auto wreck

You Should Know: Keeping Back-To-School Teen Drivers Safe

Road Safety Tips for Teen Drivers
Heading Back to School

Labor Day weekend is over and summer is in the rearview mirror. New backpacks are crammed full of the tools of learning: laptops, books, pens, pencils, notebooks and more. But what about the tools young drivers need to stay safe on the road? These tips can help the teen drivers in your life get from home to homeroom in one piece.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens. It is estimated that on average, six teenagers die every day in the United States from a car crash. As teens head back to school, you should know how to keep them, and others, safe.

The Stats

Teens who text and drive are  outside of their lane   about 10 percent of the time.

Teens who text and drive are outside of their lane  about 10 percent of the time.

A teen driver on the road is more likely to cause a car crash than any other driver. Per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash. Young men are two times more likely to get in a crash than young women.

If your teen driver has recently received his or her license, inexperience can spell disaster out on the road. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, teen drivers ages 16 to 17 are twice as likely to get in a car crash compared to teen drivers ages 18 to 19. 

Teens are also less likely to practice safe driving behavior, such as using seat belts or maintaining a safe following distance. In 2015, only 61 percent of high school students reported they always wear seat belts when riding with someone else. [Download report.]

The Risks

Teens are also much more likely to drive distracted. Drivers under the age of 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related crashes, and 42 percent of teens admit to texting while driving. Carpooling seems like a convenient way to get to school, but teens riding with other teen drivers increase the risk of distraction with every additional teen passenger. Here are all eight of the CDC danger zones most often linked to teen crashes:

  1. Driver Inexperience
  2. Driving with Teen Passengers
  3. Nighttime Driving
  4. Not Using Seat Belts
  5. Distracted Driving
  6. Drowsy Driving
  7. Reckless Driving
  8. Impaired Driving

The Parents

So, what can parents do to prevent teen driving tragedies?

  • Most important, lead by example. Forty-eight percent of young drivers have seen their parents talking on a cell phone while driving, and 15 percent of those have seen their parents texting while driving. Show your kids how to drive responsibly by driving distraction free, wearing your seatbelt and following all speed limits and traffic laws.
  • Set limits. Multiple teen passengers and late-night driving lead to more crashes. Limit the number of passengers for your teen drivers and set a curfew.
  • Buy a safe car. The car your teen drives should be reliable. Purchase from a reputable dealer, and check all cars at Safercar.gov for recalls. Make sure your young driver knows what to do if a car breaks down.
  • Practice driving with your teen. Provide your teen driver with 30 to 50 hours of supervised driving practice over at least six months. Practice on a variety of roads, at different times of day, and in varied weather and traffic conditions. Stress the importance of continually scanning for potential hazards including other vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians.
  • Create a Parent-Teen driving agreement. Put your driving rules in writing to clearly set limits, as well as the consequences for not following those rules.

This article appeared in our September 2017 "You Should Know" e-newsletter.

The Dangers of Texting & Driving - Facts & Statistics

"I think we can all agree: new technology offers many benefits - computers have allowed lightning fast data processing, the internet created a global world, and mobile phones provide us with convenience and a valuable safety tool.
Unfortunately, the law of unintended consequences almost always rears its ugly head when it comes to technological advances. In terms of cell phones, one of the most dangerous consequences has proved to be a rise in distracted driving." - Misha Safranski, MoneySavingPro

Click here to learn more about the dangers of texting and driving at MoneySavingPro.

You Should Know: Pedestrians Pay the Price for Distracted Driving

Bikers, Walkers Threatened By Increase In Distracted Driving

April showers have given way to May flowers, encouraging walkers and bicyclists to get out and enjoy the weather. Long walks and leisurely bike rides can be a perfect way to soak up the sun, but busy streets with distracted drivers can be an accident waiting to wreck a lovely day. Unfortunately, when drivers are distracted, pedestrians and bikers often pay the price. This month, you should know how to keep yourself safe while you enjoy the spring season.

Use marked crosswalks :  Eighty-two percent  of pedestrian deaths occur outside the crosswalk.

