Articles Posted in Highway & Traffic Safety

Earlier this month, a volunteer poll worker was struck and killed by a passing motorist as he was attempting to collect some items that had fallen out from the back of his van. According to one local news source covering the accident, the tragedy occurred near the intersection of Banta Trail and South Meridian Street in Indianapolis.

Evidently, the man was on his way to volunteer at the polls when he stopped on Meridian Street to retrieve some items that had fallen out of the back of his van. The van, which was a rental, was pulled over on the side of the road while the man tried to collect the items, which authorities believe were bags of trash. As he was collecting the bags, another motorist came down Meridian Street and struck him. That motorist remained on the scene and cooperated with police.

After the fatal accident, police began an investigation into what could have caused the accident. It is not known why the van’s rear door opened. Police do not believe that drugs or alcohol were involved in the accident. It was dark at the time of the accident, and it is a possibility that the driver of the car failed to see the man as he was collecting the trash bags.

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Earlier this week, an Indiana State Trooper was injured when he was struck by a passing vehicle as he was responding to the scene of an accident. According to one local news source, the original accident occurred around 6:00 in the evening on Interstate 80 eastbound, near the Interstate 65 exit.

Evidently, the Trooper was on the scene of the accident, parked in the left-most lane of travel. His vehicle, while it was blocking the lane, had on its emergency lights indicating that drivers should not occupy the lane. The Trooper was the first on the scene and was waiting for back-up as well as a tow-truck operator.

At some point, a few minutes after the initial crash, a 2009 Hummer crashed into the rear of the Trooper’s patrol car. Both the Trooper as well as one of the men involved in the original accident were taken to the hospital with serious injuries. Both men are expected to make full recoveries. Reports indicate that there were wet road conditions at the time of the accident.

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We extend our condolences to the families of two Indianapolis medics who died from injuries sustained in an automobile accident in the early morning of February 16, 2013. These were reportedly the first fatalities in an on-the-job vehicle collision in the history of Indianapolis EMS.

The accident happened at approximately 3:37 a.m., according to local news station WTHR, at the intersection of Senate Avenue and St. Clair. The ambulance, heading south on Senate, had the right of way, as the traffic light at the intersection was flashing yellow for vehicles on Senate. The lights on St. Clair were flashing red. The ambulance was not responding to a call at the time, so its lights and sirens were not activated. A black Honda headed west on St. Clair allegedly did not stop at the flashing red light and struck the ambulance as it was crossing the intersection. The ambulance’s driver and the other medic were taken to a nearby hospital. The driver, a 24 year-old private, died at the hospital shortly after the collision. The passenger, a 22 year-old paramedic, spent about twenty-four hours on life support and died early Sunday morning.

The Honda’s 21 year-old driver was taken to the hospital for blood testing after the accident and was listed in good condition. An officer claimed to smell alcohol on her breath, and she reportedly admitted to having one-and-a-half drinks before the accident. Police stated on the afternoon of February 17 that preliminary blood alcohol tests on the driver, based on samples drawn about two hours after the collision, were “borderline.” The driver was released while police continued their investigation and awaited results of further blood alcohol testing.
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We recently addressed a wrongful death lawsuit brought in federal court that invokes Nebraska’s fetal death statute, and how that law differs from corresponding statutes in Indiana. The lawsuit, Baumann v. Slezak, et al, also asserts a cause of action for alleged violations of federal commercial truck driving regulations, including restrictions on the number of hours a driver may be behind the wheel without a break. Indiana law has allowed for evidence of regulatory violations in order to prove a claim of negligence, although such evidence may not be sufficient to establish liability by itself.

The Nebraska lawsuit arises from a September 9, 2012 accident on westbound Interstate 80 in western Nebraska. A family traveling through the state in two separate cars was stopped at the rear of a line of traffic, which had backed up nearly a mile because of an accident involving two semi-trailers. Another semi-trailer collided with the back of one of the family’s vehicles. This propelled the car into the family’s other car, which collided with another vehicle. All occupants of the two vehicles died in the accident. The truck driver, Josef Slezak, was allegedly driving at seventy-five miles per hour, and did not slow or stop prior to the collision.

The family’s legal representatives filed suit against Slezak and his employer, alleging negligence per se and violation of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations. The two regulations cited in the complaint prohibit operating a commercial motor vehicle while impaired, such as by fatigue, and regulate the length of time a vehicle operator may drive without rest. The hours-of-service (HOS) regulations prescribe maximum lengths of time a driver can be on-duty or behind the wheel before a required period of time off duty. According to the complaint, Slezak had arrived at a trucking terminal in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at 10:49 a.m. on September 8, and left after less than three hours off duty at 1:49 p.m. The accident occurred more than eighteen hours later, at around 5:19 a.m., and about 920 miles away.
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A Nebraska law allowing wrongful death claims for unborn children is getting its first test in a federal lawsuit. The suit, Baumann v. Slezak, et al, arises from a multi-vehicle accident that killed a family of four and their unborn child. It asserts causes of action for negligence and violations of federal trucking regulations. Several states, including Indiana, have passed statutes allowing wrongful death claims for unborn children at various stages of gestation, and courts in other states have recognized causes of action related to fetal death.

The accident giving rise to the lawsuit occurred on westbound Interstate 80 during the early morning of September 9, 2012. Traffic had become backed up for about a mile after two semi-trailers collided at about 4:30 a.m. One semi-trailer had become disabled and pulled onto the right shoulder. The driver, Vladimir Zhukov, however, allegedly left the trailer in a lane of traffic. Another semi-trailer driven by Keith Johnson reportedly collided with Zhukov’s trailer. The impact killed Johnson and caused his tractor to catch fire. The accident blocked all westbound lanes of the highway, creating a significant risk of further accidents for vehicles forced to stop on the highway.

