National Transportation Safety Board Critical of Bus & Truck Oversight

November 15, 2013 by Mark Siesel

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had determined that four fatal accidents in the last year were due to a lack of oversight by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the Transportation Department agency that regulates bus and truck safety. In the four accidents, a total of 25 passengers were killed, and 83 were injured. In contrast, federal statistics for car travel reveal that fatal accidents and accidents with serious injuries have been steadily decreasing for the last several years. Undoubtedly, this is due in no small part to the inclusion of multiple side and front air bags in new vehicles, improved “crush zones” and enhanced braking systems and traction control.

The most recent accident reviewed by the Transportation Board occurred in Murfreesboro, Tennessee on June 13, 2013. A truck operated by a company called H & O Transport struck eight other vehicles that were stopped due to an accident ahead of them. Weather conditions were not a factor. The truck rear ended an Oldsmobile Alero, which caught on fire, killing two passengers in the car, and injuring six occupants of other vehicles. The truck was speeding, on cruise control, and the truck driver had been driving for 80 hours over an eight day period, exceeding the seventy hour federally regulated mandatory limit. Further investigation revealed that H & O Transport had a history of such “hours of service” violations, with no responsive action taken by the FMCSA.

Another crash involved a Mexican owned bus traveling down a mountain in the San Bernardino National Forest in California. The bus rear ended a car, crossed into the wrong side of the road, struck a barrier, and flipped over, crashing into a pickup truck. Seven passengers on the bus and the driver of the pickup truck were killed, and the bus driver and eleven passengers on the bus suffered serious injuries. A post accident investigation showed that all six brakes on the bus were defective and there were other mechanical problems with the bus as well. One month previously, a spot check by federal investigators determined that the bus line had numerous maintenance problems, yet the FMCSA gave the bus company a satisfactory review.

The FMCSA noted that it has closed down more than 100 unsafe truck and bus companies since 2010, in comparison to only one per year for the previous ten years. One of the main issues is that the FMCSA has approximately 350 investigators to examine 10,000 bus companies, and over 500,000 trucking firms. Clearly, that is woefully inadequate and dangerous to the public.

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Roadway Upgrades Finally Scheduled For Bear Mountain Parkway

February 27, 2013 by Mark Siesel

In an article by Robert Marchant in the February 21, 2013 edition of the Journal News, it was reported that The New York State Department of Transportation has finally agreed to make safety improvements to the Bear Mountain Parkway. This comes after years of requests by the Town of Cortlandt, and citizens in Northern Westchester, after several serious and often fatal accidents on the parkway.

The Bear Mountain Parkway was constructed between 1929 and 1932 after it was proposed by the legendary Robert Moses, who was involved in much of the construction of roadways, bridges and parks in the New York metropolitan area from the 1930’s through the 1970’s. The Parkway is actually an incomplete highway of approximately 3.85 miles from the Peekskill City line on the south to Route 202 at its northern end in Cortlandt. There is a small section adjacent to the Taconic Parkway of approximately 3/4 of a mile, but this section does not present the same safety issues as it is for one way travel.

The Bear Mountain Parkway has traffic of approximately 15,000 to 20,000 cars on a daily basis. The parkway does have medians on portions which are considered to be more dangerous to prevent head on collisions, but unfortunately, there have been several fatal car crashes during the last several years. On January 29, 2008, 34 year old Sharon Czerwinsk of Lake Peekskill was killed when her 1991 Toyota Camry crossed the double yellow line near the parkway’s intersection with Carhart Avenue and stuck a SUV head on. The impact was so violent that the SUV flipped over and landed on its roof.

On December 9, 2011, another head on collision on the parkway claimed the life of 27 year old Lamar Barnes, also of Lake Peekskill. This accident resulted in renewed requests by the Town of Cortlandt for concrete barriers separating the two sides of the roadway, which are winding, with steep grades and on which drivers tend to travel at an excessive rate of speed for the roadway configuration. At the time, Cortlandt Town Supervisor Linda Puglisi noted that she had been lobbying New York State for years for barriers, which “wouldn’t totally eliminate accidents…but…it’s common sense.”

