Florida drivers second worst in country for distracted driving

Researchers ranked Florida’s distracted drivers the second worst in the nation.

EverQuote, an online insurance marketplace, collected data from 2.7 million car trips over 230 million miles, through its EverDrive app, which promotes safe driving habits. The app helps users monitor their own speeding and cell phone use while driving. Distracted driving is a major cause of car accidents.

The company said that users of the app use their phones on 38 percent of trips, and exceed the speed limit on 36 percent of them. These numbers may underreport the actual rates of distracted driving and speeding, because people who use the app may be more safety conscious, and they know their speed and cell phone use are being tracked.

The study found that Northeastern drivers speed the most, Midwesterners are the safest drivers overall, and Southern drivers use their cell phones the most while driving. Florida drivers used cell phones on a higher percentage of car trips than in any other state except Louisiana. Drivers in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina also used their phones while driving more often than drivers in the rest of the country.

Some of the regional differences may be due to variation in laws regarding cell phone use while driving. Few Southern states have an outright ban on the use of handheld devices while driving. In Florida, texting while driving is prohibited, but it is a secondary offense, which means that an officer must observe drivers break some other law, such as exceeding the speed limit, before they can stop them for texting while driving.

Overall, EverQuote found that 92 percent of U.S. drivers use cell phones while behind the wheel at least some of the time.

More Florida car accidents caused by road debris

An analysis of Florida crash data shows that car accidents caused by road debris are on the rise.

Car accidents have resulted from drivers hitting objects in the road or swerving to avoid them. In some cases, cars have been hit by debris from trucks with unsecured loads.

In 1998, a 13-year-old girl survived a life-threatening car accident involving road debris. The girl was riding in the passenger seat of her mother’s minivan on a Florida highway when a metal construction rod pierced the windshield and pierced her body three centimeters from her heart. Investigators said they believed the rod fell off a truck.

When paramedics arrived at the scene, they decided to drive the van to the hospital with the girl’s body still pierced by the rod. At the hospital, the rod was cut in half so that the teenager could be taken into the emergency room and it could be removed.

After the accident, community leaders worked with legislators to make driving conditions safer. State laws were changed to create road rangers, the *FHP phone line for reporting debris and easier tracing of 911 calls from cell phones.

Road debris, however, continues to be a dangerous problem. An investigation of crash data in two counties in Florida, by NBC 6, found a 60 percent increase in accidents caused by road debris between 2011 and 2015.

When accidents caused by debris, are the result of negligence, injured drivers may be able to obtain compensation from the parties responsible.

Fatal Florida car accident raises concerns about safety in autonomous vehicles

The rapidly developing technology of self-driving cars holds the promise of an enormously positive impact on public safety, with many experts claiming that over 90 percent of car accident fatalities could be eliminated if autonomous vehicles become widespread. However, that claim was called into question recently, when it was revealed that the driver of a Tesla Model S electric sedan died in an accident in Florida May 7, while the vehicle was in its autonomous operating mode.

Joshua Brown, 40, was killed in Williston, Florida, when his car collided with a tractor-trailer that was turning left in front of him. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said that the Tesla was in self-driving mode, and preliminary information indicated that neither the driver nor the self-driving system applied the brakes. Tesla said in a news release that the autopilot system did not detect the white side of the truck against the bright sky.

The NHTSA has opened an investigation into the accident, but the agency cautioned that the initiation of the inquiry did not necessarily mean that there was a defect in the vehicle. Mark Rosekind, the head of the agency, said recently that self-driving cars need to be at least twice as safe as human drivers.

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, is often hailed as a visionary, but he was criticized for Tesla’s response to the accident. The company said that the death was the first in 130 million miles, and was a “statistical inevitability.” Musk pointed out that 1.3 million people die worldwide in traffic accidents each year.

Sources

  • http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/07/how-the-media-screwed-up-the-fatal-tesla-accident
  • https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jul/07/tesla-elon-musk-autopilot-death-crisis-management

Florida traffic deaths on the rise

In 2012, government agencies set a goal of reducing deaths from Florida car accidents by 5 percent per year. That effort has now officially crashed.

According to preliminary numbers from the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were 2,939 traffic fatalities in Florida in 2015, a 17.8 percent rise over the 2014 total of 2,494.

Not only did highway deaths increase over last year, but the state failed to meet its projected decrease for the third year in a row. In 2012, Florida began its safety initiative with a baseline of 2,431 traffic fatalities, an average of the totals from 2006 to 2010. In 2013, the state had 100 more traffic fatalities than the 5 percent reduction projected, and in 2014 the total was 300 deaths over the reduction goal.

In 2015, if the 5 percent per year projection had held true, there would have been 2,084 deaths on Florida’s roads, but there were 855 more than that, so the state missed its goal by more than 40 percent.

It was no year-end surprise that traffic fatalities in Florida have been accelerating in the wrong direction. Last summer, the National Safety Council conducted an analysis that showed that there was a 29 percent increase in highway deaths in Florida, and a 14 percent increase nationally, in the first half of 2015, compared to the same six-month period in 2014.

Safety experts lay the blame on poorly-designed roads, a lack of focus on traffic safety on the part of state officials, and driver negligence.

Bill in Senate would make auto safety cover-ups a crime

Legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would make it a crime for an officer of a corporation to conceal information about a dangerously defective product.

U.S. Senators Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said that the recent settlement between the U.S. Justice Department and General Motors (GM) showed that stronger legislation is needed. After it was revealed that GM covered up a deadly ignition switch defect, the company agreed to pay $900 million and offer settlements to nearly 300 people who were injured and the families of 124 people who were killed as a result of the faulty switches, which caused vehicles to lose power while in motion. No criminal charges were brought against any GM employees.

