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Vehicle Accidents in State and National Parks

Along with summer fun, summer safety is top of mind for many families. As well it should be. We recently wrote about the increased risks and dangers to teens and children in open waters as families head to the beach. Another important concern is staying safe in the outdoors, in places that are new to us and can result in personal injury. Georgia’s parks and recreational areas are wonderful places for family fun. But we all must be mindful when in the outdoors. Here are some tips for staying safe while traveling this summer.

Go slowly on mountain roads and pay attention in areas that are new to you as a driver. Last month a fatal truck crash at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park not only took one life, but caused injury to several others. This is the fourth crash that resulted in a fatality this year at the park. This most recent accident involved a pick up truck that was hauling a flat bed trailer. The trailer was carrying another pick up truck. Apparently the pick up truck driver lost control of his vehicle and was not able to handle the trailer he was pulling. He collided with two oncoming vehicles which resulted in several victims being taken to the hospital. The other accidents that occurred at the park this year, included a fatal fall from a bicycle, a fatal motorcycle crash and a single vehicle crash.

Our Parks Are Safe, When Warnings are Heeded

The National Park Service is a great resource for health and safety when preparing to visit a park. They report that many fatalities in national parks are preventable and are due to heat stroke and failure to bring sufficient water. Hiking and climbing can be exhilarating, but failing to take the dangers seriously can result in serious injury or worse. Visiting parks and recreation areas is a great part of summer fun. But visitors should heed warnings and avoid dangerous situations that can result in harm. This is a problem around the country.

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Hands Off That Phone While Driving!

We usually don’t think about summer being a particularly active time for our state government, but many laws do go into effect during the summer. Specifically, July 1 is the effective date of several big changes in our laws including the hands-free driving law that we wrote about several months ago. This new provision has been widely publicized, but now that it is in effect, drivers need to abide by it or possibly pay a fine. This means changes in driving behaviors are needed because they have now become illegal. It is important to remember that the hands free law was enacted because using phones, emailing and texting is so dangerous to drivers and to all others sharing the road.

The new “Hands Free Law” is extensive and prohibits drivers from holding a phone while driving. A driver can only use a phone for making and receiving calls using a wireless headphone, an earpiece or bluetooth in their vehicle. Touching a phone to make or answer a call is allowed as is GPS. Calls on electronic watches are permitted as are use of GPS on these devices.

A headset can only be used to speak on the phone. Listening to music using headphones is not allowed. Drivers are prohibited from texting while driving, unless the text is dictated. The new law prohibits a driver from writing, sending or reading a text message, an email or any things else that is web based. Videos are not allowed, unless it is for navigation.

It is permissible to use a phone to report a crash or other emergency. It is also permissible to use a phone when parked, but NOT at stop lights or stop signs.

Distracted Driving Causes Fatal Crashes

The increase in serious and fatal motor vehicle accidents compelled this new law. According to law enforcement and other experts, many of these crashes are due to distracted drivers. Statistics in other states with similar laws have resulted in a drop of fatal accidents by about 16 percent just in the first two years. This number increases as the public gets used to driving hands free.

Enforcement of the new law will likely be slow and steady. There are likely to be warnings, rather than fines to start with, but fines will eventually be imposed and they are significant amounts.

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pedestrians-300x199Georgia pedestrian deaths have increased this past year. Although a recent pedestrian accident and injury was somewhat different in the way it occurred, every fatality is shocking and sad. The tragedy that unfolded early morning last week on I-75 stunned the Atlanta community. A woman who ran into highway traffic was fatally injured after several vehicles struck her. The closing of I-75 caused significant delays. Traffic coming in from the airport and elsewhere was impacted. Several drivers involved in this situation or nearby as witnesses, stopped after realizing what was happening. Other drivers tried to maneuver around the tragedy and additional car crashes began to occur.

A pedestrian on a major highway is a fairly rare situation. But, have you ever had the experience of entering a crosswalk and having a vehicle whiz by nearly hitting you or your family? Many of us have had this experience. The law in Georgia is quite clear. If a pedestrian has entered the crosswalk, there are specific circumstances in which he or she has the right of way. There are several laws that apply in pedestrian situations.