On July 9, 2012, the New York State police reported that there was another fatal accident on the parkway near the intersection of Carhart Avenue in which a motorcyclist was killed when he was struck head on by a car. Apparently, this last accident finally got the attention of the State. The New York State Department of Transportation has reported that it will install medians on portions of the parkway, add a new traffic light at Frost Lane, and provide new sings and reflectors throughout the almost 4 mile stretch of the parkway. The cost of the project, which is expected to commence in the summer of 2013 and be completed in the fall, will be approximately 3 million dollars. The spokesperson for the State noted that: “After hearing community concerns about the Bear Mountain Parkway, we are taking quick action to implement engineering solutions that will help slow traffic down, protect walkers and prevent dangerous crossover accidents so that both motorists and pedestrians can use the highway more safely.”

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Fatal Crash On Bronx River Parkway

May 7, 2012 by Mark Siesel

On April 29, 2012, there was a tragic fatal car accident on the Bronx River Parkway southbound near the Bronx Zoo exit. 45 year old Maria Gonzalez was driving a 2004 Honda Pilot with her 85 year old father, Jacob Nunez, 81 year old mother, Anna Julia Martinez, 9 year old daughter, Jazlyn Gonzalez, 39 year old sister, Maria Nunez, and two nieces, Naily, age 7, and Marlyn, age 3, passengers in the car when she lost control of the Honda, struck the center median, went across three lanes of travel, and vaulted over a 4 foot high guardrail on the right border of the road, falling 60 feet to the southwest grounds of the Bronx Zoo. All seven occupants of the car were killed by blunt force trauma, as determined by the New York City Medical Examiner.

This section of the Bronx River Parkway appears particularly hazardous, if not statistically so, with narrow lanes, no shoulder, no breakdown lanes, and curvy roadway configuration. The Parkway was constructed in 1940 when cars were certainly much shorter, lighter, and slower. Investigation by the local authorities has apparently determined that at the time of the accident, the vehicle was travelling at approximately 68 miles per hour. The speed limit is 50 m.p.h, although vehicles rarely travel at the speed limit on that roadway.

Back in June of 2012, there was a similar accident on the northbound side of the Bronx River Parkway in the same location, in which a driver lost control of his SUV, struck the divider, crossed two lanes and went over the guardrail, falling twenty feet and landing on a pickup truck in a parking lot. However, in that accident, the driver and passenger both survived the crash.

The New York State Department of Transportation has announced that they will immediately begin construction of concrete barriers along the outside lanes of travel in three locations near the southern border of the Parkway. Additionally, workers will install signs and striping in the area of the accident, which will now be deemed a construction zone, with a speed limit of 35 m.p.h. If a driver is convicted of speeding in a construction zone, fines can be doubled and points are increased dramatically, potentially leading to a license suspension.

Interestingly, NYS Department of Transportation statistics show that fatal motor vehicle accidents were at a hundred year low in 2011, with 243 fatalities, of which 161 were pedestrians or bicyclists. Conversely, in the State of North Carolina, which has a similar population to New York City, there are typically approximately 1,300 traffic deaths annually. The national average for motor vehicle fatalities in 2010 per National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data was 1.11 deaths per 100 million miles traveled, whereas the fatality average in New York urban areas is 0.64 deaths per 100 million miles traveled.

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New York Traffic Accidents—NYC Sets Record Low For Fatal Accidents

January 5, 2012 by Mark Siesel

According to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York City set a new record in 2011 for the fewest fatal traffic accidents in the last 100 years. There were 237 deaths in 2011, a reduction from the 267 who were killed in 2010, which was the previous record for fewest fatalities on New York City streets. This is also a huge drop from ten years ago, when there were approximately 430 fatal traffic accidents in the city.

