Federal Government Focus On Distracted Driving

April 20, 2011 by Mark Siesel

There was an interesting article by Jane Brody in the New York Times on April 12, 2011 regarding distracted driving. Tragic stories of devastating injuries and fatal accidents due to distracted drivers are discussed, certainly a fear of all drivers and particularly those with teenage children closing in on obtaining their driver's licenses and learning permits. In my experience, texting while driving seems to be more prevalent than ever despite efforts by the New York State DMV to increase the penalties for the infraction, which would include enhanced fines and points for what previously has been a "no-points" ticket.

The U.S Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, introduced a website named "Faces Of Distracted Driving" at distraction.gov/faces which gives examples of fatal accidents suffered by innocent victims of those who attempt to drive while texting, shaving, applying mascara or tending to their children, for example. According to the National Safety Council, 1.6 million accidents are caused annually by drivers using cell phones or texting, which is 28% of the total accidents. The articles also cites the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report in 2008 that 1 of 6 fatal car crashes in 2008 was due to distracted driving,

I found it very enlightening that a University of Utah study suggests that even conversations with hands free phones are just as distracting as hand held conversations, because the drivers become caught up in their conversations, resulting in "inattention blindness." Dr. Berry, a professor of orthopedics at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota was quoted as saying: "Just the act of being on the phone distracts you from the task at hand--driving...your mind is somewhere else. It's not in the car. You're driving mechanically but not seeing the same way. It's different from conversing with someone in the car." Having been in numerous serious conservations on the bluetooth in my own vehicle, there is definitely some truth to Dr. Berry's words.

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Federal Study Shows Under reporting of Hospital Errors

April 15, 2011 by Mark Siesel

I recently read an article in Bloomberg online which confirms what most personal injury and medical malpractice attorneys know to be true: hospital errors are vastly underreported, with a federal study finding that a full 90% of patient injuries are not recorded. The most common injuries are pressure sores and infections following surgery, according to the U.S. Agency For Healthcare Research and Quality, which analyzed 354 "adverse events", including bloodstream infections, medication errors and pressure sores. The data was taken from 3 U.S teaching hospitals, which remain anonymous due to patient confidentiality issues.

The adverse events happened during 33% of admissions at the hospitals, using reviews of 795 patient records by nurses, pharmacists and physicians. No effort was made in the study to determine if the errors could have been averted.

In a 1999 study by the U.S. Institute of Medicine, it was determined that 98,000 deaths and more than one million injuries were due to medical errors. In a 2008 study by the Seattle consulting firm Milliman Inc., which reviewed hospital claims from 2001 through 2008, they found that these errors cost the 17.1 billion by 2008, and identified 564,000 injuries to patients in U.S. hospitals and 1.8 million injuries to patients treated at outpatient facilities.

Closer to home, considering these eye opening statistics, this writer is thrilled that Governor Andrew Cuomo failed in his efforts (at least for this year) to cap at $250,000 all medical malpractice awards in New York State, which he had inserted in his 2011 budget (as a clear gift to very well paid insurance companies and hospital administrators) but gave up in negotiations with the Assembly and NY Senate two weeks ago.

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New York Motor Coach Carriers With Safety Issues

April 11, 2011 by Mark Siesel

According to a report published in the Journal News on April 10, 1011, approximately 15% of motorcoach carriers in New York State have been cited for safety problems over the last 20 years. Of the five issues that are examined by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the most common issues are fatigued driving and driver fitness. The other three areas which the FMCSA looks at are vehicle maintenance, unsafe driving and controlled substances/alcohol. When a motorcoach carrier is found to have a safety violation, they are issued an alert. The report establishes that of the 386 carriers in New York, 56 companies were issued an alert, or 14.5 %, with 31 alerts issued for fatigued driving and 17 for driver fitness.

The enhanced attention comes after the two fatal accidents involving buses last month, including the March 12 accident on I-95 which killed 15 and injured 17 seriously, and the March 14 accident on the New Jersey Turnpike which killed two, including the driver. Nationwide, approximately 12% of carriers have received an alert. The Federal Transportation Safety Board, which has no regulatory authority to implement its recommendations, alleges that its' recommendations have not been followed by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the FMCSA. The recommendations were, among others, to: install electronic onboard data recorders; design stronger bus roofs and windows to prevent passengers from being ejected in a rollover crash; and more stringent vehicle inspections.

In March, New York Senators Gillibrand and Schumer sponsored legislation, long overdue, which would require seat belts for all passengers; more driver training; stronger roofs; anti-eject windows; tougher vehicle inspections and medical exams for drivers. With the conservative and pro-business environment that prevails in the Senate in 2011, this writer has serious doubts as to whether such common sense measures will be implemented.

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NHTSA Study Shows Safer US Drivers

April 5, 2011 by Mark Siesel

A recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that traffic deaths decreased to an all time low in 2010, in which 32,788 people were killed in auto crashes, a 3 % decrease from 2009. The drop in fatalities was surprising in light of the fact that there was an estimated increase of 20.5 billion miles driven in 2010.

There was also a decrease in the fatality rate, (calculated as deaths per 100 million miles driven) from 1.13 in '09 to 1.09 in 2010, the smallest fatality rate since the U.S. began recording this information in 1949. Traffic deaths have also dropped a full 25% since 2005, but the NHTSA has not yet determined the explanation for the significant decrease. What makes the drop so surprising is that distracted driving certainly seems to be on the increase, due to the huge increase in motorists testing while driving, speaking on their cell phones, adjusting GPS devices and attempting to multi-task in our increasingly fast moving society.

Without question, safer cars and more prevalent use of seat belts and the increase in the manufacture of cars with front and side air bags is certainly a factor in the drop.

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Driver in I-95 Fatal Bus Crash Hit 78 MPH

April 1, 2011 by Mark Siesel

An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has determined that the casino tour bus involved in the March 12, 2011 fatal bus accident that killed 15 passengers was traveling at speeds of up to 78 m.p.h., more than 20 miles per hour over the speed limit. Investigators also determined that despite the bus driver's claims to the contrary, there was no evidence that a tractor-trailer had come into contact with the bus, causing the driver to lose control. The tragic accident, in which the bus struck a road stanchion and split in 2, killed 15 passengers returning from a gambling trip to the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut, and caused several passengers to be hospitalized for a week after the crash, four in critical condition.

Neither the federal investigators nor the New York State Police have yet to determine a cause of the accident. Possible factors include driver fatigue, as casino bus drivers frequently work long hours with little sleep. Bronx County prosecutors are also evaluating the crash to make a decision as to whether criminal charges will be filed against the driver, Ophadel Williams. It has been learned that Williams had made false statements when he obtained his commercial driver's license, including the fact that he had been incarcerated on a manslaughter charge years earlier, and was driving with a suspended license on the date of the accident.

As a result of the accident, New York Senator Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nydia Velazquez of Brooklyn have called for an examination of the safety of buses in the low-cost bus industry, which capitalizes on providing cheap transportation to casinos in Connecticut and New Jersey in order to fill their buses with passengers. One obvious and "no brainer" step would be to immediately require seat belts for all passengers, not just the driver as is presently the statutory requirement. Additionally, another measure being considered would be an interior alarm in the bus which would notify the driver if he were veering off the road or about to run into an obstacle.

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