Articles Posted in Motor Vehicle Accidents

A new post by the Emergency Safety Responder Institute details the under-appreciated danger of road debris, which studies found was “was a factor in a total of more than 200,000 police-reported crashes” between 2011 and 2014, “resulting in approximately 39,000 injuries and 500 deaths.” Road debris is defined as “any substance, material, or object that is foreign to the roadway environment,” and can be found in travel lanes as well as a road’s shoulder or median. While all roadway debris is dangerous, perhaps the most danger lies on highway debris, given that drivers traverse highways at higher speeds than on normal roads, giving them less time to react to foreign objects. Debris also poses a risk to roadway responders, the professionals and volunteers who remove debris from the roads.

According to the Emergency Safety Responder Institute, most debris-related roadway incidents are the fault of negligent drivers, though others are due to mechanical mishaps. The majority of such incidents are preventable, the post argues, citing AAA data showing that “two in three debris-related crashes result from items falling from a vehicle due to improper maintenance or an unsecured load.” Such items might include tires and wheels that come off the vehicle, cargo that becomes unsecured, and tow trailers that become detached and collide with other cars or trucks on the road, according to AAA’s research.

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As vehicles vanished from the roads during the last six months of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, traffic fatalities increased dramatically, according to preliminary research by the National Safety Council. The NSC found that there were 20% more traffic fatalities between January and June 2020 than January to June 2019, even as drivers drove 17% fewer miles during that same period. This death rate constitutes “the highest jump NSC has calculated for a six-month period since 1999,” according to a news release by the organization.

NSC data shows that when numerous states ended their strict quarantines in June 2020, the number of miles driven by US drivers was still 13% lower than in 2019. Still, “death rates and number of deaths both skyrocketed”: number of deaths by 17% in June, and the death rate per 100 million miles driven by 34.4%. What the NSC concludes from this data is that “the lack of traffic did not make the roads safer.” Distressingly, these spikes in traffic deaths follow a “leveling off and small declined in overall fatalities” that itself followed a steady increase in fatalities between 2015 and 2017.

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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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The recent tragic death of a cyclist and activist in New York City has raised concerns about the possibility of rising bike and pedestrian fatalities in the city, according to a recent report by ABC News. Sarah Pitts, a Brooklyn activist and assistant district attorney, was struck and killed by a tour bus on her ride home from a meeting with Black Lives Matter activists in early September, the report states. It adds that the location where she was hit, a section of Brooklyn’s Wythe Avenue below the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, “has a bike lane, but it’s not protected.”

Pitts’ death was one of 17 cyclist fatalities in New York City since the beginning of 2020, according to ABC. However, New York Police Department data reveal that six of those deaths “happened in the first two weeks of September,” raising concerns that the city might be in for rising cyclist fatalities. In a statement about the upsurge, which also includes the September 10 death of a 29-year-old pedestrian crossing the street, activist Danny Harris said the city has been lax in its implementation of accident-prevention measures: “These are preventable deaths… Last year was shameful. We saw an almost 200% increase in bike fatalities, and now we’re on track to reach a similar number, especially as we have a city that’s not even open yet. The responsibility falls squarely on Mayor de Blasio.”

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A new study by WalletHub, a financial advice and information website, ranked the hundred biggest cities in the United States according to 31 metrics of “driver-friendliness.” The study identified the best and worst cities to drive in according to “key indicators” like gas prices, hours of traffic congestion per auto commuter, number of auto repair shops, number of car washes, car theft rates, and days with precipitation. What the study ultimately found is that New York City is one of the worst cities to drive in a nation where “87 percent of daily trips take place in personal vehicles,” and during a pandemic in which people are increasingly wary of public transportation.

New York City came in 96th place in the study. The four cities worse for drivers were, in descending order: Detroit, Michigan; San Francisco, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Oakland, California. The top five cities identified by the study were, in descending order: Lincoln, Nebraska; Raleigh, North Carolina; Corpus Christi, Texas; Greensboro, North Carolina; and Boise, Idaho.

