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Personal Injury Law Blog

Is Your Deck, Porch or Balcony Safe?

Throughout Illinois, homeowners are required to get a permit before building a deck, balcony or porch. Municipalities maintain safety standards for what is required in building these structures. For example, in the City of Chicago, a deck, porch or balcony floor must be designed to support a minimum of 100 pounds per square foot. There are requirements for how they can be attached to buildings, how the footings are set and what materials are acceptable for construction. The guidelines are intended to protect homeowners and visitors from the danger of a collapse. Unfortunately, many decks and porches are not built to code and are not maintained properly. The result of substandard construction and maintenance can be a fatal accident.

Illinois winters take a toll on our homes. Heavy snows and massive temperature swings will eventually make even a perfectly designed deck unsafe. It is important to regularly inspect your porch, deck or balcony to identify signs of degradation. Older decks may also have been built when safety standards were less robust. A deck built to code in 2000 could easily represent a safety hazard today, particularly if it has not been carefully maintained. 

Many Railroads Will Miss a Key Safety Deadline

In 2014, the National Transportation Safety Board included Positive Train Control (PTC) implementation on its Most Wanted List of safety initiatives. The NTSB had been calling for the devices for 45 years at that point. Congress had taken action on that suggestion already in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 by requiring all railroads to install the systems by December 31, 2015. With a handful of months remaining before the deadline, it appears unlikely that PTC devices will be in place on time for many railroads, including Metra.

Metra Chairman Martin Oberman recently reported that the railroad expects to have PTC in place by 2019. The contract to oversee the installation of PTC was only awarded last month. The software needed to control the system has not yet been designed. He gave no indication as to why the requirements of the 2008 Act were not acted upon sooner. 

Biking In Chicago

Today is Bike to Work Day and riders all across the country are taking the opportunity to commute with their bicycles. That journey will be considerably easier for some than for others. Biking in a metro area can be challenging even during low traffic periods. During rush hour, it can become a near impossibility in some locations. Chicago has taken steps in recent years to become more bike-friendly. A recent evaluation suggests that the city has been relatively successful, though it is clear that more work is left to be done.

Redfin recently compiled a list of the most bikeable cities. Minneapolis finished first, but the fastest riser was Chicago. Chicago increased its Bike Score Index by nine points since the last ranking was released in 2013 and now ranks as the 6th most bikeable city in the United States. One of the primary reasons for the improved score was the introduction of the bike sharing system Divvy. Future scores are expected to rise based on the plan to increase on-street bikeways by the year 2020. 

Tips for Safe Bicycling in Time for Spring

When the weather turns warm, people are once again able to enjoy the outdoors on their bicycles. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and the Illinois Department of Transportation offer a number of tips designed to help bicyclists stay safe on our roads. If you or your loved ones will be bicycling this year, it is a good time to review the practices that can help you avoid accidents.

The number one tip for bicycle safety is to always wear a helmet when riding. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that helmet use reduces head injury risk by 85 percent. While helmets are recommended for all age groups, many states and municipalities have laws requiring helmet use for younger riders. Riders ages 5 to 14 suffer a disproportionate number of injuries in bicycle accidents. 

Investigation into CTA Crash Concluded

The investigation into last year's Chicago Transit Authority train crash at the O'Hare subway station concluded this week. The National Transportation Safety Board listed several factors as contributing to the March 2014 accident that injured 33 people. The failure of the rail operator to report to work properly rested and the failure of the CTA to manage her schedule were listed as the probable cause of the accident, according to the NTSB report.

When the operator of the Blue Line train fell asleep at the controls, the eight-car train overran the bumping post and crashed into an escalator. The operator admitted to the NTSB that she had fallen asleep and indicated that it was not the first time. She was dealing with changing starting times and was working at a time when fatigue is a likely problem. The crash occurred at roughly 3 a.m.

