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Personal Injury Law Blog

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. 

New Chairman of the NTSB Confirmed

In a unanimous vote, the U.S. Senate confirmed Christopher Hart as the new chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Mr. Hart has been acting chairman of the NTSB since April, when Deborah A.P. Hersman left to become the president and CEO of the National Safety Council. The confirmation allows Christopher Hart to officially begin his two-year term as the thirteenth chairman of the NTSB.

In addition to his time as acting chairman, Mr. Hart served as deputy director for the Air Traffic Safety Oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration. He served as the NTSB vice chairman from 2009 to 2014. He previously served the NTSB from 1990 to 1993. He is a licensed pilot, holding a commercial certificate with ratings for instrument flying and multiengine flying. Mr. Hart also holds a law degree from Harvard and degrees in aerospace engineering from Princeton.

NHTSA Changes Crash Data Policy

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does not investigate every motor vehicle crash. There are far too many crashes to review each one. Instead, the NHTSA uses a sampling of crashes to analyze overall trends. More than 20 sites have been designated for this sampling, including Chicago and Los Angeles. Since 1988, the NHTSA has analyzed approximately 4,700 crashes per year, nationwide.

The NHTSA put a new system in place that saw a substantial reduction in the car and truck crashes reviewed. The Government Accountability Office recently disclosed the change, showing that the NHTSA reviewed roughly 3,400 crashes in 2013. The reduction was blamed on rising costs and a flat budget. The NHTSA is attempting to maintain the quality of its crash information while actually reviewing fewer crashes. The GAO declared the new approach "reasonable," citing a White House imposed restriction on travel expenses for federal agencies. 

Transportation Safety Data Released

The National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary data concerning 2013 transportation fatalities. According to NTSB figures, 34,678 people were killed across all modes of transportation in 2013. That represents a slight decrease from 2012, during which 35,796 died in transportation accidents. The data groups all deaths from highway accidents, aviation accidents, marine, rail and pipeline transportation accidents. The acting chairman of the NTSB called the total "very troubling" while acknowledging that it represented a slight improvement.

Traffic deaths make up the vast majority of transportation deaths in the United States. In 2013, there were 32,719 deaths on U.S. roadways. Railroad accidents accounted for 891 deaths. Marine deaths, many of them tied to recreational boating accidents totaled 615. Aviation deaths accounted for 443 of the total. 

Rise in Large Verdicts in Defective Product Cases

For 10 years, there were no jury verdicts of $1 billion or more in cases involving defective products. In 2014, that trend stopped with several verdicts exceeding that total. Some have tied the absence of large verdicts from 2004 to last year to extensive lobbying efforts by "tort reform" groups. Others suggest that the gap was due to the settlement of the major class action lawsuits against the tobacco industry. Whatever the reason, the return of larger jury verdicts has an impact on the makers of consumer goods and the victims of injuries and illnesses caused by product defects.

The largest jury verdicts generally include punitive damages. Punitive damages are not necessarily dependent on the amount of financial harm done to the plaintiff by a defective product. They are intended to penalize the defendant and deter them from engaging in similar conduct in the future. These damages are often a major factor in civil litigation concerning defective and dangerous products. 

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