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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Fatal Automobile Accidents in Massachusetts and Rhode Island are on the Rise

There has been a troubling trend in Massachusetts and Rhode Island over the past couple of years- deaths from motor vehicle accidents have been steadily increasing.  In fact this trend can be seen nationwide. 

So what is causing this unfortunate rise in accidental (and usually preventable) deaths?  Experts believe an increase in distracted drivers is what is fueling the increase.  And if you think it is just young, inexperienced new drivers and their cell phones, you are wrong.  According to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, over fifty-eight percent of accidents related to distracted driving are caused by drivers ages 20 to 39.  Drivers under the age of 20 only account for thirteen percent of these types of accidents.

The National Safety Council, a nonprofit organization created by Congress to promote safety, found that the number of people killed in automobile accidents in Massachusetts rose from 348 people in 2014 to 354 people in 2015 to 399 people in 2016.  Halfway through 2017, it is predicted that the number of people killed in vehicle crashes will break 400.  While neither Massachusetts or Rhode Island are among the states with the three highest number of vehicle collision related deaths (that honor goes to Texas, California, and Florida), it is a significant problem.

There are many theories as to why this number is increasing ranging from lower gas prices to an increased economy, but the one constant truth is the increased amount of things one can do on his or her mobile device while driving.  A person can check his or her e-mail; video conference with colleagues, clients, or loved ones; play games; send text messages; watch videos; listen to music; create notes; take pictures; and many more.  For example, my brother recently showed me that I can watch a live Red Sox game using the NESN app no matter where I am.  The functionality and capabilities of technology are only going to cause more temptation to be distracted will driving in the future.

Earlier this year, eighteen year old Obdulia Sanchez decided to live stream herself singing while driving on Highway 165 in California.  The video showed not only Ms. Sanchez's vocals but also her losing control of her vehicle resulting in the death of her fourteen year old sister who was ejected from the vehicle.

Nationally, there were over 40,000 driving-related fatalities in 2016.  This is an increase of 14% from 2014, marking it the most dramatic two-year increase in over fifty years.

Another trend that is sure to continue is the increase in severity of the legal penalty one faces if they caused an accident due to distracted driving.  In June of 2017, the Massachusetts State Senate approved a bill that would amend the often-violated ban on texting while driving by completely barring drivers from using their hands to make calls.  This technology would also completely ban the use of social media and video calling systems while driving, not to mention typing addresses while driving into the GPS.  In short, Massachusetts is making it so that if you are holding your cell phone while driving, you can be pulled over.

Another big technological development in the fight against distracted driving is the so-called "texalyzer."  In short, this proposed device would allow police to plug into your cell phone to see what activity (namely texting) occurred at the time of an accident.  This device will be the subject of my next article, so make sure to check back for that in September. 

Outside the obvious safety concerns, these new developments will have an impact on your personal injury cases.  It has become much more difficult to negotiate a settlement, not to mention win a case, if the driver was distracted when he or she caused the accident.  Plaintiff's attorneys often want extra damages for the outrage of the driver using his or her phone when causing the accident, while insurance companies argue that, while impactful on liability, distracted driving does not in and of itself alter a victim's damages.

If you or someone you know has been involved in an accident involving a driver that was distracted while driving, it is important that you contact a personal injury attorney to get a full assessment of your legal rights and the remedies available to you.     

 by Samuel S. Reidy, Esq.

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