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A new analysis by City & State suggests that New York City might be at risk of “Carmageddon,” a phenomenon in which residents returning to work after the pandemic forsake public transportation for private cars, risking increased congestion, traffic deaths, and poor air quality in the city. According to the report, 80% of commutes into Manhattan were on public transportation, a figure that has fallen approximately 785 since the pandemic began. On the other hand, data show that vehicle ridership on bridges and tunnels has only fallen 18%, and “traffic in Manhattan below 60th Street is down just 15%.” The figures are not quite so rosy for the Long Island Rail, whose ridership is at 23% of its levels one year ago, and the Metro North system, which is at 16% of its levels one year ago. The report states that transit experts fear New Yorkers may suffer massively as a result of these factors.

According to those experts, “a modest change in the number of cars circulating around Manhattan makes a difference” that can ruin the entire transportation system. One metro planning think tank president said that if just 10,000 more vehicles are added to the system, “It’s actually the difference between the system functioning and completely crashing.” This may lead to the demise of New York City’s public transportation—due to budget cuts and decreased ridership—that adversely impacts working-class New York residents who have no other choice but to ride the subways and buses. Experts believe workers might not return to work in their offices in New York City en masse until the summer of 2020, long after there’s a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. This is because office buildings, with their ill-ventilated rooms and crowded elevators, may be a hotspot for COVID-19 outbreaks. In contrast, according to the report, public transportation poses less of a risk, so long as riders follow proper precautions. “ In New York City’s subways, filtered air circulating around a car is replaced with fresh air at least 18 times an hour, The New York Times reported,” the report states, whereas the “recommended rate of replacement” in offices is six to eight times per hour. “I definitely think that there’s the chance that a significant fraction of the workforce will not return until we have a vaccine in place,” one expert told City & State.

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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:

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s proposal to introduce regulations governing bicyclists has generated controversy among experts and cycling activists, according to a new report in Curbed. In a September press conference discussing the alleged murder of a cyclist by a SUV driver, De Blasio said his administration is considering regulations that will make helmets mandatory for Citi Bike riders, and requiring cyclists to apply for licenses from city authorities. “I’m someone who believes that more and more people riding bikes has been a good thing for this city,” he said at the press conference. “But we have to make sense of the safety realities.”

According to Curbed, however, increased regulation of bicyclists is likely to make New York City even more dangerous for them. An official at the organization Transportation Alternatives told Curbed that helmet requirements have demonstrably discouraged people from riding bicycles, and fewer cyclists on city streets leads to “higher rates of bicyclist crashes and injuries, in part because car and truck drivers become less accustomed to operating around bicyclists.” The official said further, “The safest cities for biking and walking in the world do not mandate bike helmets or licenses.”

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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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In 2019, New York state legislators passed a law that would allow New York City to use congestion pricing, in which cars driving into Manhattan’s Central Business District would receive a daily toll of approximately $11 to $14, per a recent report by City & State. The law is expected to bring in an addition $1 billion in revenue for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which will likely suffer a “$16 billion shortfall through 2024” in addition to other needs the congestion pricing revenue would fund. Congestion pricing already exists in cities like Stockholm and London, according to the report, where it has both “raised revenue and increased traffic.” In New York, however, the law’s implementation has been stalled by federal authorities, in what some experts and officials “believe is political punishment for a blue state from the Trump Administration.”

According to City & State, New York can implement congestion pricing as earlier as January 1, 2021. The state is currently eyeing a start in early 2022, however, due to the holdup. As the report explains, the law requires an environmental impact study of the program: “Because some of the roads that will be tolled have received federal funding, the Federal Highway Administration – a division of the federal Department of Transportation – can require an environmental review be conducted by the state before the policy can be implemented.” While the federal government is responsible for determining “what level of environmental review is necessary,” if any, it hasn’t provided any guidance to the state, “despite having the materials it requested” in January of this year. As the MTA chairman told city and state: “It’s paradoxical to me that congestion pricing, central business district tolling, which is a huge environmental, social good, reduces traffic/congestion, funds mass transit and reduces emissions is being held up… All we want from USDOT, and all we’ve ever wanted from the beginning, is for them to follow their own required process and tell us what the environmental process is so we can pursue it.”

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