The New York City Transportation Commissioner attributes the significant reduction in deaths to numerous measures that the City has implemented over the last five years, including reconfigured streets with pedestrian plazas (particularly noticeable around Herald Square and Time Square); crosswalks with timer signals, and bicycle lanes. Particularly in historically dangerous intersections on Delancey Street in Manhattan and Queens Boulevard in Queens, this has had a substantial impact according to NYC statistics, with the installation of countdown signals. In total, 1,100 such signals have been added.

Bicycle fatalities have actually gone up for the last two years, with 21 deaths in 2011, 18 in 2010 and 12 in 2009. However, Mayor Bloomberg claims that bicycle ridership has increased significantly during that span, with NYC installing several hundred miles of bike lanes. Thus, Bloomberg asserts that there has been a per capita decrease in the death rate for bicyclists.

When compared to traffic fatalities in 1970, when there were 944, and the shockingly highest number registered in 1929, when 1,360 people lost their lives in traffic crashes, the 237 in 2011 seems even more impressive. In the beginning of the 20th century, the roads in urban areas were much more congested with pedestrians, trolley cars and horse drawn carriages, in addition to cars, and traffic rules essentially did not exist yet. This was borne out by an amazing 11 minute film recorded in San Francisco one week prior to the Great Earthquake on 1906, which was broadcast on CBS’ “Sixty Minutes” earlier this year. What I found truly amazing about this film was the utter lack of fear of injury by pedestrians, who proceeded to walk right in front of cars, trolley cars, and carriages, the non-existence of traffic “rules of the road”, (such as yielding the right of way!), and the vehicles moving in all possible directions at all times!

New York City Police Commissioner Kelly noted that the improved safety on New York City streets is also due to the more than one million traffic tickets issued this year. There were 164,000 for not wearing a seat belt; 161,000 for texting or speaking on a cell phone while driving, and 127,000 for driving past a stop sign. Additionally, there were 8,500 DWI arrests in the city in 2011, which led to 900 vehicles being confiscated from those convicted of these charges.

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New York Car Accidents--Red Light Cameras More Prevalent

August 11, 2011 by Mark Siesel

Red light cameras have become a way of life in New York City and Nassau County, and if City of Yonkers officials are successful, these cameras will be installed at major intersections in Westchester's largest city as well. The main stated purpose of the red light cameras is to catch red light violators "red handed" so to speak, and according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, they have saved 159 lives in the 14 largest U.S. cities between 2004 and 2008. Further, the Institute estimates that had red light cameras been in place in all large cities during that 4 year period, 815 fatalities would have been prevented.

There are certainly skeptics about the red light camera program, especially in light of the budgetary woes of many municipalities in recent years. What is the prime motivation for the program, to maximize safety, or income for the jurisdiction? Millions of violations which are for the most part not contested (another major savings to the municipality in less overtime for police officers) can be a major cash stream to a struggling city or town.

Nassau County has installed 152 cameras in 50 intersections since 2009, and although county officials projected that they would gross 38.2 million from fines in 2011, according to the American Automotive Association, the $50.00 fines will end up garnering approximately half of that amount. There is little incentive for drivers to fight the violations, as they are not reported to insurance companies, there are no points assessed on the violator’s license, and the driver can go online to watch him or herself in action committing the violation. The "pay rate" in Nassau County fro these tickets is reportedly 85%.

According to the Nassau Department of Public Works, the red light program has reduced roadway fatalities 21% since its inception. There has been a reduction in both serious crashes and injuries, according to Christopher Mistron, the traffic safety educator for the county. Many of the violators, rather than going through the red light, fail to slow down before making a right turn. This accounts for 38% of all of Nassau County’s red light revenue.

We will follow up on this article if and when the red light camera programs are expanded to other jurisdictions.