The proposed legislation would make it a crime for an officer of a corporation to knowingly conceal information about an action or product that could put workers or the public a risk of serious injury or death. Under the proposed law, violators would face fines and up to five years in prison.

Sen. Blumenthal said that current law does not go far enough in holding corporate officials accountable when they are complicit in cover-ups that cause preventable tragedies. The bill, called the Hide No Harm Act, would also apply to other products, such as defective cribs and body armor, that have caused injuries.

Tampa wonders if red light cameras really prevent accidents

Tampa is not sure if its red light cameras are accomplishing their stated purpose of preventing accidents.

The City of Tampa has 55 red light cameras at 24 intersections, the largest such program in the region. When drivers run red lights at the intersections, cameras capture their image and they receive tickets in the mail. The city faces numerous lawsuits over the cameras. While the city collects substantial revenue from red light camera tickets, including $311,360 in June 2015 alone, it is unclear whether the program actually prevents accidents.

The lack of clarity is due in part to the failure to city staff to deliver crash data requested by city council members. A report by city staff on the red light camera program compared only the first and second quarters of 2015, which may be statistically irrelevant, and it did not include specific data on rear-end collisions requested by city council members.

Critics of the red light camera program have questioned its fairness and effectiveness. According to news reports, Tampa and other cities issued tickets based on unfairly short yellow lights before the state mandated longer intervals at intersections with cameras. State law requires cities to submit annual crash data to help track the effectiveness of the cameras, but Tampa failed to do so in 2014.

Florida NASCAR crash leads to traumatic brain injury for fan

A NASCAR fan who was struck by shrapnel after a crash at Daytona International Speedway in Florida is pursuing legal remedies for his traumatic brain injury.

On the last lap of the 2013 race, a collision sent Kyle Larson’s No. 32 car flying, and shrapnel was hurled into the stands, injuring fans. Allen Davis was seated in the upper deck of the stadium and suffered a traumatic brain injury after being hit in the head with debris.

Davis’ family released medical records showing that he suffered from a depressed skull fracture that required treatment in an intensive care unit. Doctors said that bone fragments from Davis’ skull lacerated the dura, which is the outside of the brain, causing his brain injury.

Davis’ injuries were the most severe consequences of the crash for fans, although 28 other spectators were also injured by debris.

According to Davis’ attorney, it was foreseeable that an injury like this could occur. The catch fence, designed to keep cars and car parts out of the stands, did not function properly when the crash occurred. One of the weakest parts of the catch fence is the crossover gate, which is a removable section that is taken out before and after the race to allow the fans to walk to the infield.

Representatives of Daytona International Speedway said that the track is making changes, such as changing the crossover gate and strengthening the catch fence.

Florida distracted driving law may be strengthened

If a series of bills passes in Florida state legislature, the state’s texting while driving laws may be strengthened.

A state senator and two state representatives have filed bills that would make texting while driving a primary offense, add penalties when a fatal crash occurs because of a driver using a cell phone, and ban cell phone use in school zones.

The “Ban on Texting While Driving” law was passed by the state legislature in 2012. Florida was the 41st state to pass such legislation. 

However, in Florida, texting while behind the wheel has been established as a secondary offense — meaning that police officers must have a separate reason to pull a driver over. They can only issue a ticket for texting while driving in addition to the citation for the other offense.

The current law also allows for several exceptions, such as using a cellphone for GPS navigation or to listen to music. Officers must be able to testify that the driver was not using the phone for one of these exceptions, which is difficult to do, since cell phone data is not available unless a serious accident occurs.

Officials said texting while driving, and other forms of distracted driving, are a major cause of car accidents, and they can be just as dangerous as driving drunk.

Florida ranked as most dangerous state for bicyclists and pedestrians

Studies show that Florida is the most dangerous state for pedestrians and bicyclists.

A study by Governing magazine found that four of the five cities with the highest per capita pedestrian fatality rates are in Florida. This follows an earlier study by Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition that ranked the top four deadliest cities in the country for pedestrians as Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami. 

The Tampa Bay area recorded 403 deaths in five years, the highest pedestrian fatality rate in the country.

The League of American Bicyclists compiled data on bicyclist fatalities and found Florida to be the deadliest state for bicyclists as well. Florida’s rate of 21.7 bicyclist fatalities per 10,000 bicycle commuters is nearly double the rate of Arizona, the next closest state.

According to researchers, the danger originates in part from an automobile-based, suburban-sprawl pattern of development, which is more common in the Sunbelt communities, which saw rapid post-war growth. Low-density neighborhoods connected by wide streets allow cars to move faster, but they are often not designed with pedestrians and bicyclists in mind.

Researchers said that action by transportation officials, such as installing bike lanes and illuminating crosswalks, can have a positive impact on reducing fatalities.

Bill introduced to toughen auto safety penalties

In the wake of the mishandled General Motors vehicle recall, legislation has been introduced that would greatly increase penalties for automakers that manufacture unsafe vehicles. The bill would provide for up to life in prison for auto-safety violations that result in fatalities.

The bill was introduced by Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. It may have little chance of passing this year, but the proposed legislation is seen as a response to car safety violations that have led to deaths. GM has been a particular target after a defective ignition switch on recalled vehicles was linked to at least 13 deaths. 

Sen. McCaskill called GM executives before a Senate committee on two occasions earlier this year to question them about the recall. GM engineers allegedly attempted to cover up the defect by changing a part without changing the part number. Investigators working for personal injury attorneys uncovered the change.

The proposed legislation, the Motor Vehicle and Highway Safety Enhancement Act, would raise penalties for car safety violations from $5,000 to $25,000 per violation. It would eliminate the current cap on penalties at $35 million. In addition, under the bill, federal prosecutors could seek sentences of up to life in prison for those involved with safety violations that cause death.