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Pee Dee Personal Injury Law Blog

Would Your Car Protect You in an Accident?

Myrtle Beach Car Accident AttorneysSafety features in new cars are credited with helping to protect people from death or serious injury in traffic accidents. Recently, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released its vehicle safety ratings, raising its standards for “good” or “acceptable” ratings. Only 39 vehicles earned the organization’s safety awards for 2014. As a group, the subcompact cars performed poorly in crash tests.The Insurance Institute required vehicles to have “good” ratings in roof strength, head restraint, overlap front, and side tests to make its Top Safety Pick list.They also had to earn a good or acceptable rating in a recently-introduced small overlap front test. This test assesses a car’s ability to withstand a crash in which 25 percent of its front end on the driver's side strikes a rigid barrier at 40 mph, as would happen if a car hit a light pole or clipped another car. These crashes can be tragic as they bypass the structural elements of the vehicle, a senior IIHS research official told KABC in Los Angeles. The occupant compartment can collapse if a vehicle is not structurally prepared for these accidents.Among the vehicles making the Top Safety Pick list with a “good” rating in the small overlap test were the Honda Civic (2-door), Subaru Impreza, Subaru XV Crosstrek and Volvo XC90.The Institute’s Top Safety Pick+ list is even harder to make and includes having a front crash prevention system, like automatic braking or forward collision warning. This technology helps drivers avoid rear-end crashes common with distracted driving.Vehicles on the Top Safety Pick+ list with “good” ratings in the small overlap test were the Honda Civic (4-door), Mazda 3, Honda Accord (4-door), Acura RLX, Volvo S60, Volvo S80 and Volvo XC60, Subaru Forester, Mitsubishi Outlander, Mazda CX-5 and Honda Odyssey, among others.

Subcompact Cars Fare Worst

The smallest cars -- subcompact or minicars -- had the lowest ratings. None of the 11 subcompact models tested received a  “good” rating in the small overlap test. The Chevrolet Spark was the only one who received an “acceptable” rating. Six of the 11 tested received the lowest rating of “poor.” Among these was the bestselling Nissan Versa.The Honda Fit and the Fiat 500 fared worst in terms of occupant safety. The Fiat’s door hinges were ripped from the vehicle in the crash test. The Fit’s steering column pushed so far into the vehicle that the crash test dummy’s head went over the airbag and struck the instrument panel.Because a vehicle can only do so much to protect you when a crash happens, make sure to take precautions like fastening your safety belt every time you get in an automobile. Even in the age of technology, a safety belt can save your life.It’s important to be aware that some cars offer more protection you and your family in the event of a serious crash. If you have been in a crash caused by another driver, it’s also a good idea to understand your legal options.

Truck Monitoring Systems Improve Safety

Some truck drivers say don’t like the technology in their vehicles that monitors them on the road. But the high-tech systems, designed to improve efficiency, may also bemaking highways safer.Crashes involving large trucks in 2012 killed 3,921 people and injured 104,000, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports. As of 2010, commercial trucks represented 4% of registered vehicles and 8% of total miles driven but were involved in 11% of traffic fatalities, according to a report in the International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Prevention.In other words, large trucks are involved in a disproportionate number of fatal traffic accidents compared to their presence on the highway.

Aiming for Efficiency

Much of the new technology in trucks is designed to make the transport of goods more efficient, according to a recent report in Forbes. No longer does dispatch have to use the radio or telephone to track down a shipment or find out why a trucker is delayed. Onboard systems using satellite and cellular technology can pinpoint the location of a truck, how fast it’s traveling and where it’s been.Sandy Hodes, senior vice president for Ryder System Inc., a leading truck rental and leasing company,told Forbes that the tracking systems are the future of trucking. They can deliver minute-by-minute information back to headquarters and can pinpoint why a shipment is late or what was happening in the moments leading up to an accident.RydeSmart, from Ryder, tracks trucks using an iPad or iPhone, assessing fuel-tax information and hours of service in an effort to comply with new standards from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.Another on-board system,SmartDrive Systems, uses video-based technology to detect when truckers are following other vehicles too closely, speeding or braking hard. GreenRoad, a Web-based safety product,provides truckers with feedback on their safety, displaying green, yellow, or red lights. The maker of this product says it can reduce the costs associated with truck accidents by 60% for a company.Hodes says companies are battling to improve productivity while staying within the stricter drive-time guidelines. No longer can they force drivers to take risks like long hours behind the wheel in order to delivera shipment on time. Now, speed and safety must be balanced.

