survey also showed that drug-impaired drivers appear unconvinced of its danger and unconcerned with its harsh legal consequences. In fact, Americans surveyed by AAA said that texting and driving posed a greater hazard on the road than pot-impaired drivers.

Despite evidence to the contrary, stoned drivers say that pot does not lead to unsafe driving. The study also reported that a full 13 percent of stoned drivers describe their illegal habit as only ‘slightly dangerous’ or ‘not dangerous’ at all. Despite the perception of their cognitive abilities, evidenced-backed research shows significant impairments in a driver’s ability while under the influence of cannabis. Marijuana impairs motor coordination, reaction time, and personal judgment. Unsurprisingly, an impaired driver is a dangerous one. Stoned drivers are almost twice as likely to be in a car accident than their sober counterparts.

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A recent study suggests that marijuana use may cause fatal car accidents. The study, released by JAMA Internal Medicine, found there were more fatalities and car accidents on April 20, a “holiday” of sorts for cannabis enthusiasts, compared to the same period of time a week beforehand and a week afterward. This study comes on the heels of an increasing push by legislators and public policy experts to determine the effects of marijuana on driving habits, and consequently, to establish an objective standard for measuring intoxication by the drug.

To measure the effect of marijuana on car accidents, the researchers gathered data on car accidents on April 13, April 20, and April 27. April 20 is widely “celebrated” by marijuana users, and 4:20 PM on that day is traditionally regarded as a time to imbibe on the once-illicit drug. Consequently, researchers looked at the number of car accidents between 4:20 PM and midnight on April 20 and compared the results to the statistics during the same time period a week earlier and a week later.  The researchers compared the data over a 25-year period and in several different locations throughout the country. The results showed a 12 percent overall increase in fatal accidents between 4:20 PM and midnight on April 20. Further, the increase in car accidents was particularly notable in drivers under the age of 20. New York, along with Texas and Georgia, saw the sharpest increase in fatal car accidents on April 20.

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