Use marked crosswalksEighty-two percent of pedestrian deaths occur outside the crosswalk.

More Cars, More Walkers and Bikes, More Distractions = Higher Traffic Deaths

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), almost 6,000 pedestrians were killed in 2016 in traffic accidents. In 2015, more than 800 bicyclists lost their lives in motor vehicle-involved crashes. Pedestrian deaths shot up 10 percent between 2014 and 2015, bicyclist deaths by 13 percent – both more than any other category of traffic-related fatalities, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). 

The cause of this deadly trend has been greatly debated, with different groups pointing to a stronger economy and hence more cars on the road, more people walking to work or for recreation, and distraction due to the skyrocketing use of smartphone technology. Meanwhile, most efforts to prevent distraction are focused on motor vehicle drivers and passengers rather than pedestrians and bicyclists.

Teens Account for 25 Percent Increase in Pedestrian Deaths Over Past Five Years

Bicycle fatalities have risen sharply for adults (especially men) 20 years or older since 1975. Click for larger image.

Even if a person is not behind a wheel, they can be at risk if walking while talking on a cell phone or listening to music through headphones. Among kids, teens account for 50 percent of all pedestrian deaths in the United States, and unintentional pedestrian traffic injuries are the fifth leading cause of fatalities for ages 5 to 19. Older teens have accounted for a staggering 25 percent increase in pedestrian injuries in the past five years. Over half of all adults have been involved in a distracted walking encounter.

Tips To Stay Safe

Walking or bicycling are healthy for both people and the environment. Perhaps that is why we’ve seen a 60 percent increase in commuter biking during the past decade. But while bicycle deaths among children have thankfully decreased by 88 percent since 1975, deaths among bicyclists age 20 and older have more than tripled. Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind that will increase your chances of arriving safely at your destination, whether on foot or by pedal!

  • Look left, right and left again before crossing the street
  • Make eye contact with drivers of oncoming vehicles to make sure they see you
  • Be aware of drivers even when you’re in a crosswalk; vehicles have blind spots
  • Don’t wear headphones while walking or biking
  • Never use a cell phone or other electronic device while walking or biking
  • If your view is blocked, move to a place where you can see oncoming traffic
  • Never rely on a car to stop
  • Only cross at designated crosswalks (82 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur outside crosswalks)
  • Wear bright and/or reflective clothing, especially at night
  • Always wear a helmet while biking
  • Walk in groups, if possible
  • Follow all traffic laws and road signs, and signal to turn

This article appeared in our May 2017 "You Should Know" e-newsletter.

You Should Know: Motorcycle Injuries, Insurance and Prevention

Americans love motorcycles: the wide-open road, the sense of freedom, the “Born to Be Wild” spirit of rebellion. Perhaps you are thinking about a biking adventure as well this summer? You wouldn’t be alone. According to numerous government and industry sources, motorcycle ridership in the United States is at an all-time high, especially among older riders.

Fatalities Continue to Rise Among Older Riders

Common sense tells us that motorcycling is simply more dangerous than driving a car. Aside from four wheels over two, cars are equipped with numerous safety features, including seat belts, air bags and a surrounding structure that protects occupants in a crash. Motorcycles are also less visible to other drivers, and require more mental and physical skill to operate safely. Finally, motorcyclists are more vulnerable to bad weather and hazardous road conditions.

While the overall number of motorcycle injuries and deaths declined slightly in 2013 and 2014, fatal accidents among older riders continue to rise. Riders 50 and older accounted for 3 percent of motorcycle fatalities in 1982, 13 percent in 1997 and 36 percent in 2014, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Aside from the inherent dangers of motorcycling, riding without a helmet, while intoxicated or speeding are often cited as contributing factors as well.

Insurance May Not Cover Personal Injury

Click to expand this Fool's Gear, Cool Gear infographic.

After strapping on your helmet, the next best protection you can have in case of a motorcycle accident is insurance. While all 50 states require minimum insurance coverage to operate a motorcycle, be aware that the minimums may not adequately protect you in a serious accident. Like any type of insurance, how much you'll need will depend on many different factors, including the type of bike you own, how often you ride, your marital status, your personal assets and your budget.

