Texting, talking, taking "selfies": How distraction leads to Columbia car accidents

January 24, 2014

IMG_2767.JPGBy now, most people are aware that various forms of cell phone use are a serious threat to roadway safety, both here in Missouri and throughout the U.S. The vast majority of car accidents are entirely preventable and many are caused by drivers who have divided their focus between watching the road and performing another task - often using an electronic device. "You talk to any cognitive psychologist, they've known this for decades, that the human brain can only focus on one attention-requiring task at any given moment," said David Teater, senior director for the National Safety Council. "The other task is always in the background."

And it's no secret that the problem of distracted driving is particularly prominent among teens, who, in today's world, are likely to text frequently throughout the day. Due largely to their inexperience behind the wheel, teen drivers already have high crash risks, so adding a distraction to the mix can be especially dangerous. And it's not just texting that's the problem: numerous studies have indicated that talking on a phone - even if it's hands-free - increases a driver's chances of having an accident. Further, as technology continues to evolve, so do the forms of distraction plaguing drivers. One currently popular trend involves drivers taking "selfies," or self-portraits, while they're behind the wheel. In fact, CNN reports that "Instagram shows more than 3,727 posts under the #drivingselfie hashtag, more than 1,869 for the plural #drivingselfies, and more than 9,700 for #drivingtowork. Some users add the optimistic tag, #Ihopeidontcrash."

Facts about distracted driving:

• Sending a text message (or engaging in "visual-manual subtasks," like reaching for a phone or dialing a number) while driving makes you three times more likely to be involved in a crash.

• According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA),3,328 people were killed in 2012 distraction-affected accidents throughout the U.S. In addition, approximately 421,000 others suffered injury in these crashes.

• About 171.3 billion text messages were sent in the United States each month, as of December 2012.

• At any moment during daylight hours in the U.S., an estimated 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or other electronic devices while operating their vehicles.

• Of drivers under age 20 involved in fatal accidents, about 11% were reported as distracted when the accidents occurred. Data from NHTSA indicates that this age group has the biggest proportion of distracted drivers.

• 25% of teen drivers respond to a text message one or more times every time they get behind the wheel. What's more, 20% of teens and 10% of parents say they have "extended, multi-message text conversations while driving."

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Wrongful death, personal injury lawsuits filed in connection with 2012 Columbia drunk driving accident

November 7, 2013

gavel-4-1409594-m.jpgRecently, the families of two Missouri car accident victims filed lawsuits against a Columbia man and the establishment that served him alcohol in the hours before a deadly crash on Providence Road. According to the Columbia Daily Tribune, the lawsuits come in connection with a December 2012 accident that left one victim dead and the other in a coma. Law enforcement officials say Spencer Gordon was southbound on Providence when he drifted out of his lane and struck a Ford F-150, causing the pickup to smash into the center median and roll over multiple times.

Two occupants of the truck were ejected, and both sustained life-threatening head and brain injuries. Passenger Michelle Morrow, 24, died the following day at University Hospital. The driver, 23 year-old Michael Tufts, remains in a coma to this day. Neither Gordon nor his passenger was injured in the accident.

Gordon, who was 20 when the accident occurred, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and two counts of second-degree assault. Investigators say his blood alcohol content was 0.122%. He is scheduled to face trial on those charges in December.

The lawsuits, filed by relatives of Morrow and Tufts, seek damages from Gordon and from Déjà Vu Comedy Club, where Gordon was apparently drinking prior to the accident. Tufts' family maintains that the bar was negligent for both serving Gordon alcohol while he was under age 21 and for continuing to serve him "after he was visibly intoxicated." In their own wrongful death lawsuit, Morrow's parents have made similar claims against Acumen Corp., the company that owned the comedy club last December (although it no longer does). An attorney representing Déjà Vu has "denied the allegations against [the club] and said either Michael Tufts or Gordon is at fault," reports the Tribune.

Missouri's dram shop law: Section 573.053 RSMo

• In Missouri, under most circumstances, "it has been and continues to be the policy of this state to follow the common law of England...to prohibit dram shop liability and to follow the common law rule that furnishing alcoholic beverages is not the proximate cause of injuries inflicted by intoxicated persons." In other words, a bar or restaurant is not automatically liable for an accident simply because it serves alcoholic drinks.