Georgia pedestrian laws which were amended several decades ago require drivers to “stop and stay stopped” for pedestrians under specific circumstances. Under the Official Code of Georgia Annotated section 40-6-91 drivers must stop for pedestrians who are within half the roadway or within one lane of their vehicle. It is not enough to slow down, the vehicle must stop. Even if other drivers are honking at you or going around your vehicle, you must stop. Drivers going around your vehicle are not permitted to do this. It is very very dangerous for those in the road or crosswalk. Pedestrians cannot simply leave a curb when a vehicle clearly cannot stop in time to allow them to cross. Pedestrians need to avoid these situations. Under the Official Code of Georgia Annotated section 40-6-92, even if a pedestrian is not in a cross walk, but has entered the road at an intersection, drivers must yield the right of way.

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It has happened again. Another infant has suffered vehicular heatstroke. In a recent infant heatstroke death, a dad was supposed to take his infant to child care, but went to work and forgot the baby was in the car. His wife usually took the baby to child care. In another recent case in South Carolina, a fatal error was made by a loving family. The baby’s aunt thought his older brother had taken the baby out of the car. His older brother thought his aunt had taken the baby out of the car, but that was not something he had ever done before. The baby was in the car for four hours in high heat. It is difficult to imagine the pain and suffering all the parents and families of these children must be feeling now.

As the temperatures rise, so does the danger of serious injury or death and the likelihood that more young lives will be lost in this way. Although the law in about 20 states prohibits leaving a child alone in a vehicle for any reason, several more are considering this legislation. Thus far, Georgia has not enacted laws  prohibiting this. However, if a parent or caregiver leaves an infant or child in a hot car, and the child is injured, other laws could be applied. Child endangerment or even murder charges can be brought as we have seen in the past in our state. No law can bring back a forgotten or left baby. Most of these situations are simply tragic mistakes. Rarely, this is an intentional act.

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iStock_000016030629XSmall-200x300As our readers know, we have been keeping an eye on developments in the driverless car technology. As the reality of these vehicles grows closer and closer, it is likely that eventually we will all encounter these vehicles on the road. But the technology is not yet perfected and accidents have happened. Uber has been testing driverless vehicles over the recent past in several cities. There is always a driver behind the wheel, but the vehicle is driving on its own. Uber halted the program after a tragic pedestrian crash in Arizona that took the life of a woman as she walked across the street at night. She was not in a crosswalk at the time she was struck. Although there was a driver behind the wheel of the vehicle, the driver did not apparently see her in time to stop from hitting her. Because of this tragedy, Uber has been prohibited from autonomous testing in Arizona. This accident and others will likely lead to more intervention on the legal and regulatory side and call for more regulatory management for driving safety and implementation of these autonomous systems.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued a report on this accident and has determined in interviews with Uber that the Volvo SUV actually did register the presence of something in the road six seconds prior to impact. Ironically, the vehicle’s automatic emergency braking system was not engaged at the time of the fatal crash. It would have been up to the driver to stop the vehicle. Uber has said it disengages the emergency braking system so that the car doesn’t drive erratically. That decision proved fatal in this situation.

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Boat4Child drownings in open waters are on the rise. This is very important news for those who plan outings this spring and summer to oceans, lakes and rivers. Although awareness about pool safety and child drownings has helped to keep kids safe, the dangers of open waters are now in the forefront due to a study that was just published by a childhood safety organization. More kids are drowning in open waters than in pools.

Safe Kids Worldwide has just issued a report that every parent should review. Drowning rates for kids have increased since 2011 to more than 1,000. But the report makes it clear that these numbers do not tell the whole story. Many kids and families also experience non-fatal drownings. These are estimated to be at about 7,000 kids and they are not necessarily reported as a child may be rescued on site or visit an ER. Near-drownings which can also cause serious injury, brain damage and other problems for children, are not being tracked. Prevention is key. The report is timely as we approach the swimming season.

Here is the big warning: just because your child or teen is able to swim well in a pool, does NOT mean they will be able to manage open water swimming. This is borne out by the numbers which show that these drownings are on the rise. The greatest danger is for boys, with an increasing risk as kids get older. The concern is that parents and others simply assume that a child is safe if he or she is a good pool swimmer.