Size Makes Trucks Deadly

In 2012, 317,000 commercial trucks were involved in some kind of car crash, indicating a serious problem.The sheer size of commercial trucks makes them deadly when they involved in a high speed collision. It’s no wonder that when a truck is in a collision with asmaller car, the occupants of thesmaller vehicle are much more likely to be seriously injured. Among those killed in truck accidents in 2012, 73 percent were occupants in other vehicles.Truckers may not like the technological scrutiny. But traffic fatalities are unacceptable, particularly when they can be prevented with onboard technology.

“Buzzed” Drivers Pose Serious Accident Risks

drunk drivingMost people believe there is some continuum of drunkenness. There is pass-out drunk on one end of the scale, drunk and tipsy somewhere in the middle, and something known as “buzzed” for those who may have only had a single drink or two. But a new study says that even those at the buzzed end of the spectrum are at risk of causing serious car accidents.In South Carolina, as in the rest of the U.S., a driver is considered intoxicated if they have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher. Most people think that means they are perfectly capable of driving as long as they don’t exceed the legal limit. But the blood alcohol limit is far from the perfect measurement of sobriety or safety.As reported by Reuters Health, researchers with the University of California San Diego looked at a national database of more than 570,000 auto accidents between 1994 and 2011. What they found was that there is no real “safe” level of alcohol consumption before getting behind the wheel.

Research Says Any Drinking is Dangerous for Drivers

The research, published in the journal Injury Prevention, indicates that even those who get behind the wheel after a portion of a drink are at an increased risk of being blamed in a drunk driving accident.There is no safe level of alcohol to have in your system when you get behind the wheel, the researchers suggest. Drivers with blood alcohol levels of .01 percent, the lowest measurable, were at a 46% greater chance of being blamed in a crash than sober drivers. This .01 percent BAC equates to only half of a 12-ounce beer in an average adult man.Though other studies have had similar findings, none have been this large-scale. The researchers say that the likelihood of being blamed for an accident went up with  higher blood alcohol content among both men and women.

“Legal Limit” Provides a False Sense of Security

With the legal limit for driving at 0.08 percent, one would think that levels below this were somehow safe. But the law has gradually become stricter as more attention has been focused on car accidents and fatalities caused by drunk driving.  Legal limits used to be set at .15 and didn’t change from there until the 1950s. Even then, the legal limit was decreased to .10. In 2000, Congress adopted the .08 BAC as the national legal limit and states began conforming state drunk driving law to match. Outside of the U.S., some countries have their legal limits set at 0.05.We’ve all seen people who can have one or two drinks and seem as if they have had four or five. Similarly, there are people who are said to “handle” their alcohol well, drinking multiple beverages but acting sober. None of these folks are safe drunk drivers—they all stand to face serious consequences if they get behind the wheel.Experts say that there is no distinction in driving ability for drivers measuring 0.07 BAC compared to 0.08 BAC. As the research shows, any alcohol increases your risk of being blamed for an accident.Truly, the lower the limit the more likely we will be able to cut drunk driving accidents.If adults are impaired after only one drink, any amount of alcohol is too much. In other words, there is no safe amount. Motorists who drink and get behind the wheel put others on the road at risk of injury or even death.Though the legal limit for driving in S.C. is 0.08 percent, drivers with lower blood alcohol levels can be held responsible for the accidents they may cause, if not by the criminal courts than by a civil action.