• However, the law allows for certain exceptions - specifically, "when it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the seller knew or should have known that intoxicating liquor was served to a person under the age of twenty-one years or knowingly served intoxicating liquor to a visibly intoxicated person."

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Columbia parents: Make bicycle safety a priority & help prevent child accidents

October 1, 2013

learner-2-583388-m.jpgBeautiful fall weather has finally come to Missouri, and our Columbia personal injury lawyers know that many Missourians are getting out and about to enjoy the comfortable temperatures. At this time of year, we want to encourage local parents to make bicycle safety a top priority. Recently, PedNet and City Hall's "Get About Columbia" program partnered to host a free awareness event, the Columbia Kids' Bike Workshop. The workshop championed one key goal: to "teach children how to ride safely on local streets and traffic." At the event, participants received instruction on safe bicycling, maintenance, and other important skills.

Bicycle safety essentials: Key tips for the parents of young bicyclists

• Require your child to wear properly fitting safety helmet when riding a bicycle. More children between ages five and 14 receive emergency room medical treatment for bicycle-related injuries than for injuries connected to any other sport. Since head injuries are an extremely common consequence of bicycle accidents, it's essential that young cyclists wear a helmet every single time they ride. Research indicates that safety helmets can reduce the risk of severe head injuries by as much as 88%. However, despite these findings, only about 45% of cyclists age 14 and under regularly wear a helmet. (To learn more about our law firm's bicycle helmet safety program, please click here.)

• Be a good role model. Children learn quickly from the examples set by their family members and caregivers. When you're bicycling with your child, model the safety practices you want to see your young cyclist adopt: wear a helmet, ride with traffic on the right side of the roadway, use hand signals to alert drivers to your intentions, and obey all traffic signs as signals. Doing so will also give you an opportunity to discuss the rules and responsibilities of the road with your children.

• Find ways to help your children see and be seen. It's challenging for young children to gauge a vehicle's speed and proximity. Experts recommend that you limit your child's riding area to sidewalks, parks and designated bicycle paths at least until they reach age 10: it takes practice to develop an awareness of the motorists traveling around you, and to anticipate their actions. And it's wise to equip your children (and their bicycle) with lights and reflectors to make them easier to see at dawn, dusk and after dark.

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Labor Day auto accidents caused injuries, fatalities throughout Missouri

September 3, 2013

traffic-jam-59308-m.jpgAs Columbia car accident lawyers, we know that an increased number of Missouri crashes tend to occur over holiday weekends, largely due to contributing factors like heavy roadway traffic and alcohol use. Recently, the Missouri Highway Patrol released 2013's Labor Day crash statistics, which provide an overview of traffic and waterway incidents that happened during this year's holiday counting period, which began on Friday, August 30 at 6:00 p.m. and ended on Monday, September 2 at 11:59 p.m.

During that time period, Missouri law enforcement officials investigated 248 auto accidents statewide, compared to 201 crashes during the same time frame in 2012. Officers statewide also participated in Operation C.A.R.E. (Combined Accident Reduction Effort) over the weekend, meaning all available officers were on patrol, aiming to enforce state laws related to speed limits, seat belt usage, and driving under the influence, while also being on-hand to provide assistance to motorists in need. Additionally, officers took part in an initiative known as "The 20 Mile Trooper Project," meaning officers were positioned at 20 mile intervals on highways and roadways throughout the state. This year's patrol efforts were of particular importance: Missouri crashes, which had been steadily declining for the past six consecutive years, spiked during this time period in 2012.

Labor Day Weekend in Missouri: Data from the Missouri Highway Patrol

• During the 2013 Labor Day Holiday, seven people were killed and at least 112 more suffered injuries in Missouri accidents.

• Highway Patrol troopers arrested 119 motorists for driving while intoxicated. Comparatively, 147 people were arrested for drunk driving during the 2012 holiday weekend.

• No boating fatalities were reported by the Patrol this year, but troopers responded to nine boating accidents involving seven injured boaters. In addition, 14 people were arrested for boating while intoxicated.

• Here in Columbia, officers participated in sobriety checkpoints on both Friday and Saturday evening. Nearly 620 motorists were stopped at these checkpoints, according to the Columbia Missourian: ultimately, eight people were arrested for drunk driving and two others were charged with minor in possession of alcohol by consumption.

