By Larry Bodine, Publisher, The National Trial Lawyers (520) 577-9759, [email protected]
The most likely way that you'll get killed in modern life is not rock climbing, scuba diving or flying a small plane — it is being in a car accident. Consumers, however, can reduce this risk by avoiding the most dangerous times and places to drive, and by being aware of the six fatal factors that cause traffic deaths.
American roads are becoming increasingly dangerous. Traffic fatalities are a leading cause of death in the United States, especially for young people between ages four and 27, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Highway deaths increased to 33,561 in 2012, which is 1,082 more fatalities than in 2011. Most of those involved were motorcyclists and pedestrians, according to the NHTSA. In the aftermath of these devastating crashes, surviving family members are turning to the courts to seek compensation from the person who caused the accident.
• In 2012 a young girl from Virginia recovered a $21 million settlement after suffering a traumatic brain injury when her family's small car was rear-ended and totaled by a careless tractor-trailer driver.
• In a similar case, a Virginia driver recovered $6.5 million in 2012 when a tractor-trailer traveling 60 mph crashed into his car from behind. He suffered spinal fractures, a shattered spleen, injury to his carotid artery, partial paralysis, and a disabled left foot.
• The family of a 24-year-old woman killed in a traffic accident in Baltimore was awarded $760,000 by a jury in August 2012. All but $5,000 of it was compensation for the mental anguish, emotional pain and loss of companionship that the family will experience in the future. The victim was driving a Honda Insight when a driver in a Ford Explorer struck her on the driver's side.
This small sampling of results demonstrates the wide disparity between settlements and verdicts in wrongful death cases. Family members suing an individual for wrongful death ordinarily can seek damages for medical and funeral expenses, loss of the victim's earning potential, loss of inheritance, loss of care, protection, and companionship for the survivors, pain and suffering of the survivors, and — if the conduct was intentional or outrageous — punitive damages.
Six Fatal Factors
In 2012, Connecticut had far more driving fatalities than its neighboring jurisdictions:
• Connecticut 777 deaths, up from 764 in 2012.
• Massachusetts 505 deaths, up from 485 the year before.
Research by state and federal agencies has identified specific dangers on the road that are associated with fatal traffic accidents. For example:
• In Connectiucut, most fatal crashes occur before and after dinner, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. according to the 2012 Connecticut Traffic Crash Facts. The most dangerous month is May.
• Speeding drivers account for 40 percent of fatal crashes in Connecticut
• Large trucks driven by sleep-deprived commercial drivers killed 3.7 percent more people nationwide in 2012 than the year before. • 80 percent of motorcycle crashes result in death.
• 70 percent of the people who die in motor vehicle crashes are men,
But even these circumstances are outweighed by the six deadly factors identified by the Maryland Strategic Highway Safety Plan.
- Distracted Drivers — Avoid any driver who is obviously not paying attention to the road. This includes someone adjusting a radio, attending to a child, eating, putting on makeup, riding with a car full of teenagers, or using a cell phone. Distracted drivers killed 3,328 people nationwide in 2012.
- Drunk or Impaired Drivers — Nationwide, about one-third of the total fatalities involved an alcohol-impaired driver. Deaths in crashes involving drunk drivers increased 4.6 percent in 2012, taking 10,322 lives. Alcohol impairment is the cause of 27 percent of driving fatalities in DC, 32 percent in Maryland and 27 percent in Virginia. To protect yourself, never get into a car driven by someone who has been drinking and watch out for traffic from local bars and pubs.
- Aggressive Drivers — Speeders top the list of aggressive drivers, but also included are those who refuse to yield the right-of-way, don't obey traffic signals, don't stop for school buses, tailgate, pass improperly, and drive the wrong way on a one-way street. Steer clear of any driver who acts as if he owns the road. Not Using Seat Belts. Among passengers who died in car crashes, more than half (52 percent) of those killed were unrestrained. This is especially a problem at night, when almost two-thirds of the people who died were unrestrained.
- Road Construction — Along with intersections, highway construction zones are hazardous locations. Narrowing lanes, unfamiliar travel patterns, and heavy congestion with changing speed limits make construction zones deadly.
- Being on Foot — Among road users, pedestrians are probably the most vulnerable, with the proportion of pedestrian fatalities increasing over the last several years. Pedestrian fatalities now account for 20 percent of all fatalities in Maryland. A large majority of pedestrian deaths occurred in urban areas, away from intersections at night. By spotting and avoiding these perilous pitfalls, consumers can live to drive another day.