New Rules Planned for Child Safety Seats

Car seat safetyWhen it comes to keeping your child safe in the car, cautious driving is paramount. Yet even the most careful driver can be involved in a serious accident. A child safety seat could determine whether your child remains safe. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants to make sure car seats are up to the task of protecting children in auto crashes.NHTSA Acting Administrator David Friedman announced the agency’s plan to toughen standards for car safety seats, according to a report by the Associated Press. The agency will test car seats for the first time on their ability to withstand side-impact crashes.Traffic safety researchers estimate the proposed changes would save the lives of five children each year and prevent car accident injuries to 64 children.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that an estimated 1,200 children under the age of 15 were killed in auto accidents in a recent year, and 171,000 were injured. Many of these injuries and deaths may have been prevented with proper use of safety seats.One study found that more than 618,000 children ride in vehicles without child safety seats or age-appropriate boosters at least some of the time. This is significant because proper use of these seats can reduce the risk of death by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers. Booster seats can reduce the risk of serious injury by 45% for children ages 4 to 8.

New Testing

If car seat manufacturers have to create seats that will withstand side-impact collisions, the industry will obviously step up their quality of construction.The NHTSA says the new testing will simulate what happens when a car seat in a car traveling 15 mph is hit at a 90-degree angle by a car going 30 mph. Friedman says these speeds will represent more than 90% of all side-impact crashes in the “real world”.In addition to the new side-impact test, the NHTSA will add a new crash-test dummy. It currently uses one that simulates a 12-month-old child but plans to add a 3-year-old child dummy to the testing protocol.

South Carolina Safety Seat Laws

In South Carolina, children under 6 are required to be in age-appropriate safety seats unless they weigh more than 80 pounds.Children under 20 pounds and up to 1 year old must be secured in a rear-facing car seat.Children ages 1-5 weighing 20 to 40 pounds must be in a forward-facing car seat.Children ages 1-5 weighing 40 to 80 pounds must be in a booster seat secured with a safety belt.Even with these laws in place, children risk serious injury when the seats aren’t installed correctly. As the CDC reports, one study found that three-fourths of child safety seats are installed incorrectly.As a parent, it’s your job to keep your child safe. But you also have to depend on the manufacturers of child safety seats to help.

Speeding Still to Blame in Third of Fatal Crashes

Distracted driving is perhaps the most talked about driver’s safety issue of the day. But it is far from the only issue. On the contrary, speeding is involved in a third of all fatal crashes and is the third leading contributing factor to all crashes, according to the NHTSA. Though texting while driving is surely dangerous, Americans still struggle with slowing down and following posted speed limits.

Drivers Admit Speeding is a Problem

A recent survey from the NHTSA indicates half of drivers acknowledge speeding is a problem. The National Survey of Speeding Attitudes and Behavior found that despite the fact that half of drivers acknowledge that speeding is a dangerous problem, one in five admits to trying to get to their destinations as fast as possible.Four out of five respondents say that driving at or near the speed limit reduces the risk of an auto accident and makes it easier to avoid dangerous situations. More than 90 percent agree that everyone should obey the speed limits.Yet, more than one-quarter of drivers who responded say they speed without thinking and they enjoy going fast. Some said speeding isn’t necessarily dangerous for “skilled drivers.”

Reasons (Excuses) for Speeding

Why we speed depends on personal motivations. Many people speed simply because that’s how they’ve always driven. They may not be in a hurry, but will pass vehicles and engage in dangerous driving simply because that’s how they drive.The National Safety Council suggests the following reasons people speed:
  • They don’t believe they will get a ticket.
  • They are late or in a hurry.
  • They don’t think their driving is dangerous and likely see themselves as a “skilled” driver.
  • They aren’t paying attention to their speed.
  • They don’t believe the laws apply to them or don’t take speed limits seriously.
If you’ve ever driven on a busy stretch of interstate or in a large city, you know that people often speed to keep up with traffic. In situations like this, it could be dangerous to drive slower when traffic is moving at a decent clip. But in situations like this everyone needs to slow down.

