Articles Posted in Alcohol and Auto Accidents

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In a recent tragic case, a father is dead and the other family members were critically injured when a car plowed into their car near the Texas Motor Speedway in northern Fort Worth.

The accident happened in the early evening, when a Dodge four-door sedan ran a stop sign and rammed into a Honda carrying a family of four. The Honda rolled into a ditch, killing the father, who was driving the vehicle. Meanwhile, the eight-year-old daughter was described as “combative and disoriented” when pulled from the car and was taken to Cook Children’s Medical Center. The girl’s mother and teenage brother were transported to another hospital in the area. Though the brother was initially unconscious when pulled from the vehicle, he was walking around not long afterward.

The occupants of the Dodge sedan were three teenagers, aged 16 through 18. It is unclear at this time what caused them to run the stop sign, whether drugs or alcohol were involved. Though the accident is under investigation, no arrests have been made or charges filed as of yet.

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On December 16, 2011, Sarah Patton filed suit against the Texas Department of Transportation in Jefferson County District Court on behalf of the estate of Pamela Freeman, who was killed in a car accident (Case No. B191-484). The complaint alleged that the Texas Department of Transportation acted negligently by allowing water to accumulate on the roadway because of inadequate drainage. According to the lawsuit, on February 12, 2011, Freeman was exiting Interstate 10 when her vehicle hydroplaned, causing her to leave the roadway and strike a sign and light pole. The accident eventually led to her death several months later.
Patton later amended her complaint, naming both Toyota and APAC-Texas as defendants, and alleging that a design flaw and water left on the road from construction work carried out caused the crash. On October 3, 2013, APAC-Texas filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Freeman’s BAC exceeded the legal limit at the time of accident. The motion also contended that investigating officers at the scene of the accident confirmed that there was no water left on the road from construction and, instead, the accident had resulted from Freeman’s speeding. Based on these facts, APAC argued that it should be dismissed from the case since there was no evidence to support Patton’s claim that APAC was negligent when performing construction work on the road in question. Then, on November 2, 2013, Toyota followed APAC’s lead and asserted that Patton’s amended complaint failed to allege or identify the specific product defect theories or any defective components on Freeman’s vehicle. Ultimately, on November 6, 2013, Patton filed a notice stating that she non-suited all her claims against all defendants, meaning that she released all of the defendants from liability.

As mentioned previously on this blog, unfortunately, in 2012 Texas had the largest increased in fatalities of any state in the country, with an 11% increase in overall traffic fatalities and a 6.6% increase in drunk driving deaths. More specifically, according to the Texas Department of Transportation, there were 1,099 people killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes where a driver was under the influence of alcohol, which accounts for 32.3% of the total number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes. At the same time, there were only five fatalities where defective vehicle products were a contributing factor, and no reported fatalities due to standing water on the road.

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Traffic Fatalities Increased in 2012

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released its 2012 Fatality Analysis Reporting data. Unfortunately, after six consecutive years of declining fatalities on U.S. highways, the data indicates that highway crashes and deaths increased in 2012. Specifically, fatalities increased to 33,561 in 2012, which is 1,082, (or 3.3%) more fatalities than in 2011. In addition, the number of injured persons increased by 145,000 from 2011. Almost three-quarters of the fatalities occurred in the first three months of 2012, and most of those individuals involved in the fatalities were motorcyclists and pedestrians. For the first half of 2013, early estimates on crash fatalities reveal a decrease in deaths for the same time period in 2012.

Notably, the increase in crashes and resulting injuries and fatalities does not appear to be associated with one particular issue, and crashes for some traditional risk factors, including young drivers, actually fell in 2012. Other notable statistics include:

• There were 10 times as many unhelmeted motorcyclist fatalities in states, such as Texas, without universal helmet laws (1,858 unhelmeted fatalities) as in states with universal helmet laws (178 unhelmeted fatalities). These states were nearly equivalent in total resident populations.

• Though fatalities from alcohol-impaired driving increased from 2011 to 2012, fatalities from crashes involving young drivers (16- to 20-year olds) and alcohol decreased by 15%.

• For the past decade, males have consistently made up about 70% of motor vehicle fatalities.

• There was a 3.7% increase in the number of people killed in crashes involving large trucks, and 61% of large-truck occupants killed in 2012 died in single-vehicle crashes.

Overall, while 13 states experienced decreases in overall traffic fatalities and eighteen states experienced decreases in drunk driving deaths, Texas was not part of either group. In fact, Texas had the largest increase in fatalities of any state, with an 11% increase in overall traffic fatalities and 6.6% increase in drunk driving deaths.

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As of September 1, 2013, several new traffic and driving laws went into effect in Texas. It is important for all Texans to become acquainted with the new laws, as individuals who break these laws may face fines, or even prison time. Fortunately, although the laws became effective September 1, 2013, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers are offering a grace period for most of the laws until January 1, 2014 to make sure everyone is aware of the new and amended laws.

