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: Will Your Auto Insurance Be There When It Matters Most?

Serious Accidents Can Quickly Exceed Your Policy Limits

Greg is married and the father of three small children. He is driving home from work when a distracted driver blows through a stop sign and slams into his car. After a long hospitalization, two surgeries, extensive physical therapy and two months away from work, Greg contacts a lawyer to help him and his wife sort through a mountain of bills and insurance red tape.

“Greg,” says his lawyer a week later after a short investigation. “I have bad news: The distracted driver was uninsured and has no appreciable assets. Here’s worse news: We can only recover part of the damages for the injuries you suffered because you purchased the minimum amount of uninsured/underinsured coverage available in your auto insurance policy. I’m afraid you and your wife will have to cover the difference.”

This scenario is all too familiar to those of us who help good people hurt in bad car accidents. They often think they have “full coverage” if they have met the insurance requirements to drive a car in their state. If you already have auto insurance or are thinking about buying coverage, consider these tips:

Tips for Analyzing Your Policy or Buying New Insurance

1. Check your liability limits

If you are at fault in an accident and the other driver’s damages exceed available benefits, you can be held personally liable. In other words, you could lose your savings or your house. And while the minimums in your policy might seem like a lot of money, it can quickly vanish. Many insurance experts suggest beefing up liability limits to at least $100,000 for injuries caused to one person, $300,000 to two or more and $50,000 for damage to the other car. Even more might be required if you own a home or have appreciable assets. Also consider adding relatively inexpensive “umbrella” coverage to your existing liability and uninsured/underinsured benefits for more protection.

2. Review Personal Injury Protection (PIP)

If you live in a “no-fault” state, you will turn first to your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) for payment of wage loss, medical bills and other expenses from an injury crash for yourself or others in your car. If these benefits run out, you can make a claim on the negligent driver’s liability coverage. PIP benefits can be increased, or you can “stack” them if you have more than one car on your policy. PIP benefits or something similar might also be available in states without no-fault insurance requirements, but you should discuss this coverage with your insurance agent.

3. Look Hard at Uninsured/ Underinsured Benefits

One in eight drivers across America is driving uninsured, according to the Insurance Research Council. Many more drivers carry minimum liability protection. If you are in an accident with a uninsured/underinsured driver, you may need much more coverage than the minimums available in your insurance policy.

4. Review the “Extras”: Comprehensive and Collision

Your first priority should be protecting yourself and your family with adequate levels of liability, PIP (where applicable) and underinsured/uninsured benefits. If you’ve achieved that goal, then decide if the annual cost of comprehensive or collision makes sense given the value of your car.

5. Research Your Insurance Company

If you get into an accident and have to file a claim, will your insurance company be prompt and helpful? What is their financial rating? Do some research on any insurance company you are considering. Check with your state department of insurance to access financial ratings, and use websites like Consumer Reports or the Better Business Bureau to investigate a company’s customer service record.

6. Get It in Writing

Before you sign any policy, read it through completely. Request a detailed breakdown of all charges and make sure you are paying exactly what the insurance company has quoted. This glossary of insurance terms can help make the lingo a bit less confusing.

7. Finance Your Premium

More often than not, financing your premium will be less expensive. Paying your entire coverage for six months or a year instead of paying monthly will most likely lower your rate.

8. Get Accident Forgiveness

Ask the insurance company if they offer accident forgiveness. Under a plan that includes this coverage, your rates won’t go up after your first accident.

9. Receive All Possible Discounts

There are many different discounts you may qualify for, including some that you may not even know exist. Ask the insurance company for a complete overview of every possible discount to see what you may qualify for. Some examples of discounts include:

  • Multi-Vehicle: Insuring more than one vehicle at a time.
  • Anti-Theft: This discount applies to those who own a car with a theft-deterrent device.
  • Good Student: Full-time high school and college students who maintain good grades.
  • Low Mileage: The average American driver travels 12,000 miles a year. You may be eligible for a discount if you travel below this average.
  • Good Driver: Given to those who do not receive speeding tickets or other types of driving violations.
  • Preferred Parking: Having covered or secured parking can keep your car from being hit in a general parking lot or on the street. 

10. Finally, Shop Often

The insurance company you purchased from 10 years ago may not still be your best bet. David Marlett, Chair of the Department of Finance, Banking and Insurance at Walker College of Business encourages policy holders to shop around every three years. He also suggests that shopping after a major life change – marriage, a child turning 16 or a move to a new city – is a good plan.

This is a simplified overview of auto insurance coverage. If you’ve been in an accident, call us as soon as possible to discuss the specifics of your particular situation.

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

The Importance of Un- and Underinsured Motorist Coverage

So, what happens if you are in a serious wreck and the at-fault party has no or little insurance coverage? If you are smart you would have planned for that unfortunate occurrence when you renewed your automobile insurance.

For example, I try to spend as much time riding my bike as possible.  Unfortunately, more time on the road also means greater risks of an accident. In my line of work, I’ve seen enough incidents involving cyclists being hit by cars to make me more than a little nervous when I strap on my shoes for a ride. Sure, there are certain precautions you can take to prevent an accident from occurring (wear visible clothing, stay near the shoulder, don’t ride during high traffic), but there is not much you can do to prevent a careless or distracted motorist from hitting you. You can do everything right and still be the victim of a negligent driver. 

I have seen many individuals who have been seriously injured due to the negligence of others. This is especially true in bike-car collisions. Best-case scenario, you’d be out for the season; however, more likely than not, your life and that of your family may be forever changed. 

If you are hurt in a bike wreck and it is someone else’s fault, your expenses could be substantial. Many drivers only carry minimal liability coverage ($30,000.00 in North Carolina), meaning that if you were seriously hurt in a collision, you could be personally responsible for medical bills, lost earnings, rehabilitation expenses, and you’d receive no recovery for your pain and suffering or your long-term damages. Do not count on the average driver to have adequate insurance coverage to fully compensate you for the expenses you would incur in a serious wreck. In North Carolina, about one in four drivers are either uninsured or underinsured. To protect yourself from their negligence, it is important to purchase something called uninsured and underinsured motorists’ coverage. You can easily add this coverage to your own automobile insurance policy. This insurance will kick in and pay your damages when the careless driver has no or inadequate insurance. The cost of this coverage is minimal. For instance, I pay about $15.00 a month extra to get $1,000,000.00 in uninsured and underinsured coverage. Uninsured and underinsured insurance will protect you from financially irresponsible drivers and provide you with peace of mind as you are pedaling down the road.  Call your insurance agent today.

For more information on uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage click on the video in the “Bookmarks/Favorite” section of this month’s newsletter. 

Ryan Connolly 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. Ryan is an avid runner, cyclist, and swimmer and competes in triathlons around the state each year.

Durham's Cycling Law and Liability

Cyclist Workshop Law and Liability
Ryan Connolly

Ryan Connolly

Attorney and cyclist Ryan Connolly recently spoke at Bike Durham’s Cycling Law and Liability Workshop. Bike Durham is a group of individuals and organizations working for bicycle-friendly change in Durham. Ryan discussed your legal rights and responsibilities as a cyclist and how to protect yourself financially in case of an accident.