Speeding Facts

Some people are more likely to speed and some locations are more inviting to people inclined to speed. Here are some basic facts on speeding:
  • Men are more likely to speed than women.
  • Inexperienced drivers between the ages of 16 and 20 are most likely to admit to speeding.
  • Young drivers between the ages of 16 and 20 are also most likely to be involved in a speed-related accident.
  • Speed-related accidents claim over 13,000 lives each year.
  • Work zones and school zones are known trouble-spots for speeders, where compliance with lower speed limits is poor.
  • 47% of speed-related accidents happen on roads with posted speed limits of 50 mph or less, not on major highways, contrary to what most people think.
Speeding is a habitual driving behavior that takes time and effort to correct. When paired with heavy traffic, drinking and driving, aggression, or any number of other factors, the risk of a speed-related auto accident is increased significantly. Every day, motorists and pedestrians are injured by drivers who are speeding or driving too fast for conditions. People who have been injured by a speeder in an accident in South Carolina may have legal rights to seek compensation for their injuries. 

AAA Says Teen Drivers Less Prone to Using Phones While Driving than Adults

Most of us would guess that teens are more likely than adult drivers to use their phones or text behind the wheel. But a recent study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says adults are more likely to admit using their phones to talk or text while driving.Many distracted driving campaigns target teens. This is because the age group is the least experienced and the most likely to be involved in a car accident. But as the numbers reflect, adults should not be left out of the discussion.The findings may indicate that as drivers’ confidence rises so does their risk of attempting to perform distracting secondary activities such as talking on a phone while driving. That’s unfortunate because using a phone while behind the wheel quadruples the risk of being in a car crash.Overall, two thirds of drivers reported using a cell phone within the past month, according to the research. Nearly half of drivers between the ages of 25 and 39 said they used a cell to text or call fairly regularly while driving.  By comparison, only 20 percent of teen drivers admitted to using a cell phone regularly while driving. Drivers ages 60 and older were the least likely to use a mobile phone while driving.

Revealing Numbers about Distracted Driving

Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the foundation, says it’s noteworthy that teens aren’t texting as often as we would think. Because of their lack of experience, teen drivers are susceptible to distracted driving crashes. Perhaps teens are taking to heart the warnings against using the phone while driving. But it’s troubling that adults would throw caution to the wind and put others at risk.The American Automobile Association gathered the data as part of the 2013 Traffic Culture Index, sampling 2,325 licensed drivers ages 16 and older who reported driving within the past month. About two-thirds reported using their phone while driving in the past 30 days. Only 20 percent of teens reported using their phone while driving “often” or “regularly.”

Crash Reconstruction Not Error-Proof

147839484Recently, WMBF News carried a story regarding local law enforcement and accident reconstruction. This is the process of determining what happened in an auto accident by recreating it on paper or with computer animation. But crash reconstruction is not an exact science and mistakes are often made.What happened in an accident is usually a matter of one’s perspective. However, determining exactly how an accident unfolded is crucial to ensuring the right person is held responsible for an accident.Accidents often result in tragic injuries and exorbitant costs. The driver at fault may have to compensate victims for their injuries and other costs associated with a crash. When there is a question as to who is at fault, getting to the bottom of what caused the crash can be a lengthy and complex process.In some cases, one driver isn’t 100% to blame. Other drivers may have also contributed to the wreck. As a result, multiple drivers may have to carry some of the responsibility.

Knowledge of Physics

You may have seen officers on the scene of a crash, measuring, taking notes, and interviewing those involved. But accident reconstruction isn’t always as simple as taking witness statements and looking at vehicle damage. It’s a science and uses physics to determine precisely how an accident occurred.Good accident reconstruction involves using skid marks, the final resting spot of vehicles, and Newton’s laws of motion to determine what happened. These laws of physics govern how everything moves—how forces like gravity work on an object and affect its motion.Slope, drag, and other measurements play a role in figuring out what happened in the seconds leading up to a crash. The problem is that many accident reconstruction specialists and those employed by police don’t have a physics background.

How Errors Happen

A missed measurement, bad math, a transposed number, or a lack of education and training can all hinder an auto accident investigation. A study published by the National Academy of Forensic Engineers, called “Classic errors in accident reconstruction: Real experts vs. fakes, fools, and frauds,” looked at how unqualified individuals can jeopardize the outcome of a case.The researchers explained that many people with nothing more than a high school diploma and a single class or a few hours of training are completing accident investigations and reconstructions they simply aren’t qualified to do. In some cases, the courts even recognize these people as “experts.”While these people may or may not know the basics of physics, they usually don’t understand the idiosyncrasies of auto accidents. And that’s where mistakes happen.In the recent WMBF News story, City of Florence Police Sergeant Jerri James explains how police investigate an accident—using the common tools of spray paint and measuring tape. James explains that they use these tools along with black boxes from vehicles to determine where a vehicle started and where it ended up, including how fast it was going.James also says everyone in the department who does accident reconstruction attends statewide training.When it comes to auto accident reconstruction, there is a lot on the line. This is why police, insurance companies, and attorneys will usually conduct their own investigations. An error can upend any hope a victim has for financial recovery and can delay or even stop the pursuit of justice.