The Texas Department of Transportation believes the new laws will provide added protection for people on Texas roadways. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, the fatality rate on Texas roadways in 2012 was 1.41 deaths per hundred million vehicle miles traveled -a 9.3% increase from 2011. In addition, the State of Texas also recently experienced an increase in the number of motor vehicle traffic fatalities. Specifically, the 2012 death toll of 3,399 was an increase of 10.82% from the 3,067 deaths in 2011.

Some new laws for which Texans should be aware include the following:

Cell Phones in School Zones (HB 347): While Texas already prohibits cell phone use behind the wheel in school zones unless the vehicle is stopped or a hands-free device is being used, the new law expands the limitation to include all school property, including parking lots and drop off lanes. Violators of the law will be assessed fines up to $200. Notably, cell phone use is only restricted during the time a reduced speed limit is in effect, generally, directly before and directly after the school day.

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There always seems to be a series of fatalities across the country on New Year’s Eve, caused by someone driving on a freeway traveling in the wrong direction. During 2012, Houston had several wrong way crashes that occurred back to back on I-45 near the Woodlands. In August 2012 alone, Atlanta had five fatalities that were linked to wrong way crashes. Over a five year span, Georgia has had over 100 people killed in similar accidents.

Notwithstanding increased signage to warn drivers that they are going the wrong way and other improved markings, people still get on the freeways headed in the wrong direction. Without a doubt, most of these collisions are caused by drunk drivers.

Following a wrong way triple fatality that happened in Houston, Texas on New Year’s Eve in 2008, the Harris County Toll Road Authority began to search for some way to solve the problem.

Its toll technology company, TransCore, had to start from scratch, since there was no model to follow. Whitt Hall, Vice President of TransCore, said that the company built a system to detect when cars were traveling the wrong way on exit ramps. The system uses speed radars to detect the location of someone entering the freeway on an exit ramp. This sends a warning to the toll authority’s command center, programmed cameras activate at the location and a dispatcher alerts an officer to respond immediately. Simultaneously, message boards are activated to warn drivers in the area of a wrong way driver and to move over and stop.

Assistant Chief Randy Johnson, who is with the Harris County Toll Road Authority, said that “we have told all of our officers not to chase a wrong way driver, but to get yourself in a position to deploy a spike strip.”

Costing $335,000 for an installation in 19 locations, the system is not cheap. However, the results are extremely impressive. Since it was installed four years ago, the 17 mile span has had 100 wrong way drivers without a single accident.

In order to resolve false alarms when it is raining hard or gusty winds blow objects the wrong way the toll authority is going to spend another $500,000 to install sensors in the pavement.

In addition to winning various awards, there has been much interest from Mexico, Columbia and China. The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) has spent $500,000 in San Antonio to utilize the same system by installing radar devices, message boards and flashing signs on the most dangerous freeway stretches.

For Atlanta, the cost to recreate Houston’s system on I-285 would be roughly $3 million. For now, they rely on drivers calling 911 to report a wrong way driver. Unfortunately, the time difference is deadly between a sensor advising of a wrong way driver and getting a 911 call.

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This week, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) issued a list of safe driving tips as part of the organization’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving for the upcoming holiday weekend. Although the long Memorial Day Weekend was established to honor the nation’s military heroes, it is also a time when more intoxicated drivers are normally on the streets. According to MADD, 158 people died in alcohol-related crashes across the United States over Memorial Day Weekend in 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

Although police across the country will be stepping up their efforts to enforce drunk driving laws, drivers may also be able to protect themselves and their loved ones by following some additional guidelines. MADD encourages everyone who plans on consuming alcohol this weekend to ensure a plan is in place for a sober ride home. That plan may include arranging for a designated driver or simply calling a cab. Additionally, everyone traveling in a vehicle should always wear a seat belt. MADD also suggests drivers refrain from making telephone calls or texting behind the wheel as such behavior can be distracting. Following all posted speed limits and simply paying extra attention to other vehicles on the road may also help improve safety. Finally, MADD encourages all drivers to avoid any vehicle that is being operated in an erratic manner.

Car wrecks are one of the leading causes of serious injury in the United States each year. Alcohol use and abuse causes a staggering number of automobile accidents in Texas every day. Unfortunately, collisions that involve allegedly intoxicated drivers often result in death or serious physical harm. Oftentimes, an inebriated driver will carry inadequate liability insurance coverage. In limited circumstances, an individual who is hurt by or lost a family member to a drunk driver may be able to sue a bar or restaurant where the intoxicated driver was served alcohol. This is called a dram shop case. If you were injured by an allegedly intoxicated driver, you may be eligible to receive compensation for medical expenses, pain, suffering, lost wages, disability, and other damages. An experienced San Antonio personal injury lawyer can explain your rights and your options for recovery.

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