Facts about Labor Day Weekend Accidents from the National Safety Council (NSC):

• Nationwide, the NSC estimates that motor vehicle collisions caused about 400 fatal accidents and an additional 42,000 injuries requiring medical treatment over the Labor Day Holiday.

• Further, the Council reports that at least 143 lives were saved over the holiday because vehicle occupants opted to wear safety belts. An additional 99 more lives could have been spared if everyone on the road had chosen to buckle up.

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Today's teenagers more likely to wear buckle up, drive sober, but 1 in 3 admit to texting and driving

August 15, 2013

girlwithphone.jpgAs Columbia personal injury lawyers, we know that texting and driving poses a serious threat to roadway safety - and that young drivers are especially prone to this form of distraction. A 2011 study conducted by the Ad Council found that 77% of teen drivers felt "very or somewhat confident that they could safely text while driving." What's more, the Centers for Disease Control's most recent National Youth Risk Behavior Survey revealed alarming data about teens' texting and driving habits. The results of the nationwide survey, which assesses health-risk behaviors among young people, were a mixed bag of good news and bad news. While teen drivers have shown "significant process" in areas like seat belt usage and drunk driving, distraction (particularly texting and emailing) remains a prominent risk factor.

"We are encouraged that more of today's high school students are choosing healthier, safer behaviors, such as wearing seat belts, and are avoiding behaviors that we know can cause them harm, such as binge drinking or riding with impaired drivers," said Howell Wechsler, director of the CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health, in a news release. "However, these findings also show that despite improvements, there is a continued need for government agencies, community organizations, schools, parents, and other community members to work together to address the range of risk behaviors prevalent among our youth."

Significant findings of the CDC's National Youth Risk Behavior Survey:

• Over the last 20 years, the number of teen drivers who never or rarely wear seat belts has dropped dramatically (from 26% in 1991 to 8% in 2011).

• Within the same time period, the number of teens who admitted to riding in a vehicle operated by a drunk driver also declined (from 40 to 24).

• Only 8% of teen drivers said they had driven a vehicle after drinking alcohol within the last 30 days, compared to 17% in 1997.

• However, about 1 out of 3 teens (32.8%) said they had sent at least one text message or email while driving within the previous 30 days.

U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called texting and driving "an epidemic" when he released the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's official "Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving." The Blueprint outlines a practical, comprehensive strategy to reduce distracted driving accidents throughout the country. "We need to teach kids, who are the most vulnerable drivers, that texting and driving don't mix," LaHood said at a news conference.

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One person killed, 16 injured when man drives into crowd of pedestrians

boardwalk2.jpgBecause pedestrians have nothing to shield them from the force of a vehicle's impact, pedestrians are extremely vulnerable to serious, life-threatening injury when they're involved in car accidents. Our Missouri personal injury lawyers know there are a number of common factors that contribute to pedestrian accidents, including speeding, reckless driving, and driver distraction. However, though it's hard to believe, there are some collisions that simply aren't accidents at all.

This week, a Colorado man pleaded not guilty to one count of murder, 16 counts of assault with a deadly weapon, and 17 counts of hit and run after he drove around a vehicle barrier and into a crowd of pedestrians on the Venice Beach boardwalk. Authorities told NBC Southern California that 38 year-old Nathan Louis Campbell has been accused of intentionally driving his vehicle onto the boardwalk, killing one woman (32 year-old Alice Gruppioni, an Italian woman who was visiting Los Angeles on her honeymoon) and injuring 16 others.

Surveillance video footage shows Campbell driving a Dodge Avenger into the crowd on the boardwalk, striking several pedestrians without stopping. "There was no indication that he knew anybody that he hit," Los Angeles Police Department Commander Andy Smith told CNN. "It looks like this guy wanted to run over a bunch of people. One guy bent on doing evil." Eventually, Campbell abandoned the vehicle and ran away on foot, but turned himself into police within a matter of hours, saying he was "connected" to the incident. Investigators and witnesses believe he intentionally drove into the crowd, but Campbell's lawyer maintains that the incident was just a "horrible accident." Campbell's bail has been set at $1.48 million. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.

Pedestrian accidents: The facts

• Within the next 24 hours, an average 460 people will receive emergency room medical treatment for traffic-related pedestrian injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Within the next two hours, a pedestrian will be killed in a traffic crash.