Falls from High Chairs Send Thousands of Children to ERs

baby in high chair imageChildren face potential danger every day – and often as not, the danger lies at home. A new study reveals that on average a child is taken to the emergency room every single hour due to injuries related to high chairs. The research suggests we can’t disregard the risks of such a seemingly benign household product.Parents try to prevent accidents that injure their children by blocking electrical outlets and guarding household chemicals. But even the most cautious parents may be unable to protect their children from defective and unsafe products, like some high chairs and booster seats.

Most Hurt in Falls

The research comes from the Center for Injury Research and Policy and The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Analysts looked at data regarding emergency room visits for children ages 3 and younger between 2003 and 2010. They found an average of 9,400 children were treated for high chair and booster seat injuries in emergency rooms every year.Nearly all of the injuries, 93 percent, involved falls. This indicates that either the child wasn’t properly secured or the restraint systems did not work as intended.Just before the falls, two-thirds of the accident victims were climbing or standing in their chairs, again indicating a problem with the restraints.Of those injured, 37 percent suffered a closed head injury such as a concussion or internal head injury. Another 33 percent suffered bumps and bruises, while 19 percent suffered cuts.Interestingly, closed head injuries increased significantly over the study period—from 2,558 in 2003 to 4,789 in 2010, a gain of nearly 90 percent.The experts involved with the study say the Number One thing that parents can do to reduce the risk of such accidents is to use the built-in restraint systems.

When the Product is At Fault

Even when a child is buckled into a high chair, an accident can happen. In some cases, this is due to manufacturing flaws or design problems. In other words, the company that makes the high chair is to blame.Generally, when a safety issue comes to light in a child’s product like a high chair, stroller, or crib, a recall is issued in an effort to prevent serious injuries. You can search for these recalls on the website of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.For example, the BabyHomeUSA company recalled high chairs earlier this year when it found the opening between the tray and seat could pose an entrapment risk for children, creating a strangulation hazard. The CPSC website offers information on how to get the chair repaired or replaced and includes contact information for the manufacturer.In some cases, however, a product manufacturer is unaware of the danger or doesn’t act in time to prevent a tragedy. When this occurs, the manufacturer may be held accountable for any injuries.Similarly, when a child is in the care of a school or day care, that business is responsible for ensuring the child’s safety, including providing proper equipment and properly using the equipment. A fall from a high chair or another accident could be due to lack of supervision by the school or day care.Being a parent is a full-time job, and keeping your child safe is a big part of this job.

Children a Leading Cause of Distracted Driving

distracted with kids imageWhen we talk about distracted driving, we are usually talking about cellphone use. But while use of cellphones is a risk factor for serious car accidents, a new study indicates children can be an even bigger distraction for drivers.Researchers at Monash University in Australia found that the presence of children in the car is 12 times more distracting than talking on a cellphone while driving.If you are a parent, you already know how difficult it can be to drive with young children in the back seat. They often demand your attention — whether it’s a glance in the rearview mirror or fumbling around for a dropped pacifier. But many drivers don’t realize the risks they are taking every second they spend interacting with their little passengers.In the first study of its kind, the researchers measured the amount of time parents driving with children took their eyes off the road. Using recording equipment, they followed 12 families over a period of three weeks. On average, the families had two children between ages 1 and 8.All distractions that required the driver to look away from the road were measured. Some of the study’s findings include:
  • In 92 total trips studied, distracted driving happened in 90 percent of cases.
  • In an average 16-minute car trip, parents spent three minutes and 22 seconds with their eyes off the road.
  • Parents engaged in conversations with their children 16 percent of the time.
  • Seven percent of the time, parents reached into the back seat to pass food and drinks.
  • In one percent of the trips, parents actually played with their children.
  • Turning around to interact or looking in the rearview mirror took place in 76 percent of cases.