Christopher and Diana Schmidt were traveling to California from Maryland with their two children, and Diana Schmidt was seven-and-a-half months pregnant with a child they had named Ethan. Diana Schmidt was driving a 2007 Toyota Corolla with the two children, and Christopher Schmidt was following her in a 2010 Ford Mustang. They were at the rear of the line of cars stopped because of the semi-trailer accident, with the Corolla stopped behind another semi-trailer, and the Mustang behind the Corolla. A semi-trailer driven by Josef Slezak approached the stopped traffic reportedly travelling at about seventy-five miles per hour. Allegedly without slowing or stopping, Slezak’s vehicle collided with the back of the Mustang at about 5:19 a.m., propelling it into the Corolla. This pushed the Corolla under the trailer in front of it. All four members of the Schmidt family and their unborn child died in the impact.
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Allstate Insurance released its annual “America’s Best Drivers Report” in late August, listing the cities with the lowest rates of automobile collisions, both per driver and compared to the national average. The survey ranked the two hundred largest American cities, including two cities in Indiana. Indianapolis ranked 60th, and Fort Wayne ranked 31st. Smaller cities tended to rank higher than larger ones. The top city for safe drivers, according to Allstate, is Sioux Falls, South Dakota, while the worst is Washington, DC. The study is useful for Indiana drivers to understand what they are doing well in terms of avoiding car accidents, and where they could improve.

This year’s report was the eighth survey of “best drivers” conducted by Allstate. Actuaries reviewed two years of collision reports from 2009 and 2010 to identify cities with high rates of accident claims. All data used by Allstate comes from its own policy claims, which it says account for about ten percent of all auto insurance policies in the country. It is therefore not a scientific survey, but it provides a useful overview of auto accident statistics.

The study identified two signifiers to determine which cities have the “best drivers.” First, it calculated the length of time between auto collisions for an average driver in each city. Second, it compared the likelihood of an average driver having an accident to the national average. Smaller cities tended to rank higher than the big cities, at least in part because they often present fewer distractions, less traffic, and less uncertainty in terms of road conditions. The top-ranked city, Sioux Falls, has a population of around 156,000 people, making it the 153rd-largest city in the survey. Of the nine cities with populations greater than one million people, Phoenix, Arizona ranked highest on the “best drivers” scale at 53rd.
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Drivers have dealt with distractions since the invention of the automobile. The explosive growth in the use of cell phones, however, has compounded the risks presented by distracted driving. Drivers who use their cell phones to talk, send text messages, or even read e-mail or web pages cause thousands of accidents around the country every year. A member of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the federal agency that investigates accidents and recommends safety regulations, went so far as the call distracted driving an “epidemic.” People injured by a distracted driver generally have a clear claim for damages from that driver. While courts have rejected attempts to recover damages from cell phone companies, plaintiffs have recovered from drivers’ employers, when the driver was engaged in work-related activities.

Distracted driving accounted for as many as 3,092 deaths in traffic accidents in 2010, according to the federal government. It was a factor in up to eighteen percent of all injury accidents that year. The government identifies three types of distraction:

Manual: where the driver takes one or both hands off the wheel.
Visual: where the driver is not watching the road.
Cognitive: where the driver’s attention (or mind) is not on the road.

Studies have suggested that even the use of a hands-free device like a headset does not improve overall safety, because it does not reduce cognitive distraction.

Indiana, like most states, has enacted laws restricting the use of cell phones while driving. Thirty-nine states, including Indiana, and the District of Columbia prohibit text messaging while driving. Indiana also prohibits drivers under the age of eighteen from any cell phone use while driving. Other laws include a ban on all handheld cell phone use (ten states and D.C.), and handheld cell phone use by school bus drivers (nineteen states and D.C.) No state has a ban on all cell phone use, including hands-free devices, although the NTSB recommended such a ban last year.
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An Indianapolis fourth grader at Spring Mill Elementary school was killed last week after being struck by a bus. The child, Christopher Beltz, was hit after he was dropped off a bus and then reportedly ran into the path of another. Indianapolis police are currently investigating the incident.

As a father of two elementary school aged children, reports like this hit very close to home. Last year, I published an article regarding school bus safety which seems particularly relevant given last week’s tragedy. Below is the article which contains useful information for kids, parents and motorists.
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With the warm weather months upon us, many of you have jumped at the chance to hit the open road on your motorcycle. While it is a great time of year to enjoy motorcycle riding, everyone must keep in mind the additional safety concerns that are associated with motorcycle use. With this in mind, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels declared the month of May as Motorcycle Safety and Awareness Month in Tippecanoe County.

Motorcycles continue to rise in popularity as more and more motorcyclists can be spotted using the highways around Indiana. With the popularity of motorcycles seeming to be at an all-time high, now more than ever it is essential for people to be aware of motorcycle safety. The Indiana Department of Education reports an 80% chance of injury if a motorcycle is involved in a crash and that a crash involving a motorcycle with an automobile, the possibility of severe injury or death is 29 times higher for the motorcyclist compared to the driver of the automobile. The best ways to serious or fatal motorcycle accidents are: (1) responsible driving by both motorcycle drivers and automobile drivers, (2) making sure you use the necessary protective equipment, and (3) making sure you are properly trained and licensed to operate a motorcycle.

It is vital that automobile and motorcycle drivers are aware of one another on the roadways. One study showed that in two-thirds of multiple-vehicle accidents, the motorcyclist’s right-of-way was violated by the driver of the other vehicle. Most of the time these accidents are simply caused by the automobile driver’s failure to notice the motorcycle driver in traffic or failing to notice the motorcycle driver until it was too late to avoid a collision.