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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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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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Dangerous Roadway In Cortlandt Gets Safety Improvements

December 16, 2010 by Mark Siesel

After four fatal car crashes since 2008, a stretch of Route 9 in Cortlandt from the Annsville Circle to the Putnam County border will now have rumble strips on the center of the road to provide warning to inattentive or sleepy drivers to prevent cross over accidents. The roadway, also known as Albany Post Road, is narrow and curvy with grades which obstruct sight distance, adding to the dangers. Since 2008, serious car accidents at this location have claimed the lives of a Canadian trucker, a deli manager, and a Peekskill City attorney, who died this past July when his car collided with another vehicle and rolled over near the ABC Deli.

Other improvements which the DOT has implemented to make the roadway safer include extending a 45 mph speed limit, flashing lights, new warning signs and pavement markings. Alcohol has been a contributing factor in one of the fatalities, with regard to the September 4, 2009 accident which took the life of Ralph Wood, a 56 year old Peekskill resident. The driver of the car that struck the vehicle Mr. Wood was a passenger in was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in November of this year.

I have traveled on Route 9 near the Annsville Circle on numerous occasions over the last 15 years since moving to the area. I have witnessed numerous near accidents, and have frequently encountered vehicles on my side of the road coming out of blind turns. The State's action was welcome and long overdue.

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Jacy Good's Compelling Motto: "Hang Up And Drive"

July 16, 2010 by Mark Siesel

In the summer of 2008, then 22 year old Jacy Good was on her way home to Lititz, Pennsylvania with her 57 year old parents after graduating from Muhlenberg College. Suddenly, her entire life was turned upside down when a tractor-trailer slammed head on into her car, killing Jacy's parents Jay and Joan Good, and leaving Jacy with permanent injuries including a collapsed lung, shattered pelvis, a lacerated liver, and worst of all, a traumatic brain injury that has caused faltering speech and difficulty concentrating. The truck driver had been forced to swerve to avoid a vehicle driven by an 18 year old who blew through a traffic light while speaking on his cell phone. The 18 year old driver was issued a ticket for disregarding a traffic control device but investigators were not able to determine if he went through the light because he was on his cell phone.

As a result of the accident, Jacy has now become a nationwide advocate to ban all cell phone usage by drivers. She noted: What is that important that you have to put everyone else on the road in jeopardy?" Since 2001 in New York, pursuant to Section 1225-c (2) (a) of the Vehicle & Traffic Law, it has been unlawful to use a mobile phone while a vehicle is in motion, unless the motorist has a hand-held device. Then last year, the New York State Legislature passed a law banning texting while driving. However, the offense was made secondary, meaning that in order to be charged with texting while driving, the officer would first have to charge the driver with a primary offense such as speeding or passing a red light. This month, the Legislature passed an amendment to the texting ban, making it a primary offense, and the amended law awaits approval by the New York State Senate before Governor Paterson can sign the bill, which he is in favor of.

Nationwide, 5,870 people were killed in car crashes in 2008, based upon data from the National Safety Council. The Council has urged legislatures to outlaw all cell phone use while driving, as it is clearly a major contributor to the overall epidemic of distracted driving, which also includes motorists who are too tired to drive, eat, drink or smoke while driving, attend to children, or focus on their radios or GPS devices instead of the road.

In June, Ms. Good and her boyfriend Steven Johnson, (who gave up his intention of a career in banking and has become inspired by Jacy's accident to become an occupational therapist), spoke at nearby Ardsley High School about the huge risks and dangers from using cell phones while driving. Mr. Johnson told the students that he will never forget, and hopes that they never will either.

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Electronic Billboards-- Do They Cause Distracted Driving?

March 11, 2010 by Mark Siesel

In an interesting article by Matt Richtel in the March 2, 2010 Business Section of the New York Times, electronic billboards are examined as another possible cause of distracted driving. We are all aware of distracted driving due to speaking on a cell phone and texting while driving, and who hasn't seen someone driving while eating, drinking, applying makeup or looking at a map? However, what about driving while digital images are flashing at you every six to eight seconds, with headlines, food deals or what song is playing on the radio? In my opinion, the increased prevalence of these electronic billboards will undoubtedly lead to more car crashes and more fatalities on the roadways.

