Articles Tagged with car accidents

Now that the snow shovels have been put away and the lawn needs cutting, we are fast approaching the lazy days of Summer. However, the 100 days of Summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, are the deadliest days on our highways.

The 100 days of Summer are particularly dangerous for teenage drivers. During the 100 days, the number of teenage car crashes and fatalities will increase dramatically. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported that in 2016, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, 1,050 people were killed in crashes involving teen drivers; an average of 10 people a day which is a 15% increase compared to the other months.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers. A contributing factor for the dramatic increase in teen deaths in the Summer is the simple fact that teens are out of school and they are spending a lot more time on the roads and highways.

The rise of self-driving cars, which has been pioneered in many ways by the electric car manufacturer Tesla, is a fascinating area of the law that is developing at a rapid pace. Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, as long claimed that self-driving cars are safer than those operated by humans. Others, who have been involved in accidents when Tesla’s autopilot feature has allegedly malfunctioned, are not so sure. In some ways, Musk and Tesla are now putting their money where their mouth is, and have announced they will be rolling out insurance policies that take advantage of what they claim are safer driving behaviors.

Insurance is an issue that has plagued Tesla owners in the short history of the company, as they are consistently some of the most expensive vehicles on the road to insure. Musk apparently believes that the vehicles are safer than insurance underwriters give them credit for, and believes that Tesla can lower insurance premiums by issuing their own policies.

One feature that drives the insurance market, and Musk believes should lower premiums is the autopilot, or self-driving feature. Over the past few years, there has been some misunderstanding as to exactly what autopilot technology is. Quite simply, autopilot technology allows the computers in a vehicle to operate the vehicle with minimal input from the driver. Vehicle are able to stop and go on their own, maintain a safe distance from vehicles in front of them, change lanes, and exit roadways.

More than 30 years ago I represented the Estate of a young man who was killed in a horrible truck accident. On a beautiful summer night, the young man was driving home from a fishing trip in Connecticut. Up ahead on a dark highway was a disabled tractor trailer without any rear lights or flashers. Although my client was driving at less than 50 miles per hour, he could not stop in time before he crashed into the disabled trailer. The front of my client’s car slid easily under the back bumper of the trailer and the top of his car was sheared off resulting in his decapitation.

As shocking as this sounds, I soon learned that there had already been thousands of deaths and serious injuries as a result of tractor trailers that were not equipped with rear underride guards.

Fortunately, in 1998, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) adopted regulations requiring trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds to be equipped with rear underride guards. Although the 1998 legislation has saved many lives, studies conducted over the past 50 years have also shown the need for front guards and sideguards.

In 2016, an estimated 481,000 drivers operated a vehicle while also holding a mobile device. With an increase in usage comes an increase in injuries caused by distracted drivers.  It is no surprise, then, that lawmakers and officials are paying more attention to distracted driving and other risky driving behaviors. In order to address the sharp increase in phone use while driving, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has recently proposed a ban on the use of hand held devices while driving. The proposed ban seeks to address a wide range of phone usage, including calling, surfing the web, and generally looking at the phone screen.  Under Baker’s proposal, it would still be legal utilize hands-free calling while driving, and to perform “one touch” functions on the phone, such as unlocking and connecting to a hands-free device.  It would be illegal to hold the phone while driving for any other purpose.

Proponents of the stricter law on cell phone use claim that the law would simply bring Massachusetts in line with neighboring states like Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York.  The current Massachusetts law, which bans only texting, still leaves motorists exposed to the dangers posed by drivers who are reading on their phones, talking, and performing any of the other functions our phones can perform.

Undoubtedly, there is a strong safety interest in reducing distracted driving.  The Massachusetts RMV details the three types of distractions associated with driving: visual (looking away from the road), manual (removing a hand/hands from the steering wheel), and cognitive (anything preventing one from focusing completely on driving safely). The RMV explains how all of these factors are present when one texts and drives, but these are also present in hand-held cell phone usage. With one or a combination of these factors, individuals open themselves up to the possibility of severely injuring themselves, fellow passengers, as well as other individuals who are driving, biking, or walking within the vicinity.

As Massachusetts personal injury lawyers, we see clients in one particular circumstance far too often.  A person is seriously injured in a car crash.  The at-fault driver carries only minimal insurance.  The victim has mounting medical bills, is out of work, needs in-home care, and has nowhere to turn.

Massachusetts only requires drivers to carry Twenty Thousand Dollars ($20,000) in bodily injury coverage on automobile insurance policies. This means that if a driver who carries only minimal coverage seriously injures or kills another motorist, $20,000 may be all that is available for insurance.  But it gets worse.  Just because there is $20,000 in insurance does not mean the injury victim will recover that amount.  It is likely that most- if not all- of the recovery will be eaten up by medical bills, lost wages, and payments to others.

First, Make Sure You Have Enough of Your Own Insurance

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