Liability covers bodily injury and property damage that you may cause to others involved in an accident. Other coverages include uninsured or underinsured motorist, which covers personal injury and damages caused by the driver of another vehicle who either does not have insurance or does not have sufficient coverage; collision, which covers physical damage to the motorcycle involved in a crash with an object, tree or another vehicle; comprehensive, which covers a loss from non-collision sources, such as theft, vandalism, fire or hail; and in states where applicable, medical payments or personal injury protection (PIP), which covers physical injuries to the rider and passenger.

Beyond liability, your first priority should be the coverages that pay you – and your passenger – for medical treatment, lost wages and other damages. These include uninsured/underinsured and PIP. Note, however, that the risks associated with motorcycling often make it very expensive to increase these coverages. In some cases, for example, PIP may not even be available, or may be so expensive that it is out of reach for most individuals. As when purchasing any type of insurance, seek the advice of a qualified advisor and carefully review policies from several different insurers.

Preventing Motorcycle Accidents – Tips for Riders and Drivers

To help combat the growing safety issues with motorcycles, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation has set out to improve safety through education, training and licensing. Since 1974, over 7.5 million motorcyclists have taken MSF training courses. 

The Foundation offers the following tips for riders and drivers (download) to help prevent motorcycle accidents.

For Riders:

  • Be Properly Trained and Licensed – Half of all riders have never taken a proper safety class. If you take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Basic Rider Course, some states will waive the written portion of the motorcycle endorsement test.
  • Wear a Helmet – The facts are irrefutable: Helmets prevent fatalities an estimated 37 percent of the time for motorcycle drivers, and 41 percent of the time for passengers in motorcycle accidents, according to the NHTSA. And aside from being smart, wearing a helmet the law in 19 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Fool's Gear, Cool Gear – What you wear can make it easier for drivers to see you and better protect you in a crash. 
  • Never Drink and Drive – In 2013, 28 percent of cycling fatalities involved riders who were legally intoxicated.
  • Ride Within Your Skill Limits and Obey Traffic Laws – Don’t ride faster or farther than your abilities will allow.
  • Be a Lifelong Learner – Take advanced courses to brush up on the basics and keep improving your skills.

For Drivers:

  • Watch for Motorcyclists – Motorcycles are smaller than other vehicles and often harder to see. In 42 percent of the fatal motorcycle accidents reported in 2013, a vehicle made a left turn in front of an oncoming motorcycle.
  • Focus on Driving – Motorcyclists are easy to miss even when you are paying attention. Studies show that distracted drivers simply don't see certain objects like signs, motorcyclists and pedestrians. Hang up the cell phone or mobile device.
  • Give Motorcyclists Enough Room – Maintain a safe distance between your car and a motorcycle and don’t change lanes too close. What would be a minor fender bender between two cars could easily be fatal to a motorcyclist.
  • Use Your Turn Signals – For everyone’s safety, use your turn signals. It is also the law.
  • Keep Trash in the Car – Road debris can kill a rider. And don't throw cigarette butts out of your car, either.

 This article appeared in our July 2016 "You Should Know" e-newsletter. 

You Should Know: The Latest on Marijuana and Driving

A patchwork of state laws define marijuana intoxication.

A patchwork of state laws define marijuana intoxication.

Marijuana and Driving

Studies analyzing the effects of driving under the influence of marijuana have been marked by contradictory research and imprecise measurement. Two major studies published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in February 2015 shed new light on a topic of increasing concern as 24 states have legalized marijuana (four states and the District of Columbia for recreational use, the rest for medicinal use). According to a recent article in Timemagazine, another five states could follow suit this year.

NHTSA’s first report confirmed predictions that legalization might lead to more stoned drivers. In a 2013-14 roadside survey of more than 9,000 drivers, 12.6 percent tested positive for THC (the principal psychoactive ingredient in marijuana,) compared to 8.6 percent in 2007 – a 47 percent increase. The percentage of drivers at or above the legal limit for alcohol was 8.3 percent, down 80 percent since a 1973 NHTSA roadside survey.