How to Reduce Back-Seat Distractions

We talk about shutting off your phone or placing it in your glove box to reduce distractions. But you can’t use those techniques for eliminating distractions from your child passengers. However, you can give your children their own distractions.You can provide a toy or book for children to look at while riding. Make sure it’s attached to the car seat to prevent them from dropping it. The last thing you want to do is dig around for a lost toy while driving.Give your children their snack or drinks before you begin your trip. If you need to wait, pull over to hand it to them. Passing things back and forth between the back and front seats is a major distraction.Begin talking with your child about the importance of driver safety at a very young age. If your children know how important it is to remain quiet and occupied while riding in the car, they will be less likely to demand your attention when your eyes should be on the road.The study from Monash University also indicated children were in the wrong position in their car seats more than 70 percent of the time. This is significant because not only could this lead to distractions, but in the event of an accident a child might not be protected from serious injury. Positioning your child’s safety seat correctly and ensuring that the child is properly secured can help keep everyone safe.Distracted driving is blamed in thousands of accidents every year. Many distractions — like cellphone use and reaching into the back seat — are entirely avoidable.This latest study shows distractions can take many forms. Eating breakfast on your commute, changing the radio station, or tickling the feet of your little one could all lead to a serious accident.

Winter Driving and Staying Safe

Even in South Carolina, we are no strangers to ice and winter weather. Cold temperatures and precipitation can make for treacherous driving conditions and an increased risk of auto accidents. Particularly here in Myrtle Beach, where such storms can be rare, it’s important to remember some basic tips for staying safe in the cold.

Prepare Your Car

Be sure your car is in good working condition before winter weather strikes. Having a mechanic look over your car will prevent problems. The last thing you want is to be stranded on the side of the road with engine trouble in cold conditions. CarTalk.com offers other winter readiness tips.Maintain your car with regular oil changes, tune-ups, and general maintenance. This includes inspecting wires and hoses for cracks or damage, making sure your battery is ready for the winter, and checking your cooling/antifreeze system.Ensure your tires are ready. If you are on the verge of needing new tires, get them before a winter storm comes, Driving on ice is hard enough but becomes nearly impossible when you don’t have much tread. Likewise, keep tires inflated properly and routinely check them for nails and damage.Check wiper blades and windshield washer fluid. If conditions are icy or snowy, you’ll depend on your wiper blades and washer fluid to maintain good visibility. Winter wiper blades are available to keep ice from accumulating.Clear snow and ice from your car before you hit the road. Not only is a cleared car easier to spot in a storm, making sure all of the ice is gone will help improve your visibility as well.Driving on IceIcy roads don’t typically last long in the Myrtle Beach area. But when streets are frozen, accidents are frequent. These tips from the Weather Channel will help to reduce your risk of being involved in an accident when the roads are slick:
  1. Stay home. Whenever possible, don’t go out when the roads are bad. A good rule of thumb is if school has been canceled, you should stay home too.
  2. Leave extra room. If you must drive, leave extra room between you and the cars around you. It takes longer to stop and to maneuver when the roads are icy.
  3. Keep your headlights on and your windshield clean. Seeing and being seen are crucial when the weather is bad. This is especially true if sleet or snow is still coming down.
  4. Brake gently. Know your car. If you have anti-lock brakes, apply them gently when coming to a stop. If you don’t, lightly pump the brakes when you need to slow down or stop on the ice.
  5. Use low gears to maintain traction. This is especially useful on hills.
  6. Be especially careful on bridges and overpasses. These areas are usually the first to ice over and the last to thaw, so they are often more slippery than surface streets.
  7. Don’t bank on your four-wheel drive. Four-wheel drive vehicles are great in the snow, but aren’t that much better on ice than those with two-wheel drive. In other words, drive slowly and cautiously no matter what.
We may not have the blizzard-like conditions of states to the north, but winter weather can get messy here in South Carolina. Remember to drive extra carefully this winter.