• On each trip, pedestrians are 1.5 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to suffer fatal injuries in a motor vehicle accident.

• The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that 4,432 pedestrians were killed and over 69,000 suffered injury in 2011 auto accidents.

• The CDC says "higher vehicle speeds increase both the likelihood of a pedestrian being struck by a car and the severity of injury."

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Missouri Water Patrol releases drowning, boating accident statistics

648678_sparks.jpgOur Columbia personal injury lawyers know that Missouri's waterways experience more traffic during the warm summer months. Many people take advantage of the beautiful weather by hitting Missouri's bodies of water for various forms of recreation, like boating, fishing and swimming. Unfortunately, increased activity on waterways during the summertime tends to increase the number of accidents that take place. To raise and promote water safety awareness, the state of Missouri has implemented an annual initiative called "Operation Dry Water," which is a national campaign that raises awareness of the dangers accompanied with boating under the influence (BUI) by highlighting enforcement efforts.

This year Operation Dry Water held their fifth national campaign during the weekend of June 28-30. In Missouri, troopers inspected 747 vessels and 1,405 boaters in total. The boat inspections led to 14 arrests for boating while intoxicated. Along with BUI arrests, the Missouri Water Patrol had 114 boating violations, 482 warnings, and 82 non-boating violations. The special sobriety checkpoints, saturations, and heightened awareness during normal patrols helped detect and remove hazards from state waterways.

As is customary in Missouri, many people were out enjoying the water over the Fourth of July holiday. During the holiday counting period (July 3rd through July 8th), troopers investigated 17 boating crashes and 11 injuries. In addition, 17 people were arrested for boating while intoxicated and 3 people drowned. Comparatively, during the 2012 Fourth of July holiday, there were six crashes with two injuries; seven arrests for boating while intoxicated; one drowning; and two electrocutions. Authorities say the increase in water fatalities can be partly attributed to a longer holiday counting period this year.

Alarmingly, our state has experienced a large increase in the number of water fatalities this year. The number of drownings has tripled in Missouri, compared to 2012. Thus far, 24 people have drowned in Missouri - last year, at the same time, eight people had drowned, reports the Kansas City Star. The Army Corps of Engineers connects the increase in drownings to busier public beaches and unnoticed slips under water. The Corps highly recommends that people use life jackets and/or other floating devices to help reduce water safety risks.

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Hands-free isn't risk-free: New distracted driving study reveals dangers of hands-free devices

bluetooth_headset_2.jpgIt's no secret that distracted driving is a common factor in many fatal auto accidents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), distracted driving contributes to more than 9 deaths and 1,060 injuries every day in the United States. As our Columbia car accident lawyers know, cell phone use is one of the most notorious forms of distraction, and texting has proven to be especially hazardous for drivers. Texting requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention, meaning it takes a driver's eyes off the road, his hands off the wheel, and his mind off the task of driving. In recent years, new forms of "hands-free" technology have been developed to help discourage driver distraction. However, new studies have recently found that hands-free devices may actually just create a new - and dangerous - source of distraction.

A recent study conducted by Dr. David Strayer
and researchers at the University of Utah observed changes in brainwaves, eye movement and other mental capacities when drivers attempted to "multi-task" while operating motor vehicles. To fully examine the effect of these activities on brain function, researchers had drivers engage in relatively common activities: listening to the radio, listening to audio books, talking on the phone, and listening or responding to voice-activated emails. After observing the effects of these cognitive distractions, researchers were able to identify three levels of mental distraction, according to the severity of the distraction created by different tasks. The first category includes tasks that create minimal risks for drivers, such as listening to the radio. The second category consists of more hazardous tasks that create moderate roadway risks, including talking on a cell phone (whether the device is handheld or hands-free). The third category is comprised of the most risky roadway tasks, which include listening and responding to in-vehicle devices and voice-activated features on cellular devices.

According to the study, hands-free and voice-activated devices require drivers to focus on responding to those devices, which lessens the amount of brain activity associated with driving. In other words, the cognitive demands of responding to voice automated devices create hazards for the driver because of the increased mental workload. "These new, speech-based technologies in the car can overload the driver's attention and impair their ability to drive safely," said Dr. Strayer, a Professor of Cognition and Neural Science. "An unintended consequence of trying to make driving safer - by moving to speech-to-text, in-vehicle systems - may actually overload the driver and make them less safe."