In Michigan, safety groups are attempting to block construction of the billboards, and the executive director of Scenic Michigan called the digital billboards "weapons of mass distraction." Michigan legislators are considering a two year moratorium on the construction of electronic billboards. According to the article, the Federal Highway Administration is performing a study in which eye-trackers are utilized to determine whether motorists look at these billboards, and if so, for how long. Studies have been performed which indicated that electronic billboards do not change driver behavior, but their accuracy is questionable as they have been sponsored by the billboard industry.

The Federal Highway Administration has prohibited states from having "flashing, intermittent or moving light or lights" for some time, but possibly due to some intense lobbying by the billboard industry, the agency ruled in 2007 that free standing digital billboards did not violate their rules. Instead, the the agency simply recommended that advertisements on the billboards remain in place for at least 4 seconds and not be "unreasonably bright", which is certainly a vague standard, to say the least.

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New York Highway Accidents-Part 2

December 17, 2009 by Mark Siesel

In our previous post in this two part series, we examined the causes of motor vehicle accidents and fatal crashes on New York State roadways based on a NYSDOT study called the Strategic Highway Safety Plan 2007. In this article, we look at the State’s finding regarding New York pedestrian accidents, truck accidents, and motorcycle accidents. Approximately 25% of the annual New York fatal motor vehicle accidents involve pedestrians. This is more than twice the national average. 70% of pedestrian accidents and one half of the fatalities in New York State occur in the five boroughs of New York City, but interestingly, pedestrians involved in accidents in the suburbs are more likely to die in these accidents than in New York City. It is also significant that almost ¼ of all pedestrians injured or killed in the last year of the study (’05) were under 18 years of age.

Accidents between a car and large truck account for 10% of fatal motor vehicle accidents in New York, and approximately 5% of the serious personal injury accidents. From 2002 through 2005, there was a range of 140-150 deaths per year in New York truck accidents. The Department of Transportation determined that the three main causes of these accidents was: following too closely-10%; driver inattention or distraction-9%; and failing to yield the right of way-7%. The majority of all truck accidents are caused by aggressive driving by one of both of the drivers involved.

Motorcycle fatalities and motorcycle accidents are on an upward trend, due to the steady popularity of motorcycles, inexperienced riders, the attraction of “extreme” motorcycle riding, and the price of gasoline. Motorcycle deaths on New York highways rose from 155 in 2003 to 163 in 2005.

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New York Highway Accidents—Part 1

December 14, 2009 by Mark Siesel

The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) investigated the causes of New York car crashes on state highways from 2002 through 2005 in the Strategic Highway Safety Plan 2007. The good news coming out of the study is that from 1996 through 2005, fatal accidents on New York roadways have declined 10%. Further, although driving while intoxicated continues to be a significant problem in causing roadway deaths, the number of people killed on New York state roadways from driving while intoxicated has dropped from 979 in 1981 to 382 in 2005. The most significant problems causing serious New York car crashes and fatal accidents are aggressive driving, DWI’s and speeding.

There are 113,000 miles of highway in New York State and 16,000 of those highways are operated by the state. Intersection crashes account for approximately 25% of all highway fatalities in New York. There were 77,161 fatal intersection crashes in 2005. Overall, there were 142,287 fatal and personal injury accidents in 2003; 133,314 in 2004, and 128,581 in 2005. Rear end and left turn accidents are responsible for about ½ of all New York motor vehicle crashes. There were 479 fatal accidents from cars overturning or colliding with fixed objects in 2005, and 203 fatal accidents or injuries from crashes in construction zones.

From 2003-2005, failing to yield the right of way contributed to 16% of New York fatal car accidents; following too closely 13.5%; and unsafe speed was partially responsible for 11% of the deaths on New York highways. These driver behaviors have remained constant despite the reduction in overall accidents between 2003 and 2005.

In Part 2 of this series, we will the DOT’s findings regarding New York motorcycle accidents, large truck accidents and pedestrian accidents.

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