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Santa Barbara Personal Injury Law Blog

NHTSA: fatal truck crashes and urban area crashes rise in 2017

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released its 2017 data on fatal car crashes. Overall, crash fatalities decreased from 2016. However, California motorists may be concerned to find out that deaths from large truck collisions and urban area accidents increased. SUV and tractor-trailer crash deaths went up 3 and 5.8 percent, respectively, while deaths in large straight truck wrecks rose a startling 18.7 percent.

By contrast, the total number of people killed in traffic crashes saw a nearly 2 percent decrease. There were decreases in passenger car, van and light pickup truck accidents. The NHTSA also noted significant decreases in bicyclist deaths (8.1 percent) and speeding-related deaths (5.6 percent).

Americans drive 107 billion miles each year while distracted

Drivers in California who are concerned about cellphone distraction may be wise to avoid the roads between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. This is the time that drivers are most likely to be looking at smartphone screens instead of the road according to a recent study from Motus. Researchers from the Boston-based workforce management company say that American motorists drive more than 100 billion miles each year while distracted by electronic devices, and they expect the problem to get even worse in the coming years as smartphones become ever more ubiquitous.

The figures seem to support the theory that the recent alarming rise in road deaths is linked to smartphone use. Between 2013 and 2017, the number of car accidents in the United States increased by more than 700,000. During the same period, smartphone ownership among Americans grew from 55 to 77 percent.

Study reveals need for interactive, realistic drivers' education

Researchers at Baylor University have studied a supplemental drivers' education program meant for risky teen drivers, and they found that its interactive, reality-based elements actually help improve teens' risk awareness and driving behaviors. California residents are most likely unfamiliar with the program, called the Texas Reality Education for Drivers program, but they will be interested to hear what it involves.

The RED program is a one-day, six-hour program set in a hospital. Teen participants are guided by a nurse through the hospital's emergency rooms, ICU and morgue, and they converse with health care staffers there who have had experience dealing with car crash victims. Added to this are the traditional lectures, videos and discussions. The participants also engage in activities like developing a contract with their parents and a safe driving plan.

Distracted driving is a major cause of car accidents

While technology has had many positive safety effects, there can also be some downsides. Not all California motorists are interested in just traveling from point A to point B as quickly as possible. For many, it's often about how much can be accomplished during the journey.

Consequently, distracted driving has become a leading cause of car accidents. Nearly 3,500 people were killed in distracted driving-related accidents in 2015. Distracted driving may be defined as engaging in any activity that takes one's focus away from being behind the wheel. While common examples include conversations with passengers, eating, applying make-up and adjusting the radio, the biggest culprit is cell phone use -- especially texting.

Nationwide gives safety tips for drivers

Nationwide has provided several safety tips that drivers in California may find beneficial. While safe driving will not prevent other drivers from acting in a reckless manner, it can at least reduce the chances of a car crash and lessen a driver's degree of fault if one does occur. The first tip is to remain attentive, never multitasking or doing anything that will take one's eyes from the road. This means no use of cellphones and other electronic devices.

Defensive driving techniques are particularly recommended. Drivers should always expect the unexpected, keep away from drivers who are acting erratically and maintain a two-second gap from the car in front or 4 seconds in bad weather. Next, drivers should consider planning ahead for trips by accounting for phone calls, rest breaks and so on. Eating and drinking should ideally be done on the side of the road.

Considering the most common risks of driving

Before heading out on any road trips, drivers in California will want to stop and evaluate some of the most common risks that they could face on the road. These include distractions, fatigue and aggression. Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham say that at least 20 percent of all fatal crashes are caused by drowsy driving. Furthermore, crashes with distracted drivers account for an average of nine deaths and thousands of injuries every day.

Drowsiness, in fact, could be considered a distraction in itself. In either case, the symptoms will be largely similar -- more frequent blinking, slower eye movements, constant drifting into other lanes, poor judgment and slower reaction times. Drivers who recognize the symptoms are encouraged to stop and take a nap. If this is not possible, they should drink caffeinated beverages and or engage in alertness-enhancing activities like talking or adjusting the radio.

HLDI study reveals that larger vehicles are safer

Car buyers in California and around the country who are concerned about safety are often drawn to vehicles with sophisticated crash avoidance systems and multiple airbags, but a study from the Highway Loss Data Institute suggests that they may be wiser to choose full-sized pickup trucks or luxury SUVs. The HLDI is a nonprofit organization that gathers and studies traffic accident and financial claims data on behalf of the insurance sector, and their analysis of vehicles available in the United States in 2014, 2015 and 2016 reveals that large SUVs and pickup trucks are the safest way to travel.

The HLDI research team assigned each vehicle a safety score based on the number and size of personal injury claims filed by accident victims. Scores were increased when vehicles were involved in an unusually high number of accidents or their occupants suffered particularly serious injuries. The benchmark score for the automobile industry as a whole was set at 100.

Pedestrians at risk from distracted driving

Taking a walk in California can become unexpectedly dangerous when a negligent or distracted driver causes a severe crash. There has been a rise in the number of pedestrian deaths in fatal motor vehicle accidents, and some experts note that an increase in distracted driving may be a major cause of the change. Since 2009, traffic deaths overall have risen by 11 percent, but pedestrian fatalities have grown by 46 percent in the same time frame.

The rise of the smartphone plays a major role in distracting both drivers and pedestrians. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, the number of mobile phones in use in the United States has grown by 236 percent between 2010 and 2016. Those phones have also become much more powerful and offer a wide range of distracting apps, games and communication technologies. It is easy for a text message, email or video to divert a driver's attention from the road ahead. However, the consequences of a momentary distraction can be catastrophic.

GHSA studies effect of drugs on fatal car crash rates

Drugged driving is becoming more prevalent in California and the rest of the U.S. A new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association studied the fatal car crash data for 2016 and found that 44 percent of fatally injured drivers who were tested for drugs came up positive; this is a jump from a decade ago when 26 percent of such drivers tested positive.

Among the drug-positive fatalities in 2016, 38 percent were found with some form of marijuana, 16 percent with opioids and 4 percent with both. Approximately 51 percent tested positive for two or more drugs, and 49 percent of fatally injured drivers who tested positive for alcohol intoxication were also found with drugs in their system.

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