These recent findings have led many safety organizations to warn manufacturers and the general public of the dangers accompanied with voice-activated and hands-free devices. In response to Dr. Strayer's study, Robert Darbelnet, President and CEO of AAA, made a statement urging manufacturers of vehicle and electronic devices to consider the risks of building "potentially dangerous mental distractions" into vehicles. Darbelnet also advises manufacturers to add devices that disable voice-activated electronics while vehicles are in use. "Specifically, these increasingly common voice-driven, in-vehicle technologies should be limited to use for just core driving tasks unless the activity results in no significant driver distraction," Darbelnet said.

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Missouri in the minority when it comes to texting and driving laws

683316_mobile_communications.jpgAs our Columbia personal injury lawyers know, texting while driving is a key contributing factor in many serious car accidents. And yet, at present, Missouri is one of only six states that are holding off on enacting a texting ban for drivers of all ages. Our only current texting and driving law exclusively applies to drivers under age 21. This year, Missouri lawmakers will not pass a bill expanding the ban to include all drivers. Many safety authorities have argued that expanding the law would significantly reduce the risk of auto fatalities, especially here in Missouri: in 2012, the Missouri Highway Patrol attributed 1,600 accidents to some form of cellphone usage.

State law enforcement officials report that it's been extremely difficult to enforce the current law, leaving many citizens concerned that the ban is not being enforced at all. According to CBS St. Louis, only 70 drivers were ticketed for cellphone usage in 2012, and there are no records that document how many of those drivers were actually convicted of the offense. It is very difficult for officers to identify texting drivers, because many hide their phones below the window or in other areas that are hard to see from the exterior. Another issue is determining the age of the driver from a distance. Some lawmakers agree that expanding the texting and driving ban would help police identify offenders. Currently, lawmakers are considering all the possibilities to create safe roadways for all motorists.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), texting drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash. Nowadays, cell phones are a staple of modern life, leading many drivers to check their phones frequently for incoming calls, texts and emails. Many motorists do not fully recognize the dangers associated with texting and driving and the increased risk to everyone on the road. Distraction.gov reports that the average time it takes a driver to send or receive a text (approximately 4.6 seconds) is equivalent to driving the length of a football field blind at 55 mph. The dangers accompanied with texting and driving are serious and can cause deadly crashes.

It's also important to remember that distracted driving is not always associated with cellphone usage: in fact, anything that takes your eyes off of the road can be a potentially dangerous distraction. Simple tasks are among the most common distracting behaviors. Tasks such as eating, drinking, talking to passengers, operating navigation systems, and adjusting radio or car settings can be risky on the road. To prevent distracted driving, try to eliminate anything that will take your attention off the road. Set your navigation and other settings before you begin to travel. Always remember that you can pull over to the side of the road if you need to adjust settings or direct your attention to something other than driving.

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Train/vehicle collisions often occur at railroad crossings, cause fatal injuries

1397213_crossing_light.jpgAs Columbia auto accident lawyers, we know that collisions involving passenger vehicles and trains are often deadly. Research indicates that passenger vehicle occupants are 40 times more likely to be killed in train/vehicle collisions than in accidents involving two passenger vehicles. Sadly, around two-thirds of these crashes "occur during daylight hours, in crossings equipped with automatic warning devices."

Recently, two young children were killed when their mother attempted to drive around lowered crossing gates at an Iowa railroad crossing, causing the family's minivan to be struck by an oncoming train. Police say 25 year-old Tara Lewman had initially stopped at the crossing, where a freight train was stopped on the tracks. Ultimately, however, Newman drove around the crossing's lowered gates and pulled in front of the stopped train, apparently unaware that another set of tracks ran parallel to the tracks where the freight train was stopped. The stopped train reportedly obscured Lewman's view of an oncoming train on the second set of tracks, and her van was struck on the passenger side, killing two of her three children, 4 year-old Erika Clark and 5 year-old Kallie Clark. Lewman and another daughter, 1 year-old Jordan Clark, were also injured in the collision: Jordan Clark remains hospitalized, but Lewman has since been released.