But here’s where the story takes an unexpected turn. The second NHTSA report focused on crash risk in what the agency described as the “first large-scale study in the United States to include drugs other than alcohol.” Data was collected from more than 3,000 crash-involved drivers and compared to 6,000 drivers not involved in crashes. While drivers who tested positive for THC were 25 percent more likely to be involved in a crash, other factors like age, gender, ethnicity and blood alcohol concentration were considered more likely the culprit than the presence of drugs. NHTSA researchers didn't mince words, writing: “Caution should be exercised in assuming that drug presence implies driver impairment.”

Meanwhile, the number of traffic fatalities involving marijuana-stoned drivers has increased in Washington and Colorado since both states legalized the recreational use of the drug, according to two recent reports. The percentage of drivers who used pot within hours of a fatal crash in Washington nearly doubled from 2013 to 2014, according to a just-published AAA study. A similar increase was recorded in Colorado with 10 percent of drivers in fatal accidents testing positive for marijuana in 2011 versus 5.9 percent in 2009.

OK, So What’s “Under the Influence”?

Findings from these studies underscore another important point in this discussion: Measuring impairment in a person using marijuana isn’t comparable to blood alcohol concentration. “Most psychoactive drugs are chemically complex molecules, whose absorption, action and elimination from the body are difficult to predict,” NHTSA writes, "and considerable differences exist between individuals with regard to the rates at which these processes occur. Alcohol, in comparison, is more predictable.” Some marijuana users can have measurable amounts of THC in their bodies days or even weeks after using the drug, long after any psychoactive effects remain.

The uncertainty surrounding the intoxicating effects of marijuana is reflected in the patchwork of state laws defining driving “under the influence” of drugs. Some states follow a zero tolerance standard, making it illegal to have any presence of THC or other illegal drugs in your body while driving. Others set a legal THC limit expressed in nanograms (one-billionth of a gram) per milliliter of blood. In others, impairment is inferred based on the circumstances rather than defined by blood THC levels.

To review the laws on marijuana and driving in your state, click here.

What’s Next?

Of course, no one is suggesting that people should “blaze one and go for a joyride whenever the whimsy strikes,” wrote a New York Times reporter after reviewing the NHTSA study. There is plenty of evidence to show that marijuana use impairs driving skills. And as all these studies make clear, we need more research on the effects of marijuana and driving, along with better equipment for detecting and measuring marijuana-related impairment. It is also clear that the science of intoxication surrounding marijuana is different than that of alcohol and may demand a more nuanced response by policymakers, law enforcement and court officers. In other words, stay tuned for more on this evolving topic.

 This article appeared in our June 2016 "You Should Know" e-newsletter. 

The Dangers Of Driving Under The Influence Of Any Drug, Including Pot

In North Carolina, a person is guilty of driving while impaired if they operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or an impairing substance. The THC in marijuana would be considered an impairing substance. One would be impaired within the meaning of the law if one had taken a sufficient amount of THC to cause him to lose the normal control of his bodily or mental faculties, or both, to such an extent that there is an appreciable impairment of either or both of these faculties.  

While we too often encounter wrecks caused by drivers impaired by alcohol, a case involving impairment solely by THC is rare. One reason, of course, is that there is no roadside or magistrate’s office testing apparatus that can easily measure the amount of THC in a driver’s blood. There is no breathalyzer test to detect THC. A blood draw and testing of that blood is necessary.  

When investigating a case where impairment is suspected and the at-fault driver was taken for medical treatment as a result of the wreck, we always attempt to get the medical records, including the lab reports, from that treatment. The blood test will usually include testing for TCH and other drugs. If drugs are present we can and will use that information in our client’s favor as we prosecute our client’s case. 

Causing injury and damage while driving while impaired will subject the impaired driver to punitive damages and we will often include such a claim in the overall damages claim.

Guy W. Crabtree is a partner with Crabtree, Carpenter & Connolly, PLLC, in Durham, NC. The firm helps injured parties from all over the nation recover from injuries caused by the negligence of others.