Truck Tires and Speed Limits

From 1974 to 1995, the National Maximum Speed Law banned states from setting speed limits above a certain level. From 1974 to 1988, that meant the top speed limit was 55 miles per hour. From 1988 to 1995 it was 65 mph. After 1995, Congress once again allowed states to set their own speed limits. The change had significant implications for the trucking industry and for tire manufacturers which may still not be understood 20 years later.

The safety rating for commercial truck tires does not include the speeds that trucks are now allowed to travel in some jurisdictions. No truck tire is rated for the speeds of 75, 80 and 85 mph that are allowed in 14 states across the country. The speed limits were set without consulting the tire industry or changing the safety spec required for heavy truck tires. 

The Reality of Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is widely acknowledged as a dangerous activity. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, More than 95 percent of licensed drivers believe that drivers who text, email or use social media while driving are a "somewhat" or "very" serious threat to their personal safety. This belief has not put an end to distracted driving, however. More than one-third of survey respondents admit to reading texts or emails while driving. More than one-quarter admit to writing or sending texts and emails while driving. An insurance company is using a new tool to help encourage drivers to avoid distracted driving.

Allstate has launched a national tour to give people a chance to try distracted driving in a simulated environment. The simulator, called Reality Rides, lets people "drive" while texting, having a phone conversation or using a navigation device. The simulator is about more than just car accidents caused by distracted driving. It also gives participants information about traffic tickets they could receive for engaging in the various behaviors. While many states and municipalities have passed laws regarding texting and other distractions, many drivers are not clear about what they can and cannot do behind the wheel. 

Safe Driving in Wet Conditions

Driving too fast for road conditions is a common cause of accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Roughly 1.4 million fatal crashes were attributed to weather conditions from 1975 to 2000. While people might think that driving during the winter is the most dangerous time that is not actually the case. Icy or snowy roads may deter many people from traveling, leading to a reduction in traffic fatalities. Rain can pose a substantial threat to drivers. The American Auto Association reports that wet weather leads to 1.2 million crashes every year.

April marks the beginning of the rainy season in Chicago. Whether the roads are wet with rain or with melting snow and runoff, there are steps you should take to reduce your chances of getting into an accident. First, do not tailgate. Tailgating is a bad idea on dry roads, in broad daylight, when you focus is entirely on the car in front of you. In wet conditions, tailgating can be disastrous. The rule of thumb is to stay four seconds behind the car in front of you on a wet road. However fast you are going, four seconds' worth of time to react is a minimum. 

A Look at Impaired Driving from the NHTSA

A 2014 survey of U.S. drivers shows that the issue of impaired driving has changed significantly over recent years. The Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers is conducted periodically by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The survey was first conducted in 1973. Since its inception, the survey has shown a dramatic decrease in the number of drivers with alcohol in their systems. Unfortunately, it has also shown an increase in the number of drivers using marijuana and other illegal drugs, as well as prescription drugs. The survey is voluntary and anonymous.

Since 2007, the number of drivers with alcohol in their blood has fallen by nearly one-third. The number of drivers reporting marijuana use has increased by almost 50 percent. In discussing the alcohol related figure, the head of the NHTSA suggested that it was the result of "a focused effort and cooperation among the federal government, states and communities, law enforcement, safety advocates and industry." A drop in alcohol use by drivers has the potential for enormous safety gains, as roughly 10,000 people are killed each year in alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents. 

A Campaign to Increase Seat Belt Use

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has launched a new campaign focusing on seat belt use. The campaign specifically targets parents and children aged 8 to 14. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adult seat belt use tops the list of ways to reduce injuries and fatalities in motor vehicle accidents. Seat belt use is on the rise across the country, though usage varies by state.

According to the NHTSA, the number one cause of driving fatalities among teens is failure to wear a seat belt. Teen drivers are more likely to get into an accident and more likely to sustain serious or fatal injuries than other drivers. Seat belt use among drivers 16 to 24 years old is the lowest of any age group. While roughly 80 percent of people this age wear seat belts, more than half of teen drivers involved in fatal accidents are unbuckled. By targeting children in the 8 to 14 age group the NHTSA is hoping to improve seat belt use once these children reach driving age. 

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