In the wake of this tragic accident, the Iowa Highway Patrol's Sergeant Scott Bright reminded drivers of the importance of yielding to gates, lights and other warning signals at railroad crossings. "They're down for a reason. People need to stop and wait until the cross buck goes back up and then proceed," Bright told KCCI News.

Auto accidents and railroad crossings: A few facts and statistics

• Nationwide, there are over 210,000 railroad crossings, according to the Angels on Track Foundation. Of that number, nearly 130,000 intersect with public roadways.

• A person or vehicle is struck by a train about every 3 hours, reports Operation Lifesaver.

• In 2012, there were 1,960 collisions at railroad crossings throughout the continental United States. These collisions resulted in 235 deaths and more than 900 injury victims.

• An average locomotive weighs about 400,000 pounds (200 tons) and can weigh as much as 6,000 tons, meaning "the weight ratio of a car to a train [is] proportional to that of a soda can to a car."

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Hit and run drivers can face criminal charges, personal injury lawsuits

1191524__broken_window.jpgWhen you're involved in an accident, the law requires you to stop, provide your personal information, and, when needed, assist anyone who may have been injured. Unfortunately, as our Columbia personal injury lawyers know all too well, not all drivers follow the law.

Recently, a Tennessee man was found guilty of 11 criminal offenses associated with a hit and run accident that killed a young woman, her unborn child, and a Good Samaritan. Witnesses testified that the driver, 23 year-old Curtis Harper had been drinking on the evening of May 30, 2012, when he struck 24 year-old Chasity Thornell and 45 year-old Nelson Soto Sr. as the two stood along the side of the road. According to police, Thornell, who was seven months pregnant, had gone to help a friend who ran out of gas in front of Soto's house. Soto, who had just arrived home from work, assisted the two women. Thornell was reportedly hugging Soto in thanks when the two were struck by Harper's vehicle.

Investigators say both victims were dragged a significant distance following impact. Soto was found about 123 feet away from the point of impact, while Thornell was found 164.5 feet away from where she was struck. Both victims and Thornell's unborn child were pronounced dead at the scene. At Harper's trial, his roommate and several friends testified that Harper had been drinking on May 30 and that he tried to cover up his role in the accident by washing blood and hair from his vehicle and planning to have the damage repaired out-of-state. Ultimately, Harper was convicted of three counts of vehicular homicide by DUI, three counts of vehicular homicide by reckless conduct, and one count each of DUI, tampering with evidence, reckless endangerment and leaving the scene of a fatal crash. An eleventh charge (DUI second offense) was added when it was revealed that Harper was also convicted of drunk driving in 2009. He now faces more than 46 years in jail and over $100,000 in fines.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety,
about 11% of all police-reported crashes involve a hit and run driver, and about 1500 are killed annually in U.S. hit and run accidents. Around 60% of hit and run fatality victims are pedestrians, the Foundation reports. So, why do drivers hit and run? "It's the way of avoiding responsibility," Jack Levin, a criminal justice expert at Northeastern University, told The Stoughton Journal in December. "The hit-and-run driver knows the consequences and can't face them." Experts say that drivers who flee the scene of a crash often do so because they are guilty of other offenses, like driving without a license, driving without insurance and driving under the influence.

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Negligent and careless drivers increase bicycle accident risks for children

675925_adventure_in_the_mountain_1.jpgAs temperatures grow warm and the end of the school year draws near, Columbia drivers will want to be on the lookout for young bicyclists in our city's neighborhoods. At this time of year, our Missouri personal injury lawyers want to encourage all motorists - and parents - to keep bicycle safety in mind. Research indicates that child injuries and fatalities caused by bicycle accidents can be reduced, provided parents discuss safe riding practices with their children, but drivers must also be proactive and responsible in order to keep young riders safe. When motorists are careless or negligent, they place our community's children at risk.

Last week, an Illinois judge sentenced a Skokie woman to five years in prison for causing a crash that killed a second-grader on his bicycle. Last May, authorities say 24 year-old Hanin Goma was attempting to make a left turn when she collided with an eastbound van. The impact caused Goma's vehicle to spin over the median, careen onto the sidewalk and strike 8 year-old Carter Vo. Carter's bicycle was forced into a parked car, and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Ultimately, Goma pleaded guilty to one felony count of aggravated driving under the influence resulting in death and one misdemeanor count of driving under the influence of drugs. Law enforcement officials say Goma tested positive for marijuana and amphetamines after the accident, and she admitted to smoking marijuana earlier in the day.