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image-300x169Photo Credit: WSB TV – Broadcast Screenshot

Our injury blog has never before posted a photograph of an actual crash, but this crash is different. This crash was totally avoidable and is made more poignant by the fact that the Georgia Hands Free law is awaiting Governor Deal’s signature. We think it is important for all to see the result of distracted driving. The teen who was driving the car in the photo was driving at a speed of over 100 miles per hour. She may also have been on SnapChat when her vehicle left the road, rolled over a few times and finally hit a tree. She is alleged to have caused the death of her friend who was a passenger in the vehicle. The teen driver is now charged with vehicular homicide. If she is found guilty, she may spend time in jail and she must live with the death of her friend for the rest of her life.

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Romaine Lettuce Recalls Raise Safety Concerns

In recent weeks, the romaine lettuce many Americans enjoy regularly has been under a cloud of concern with possible contamination of the bacteria known as E. coli. The bacteria is found in the environment and doesn’t always cause illness. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control notes that most E. coli are not harmful. The strains of the bacteria that we hear about can be very problematic, can cause illness and are transmitted in food, water and other means. The strain that is most often the problematic one causes thousands of illnesses annually and can result in hospitalization and can be fatal.

Not only can uncooked vegetables like tomatoes and lettuces be a problem, but the bacteria can also be found in raw milk, fruit and soft cheeses. Food that is not sufficiently cooked is also a danger.

Lawsuits Filed After Recalls and Outbreaks

Most Americans remember the major issue that the very popular Chipotle restaurants had in 2015. According the Washington Post in that serious outbreak 60 customers from 14 states were infected with the bacteria. The restaurant chain took extreme measures to correct this problem. But the cause of the outbreak was never determined. Many customers who became ill after eating at the chain settled lawsuits brought against the restaurant for causing their illnesses.

Food suppliers, distributors and restaurants are regulated by both federal laws and state laws. If you become ill after eating food or from store-bought romaine lettuce, for example, you may well be able to recover your medical expenses and other losses due to illnesses that are shown to have been the result of eating contaminated foods.

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distracted-driver-200x300One of the most tragic events in and around Georgia are fatal motor vehicle crashes. Loss of life on our roads and highways is something we all would like to see diminished in numbers. Only recently, a young woman lost her life maneuvering a curve on a Georgia highway. Lowering the number of fatal crashes in our state is something we can all support. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) is dedicated to lowering the number of fatal crashes and has established an important goal: lower the number of annual fatal crashes across America by 1000.

Georgia’s Department of Transportation (GDOT) has set a goal in our state to reduce this number by 41 or more. Current statistics on fatal crashes in Georgia is not moving in the right direction. During 2017, there were 1550 who lost their lives on our roads. This is an increase of 33 percent and up from lower numbers in prior years such as 2014. In an effort to reduce loss of life in Georgia due to motor vehicle crashes, the Georgia Department of Transportation is continuing its major effort known as “Drive Alert Arrive Alive.” The increase in road and highway fatal crashes amounts to four lives lost on a daily basis and is above the national average. That is truly a sobering statistic. One of the culprits in this rise is distracted driving. Teen distracted driving is a particular concern.

These statistics are likely a major factor in the recent passage of a statewide hands free driving law in the Georgia Legislature which is on the Governor’s desk for signing. Local legislative efforts, which will be preempted by the statewide law on the Governor’s signage, were supported by families impacted by loss of life on Georgia roads, including the parents of one of the nursing students who was fatally injured in 2015.

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Distracted Driving Is Our Biggest Fear

Have you ever noticed another driver looking at their cell phone while you are driving in the next lane? Do you ever wonder if that person can actually safely drive and read a text or worse, send one? Most people will answer yes to that question. Just in time for April, which is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the AAA Foundation has released a new survey that reveals what American drivers are saying about this issue. Every year, the AAA surveys a large group of drivers over a one month period to find out what they are experiencing out on the road. It turns out that the most feared behavior on the road these days is distracted driving. About 88 percent of those surveyed say that this is their biggest worry, more than drunk or drugged driving and more than aggressive driving.

We all know that distracted driving is a major safety issue and causes serious and fatal car accidents. But do you know that it has now become the most feared behavior on the road? Despite the fact that one in three people have a family member who has been seriously injured or fatally harmed in a motor vehicle accident with varying causes and one in five have experienced an accident themselves, distracted driving still tempts them.

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