Last summer, Carter's elementary school organized a community bike ride to honor the second-grader's memory and to reassure his classmates and their parents, many of whom were feeling anxious about bicycle safety in the aftermath of the accident. Hundreds of people in the community participated in the event. "It was really shocking and scary for us parents to know that anything can happen," said Marilou Castillo, who attended the event with her three young sons. "We just have to pay attention to safety as best we can."

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Missouri motorcyclists extremely vulnerable to injury in crashes involving passenger vehicles

1115272_harley_davidson_indicator_focus.jpgIn 2010, there were approximately 8.2 million motorcycles registered in the United States, and that number continues to grow each year. With such a large motorcycle population on the road in Columbia, Missouri, it's all the more essential that other drivers treat riders with courtesy and respect, and that all motorists work together to share the road safely. After all, when another vehicle is involved in a collision with the motorcycle, the motorcyclist is extremely vulnerable to serious, life-threatening injury, in large part because riders lack the protection of an enclosed vehicle. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the number of deaths on motorcycles was approximately 30 times the number in cars per mile traveled in 2010.

A recent fatal crash in Delaware underscores the very real dangers facing motorcyclists and their passengers. On Tuesday, a woman was killed and her husband was seriously injured after a car pulled into their motorcycle's path. The Delaware News Journal reports that the couple's 2000 Harley-Davidson struck the front left corner of a vehicle that was exiting a private business and failed to yield the right of way to the oncoming bike. The Harley's passenger, 48 year-old Judy Kibler, was ejected from the motorcycle and pronounced dead at the scene. Her husband, 49 year-old Lawrence Kibler, was also ejected and remains hospitalized in critical condition. Neither of the Kiblers was wearing a helmet, but Delaware state law only requires helmet use in riders age 18 and younger.

Meanwhile, the driver of the other vehicle, 20 year-old Ann Breeding, was not injured in the collision. The accident is currently under investigation by the Delaware State Police Reconstruction Unit, and criminal charges against Breeding are reportedly pending.

Facts about motorcycle accidents involving other passenger vehicles:

• About 40% of fatal two-vehicle motorcycle accidents in 2011 occurred when another vehicle turned left as a motorcyclist was going straight, passing or overtaking the vehicle.

• According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 50% of motorcycle-vehicle collisions occur in intersections, often because a turning driver doesn't see an oncoming rider or fails to yield the right of way.

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Spring safety tips for Missouri pedestrians

1181506_one_step_2.jpgThough it doesn't feel much like spring today, recent weather forecasts promise that we can expect warmer temperatures in the weeks and months ahead. And when the weather's suitable, there tends to be an increased number of pedestrians on and along Columbia's roadways. In this post, our Missouri personal injury lawyers discuss pedestrian traffic accidents and recommend a few safety precautions for Missourians who plan to travel by foot this spring.

Pedestrian accidents: The facts

• According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 4,432 pedestrians were killed and more than 69,000 were injured in 2011 motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. Pedestrians account for approximately 14% of all auto accident fatalities.

• Within the next 24-hour period, an average 324 people will receive emergency medical treatment for pedestrian-related injuries, reports the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

• Data from the Missouri Highway Patrol reveals that 91.2% of 2011 pedestrian traffic crashes resulted in injuries or fatalities, where only 36.3% of all traffic crashes caused someone to be killed or injured.

• Fatal accidents involving pedestrians are more likely to happen in urban areas, and they often occur on crosswalks, sidewalks, median strips and traffic islands.

Safety tips for Missouri pedestrians

Obey all signs and signals. Follow all pedestrian signals, but don't rely on these signals alone. Unfortunately, the fact that you have the right of way doesn't guarantee that other vehicles will stop for you.

Take steps to make yourself visible to drivers. When you're traveling by foot, wear white or light colors to make it easier for drivers to see you. Use reflectors and a flashlight when walking at night. When you're preparing to cross the street, be sure to stand clear of obstructions (such as parked vehicles, hedges, etc.) so approaching drivers will know you're there.

Stay focused on what's happening around you. In today's world, distractedness is proving to be just as hazardous to pedestrians as it is to drivers. A study published in the journal Injury Prevention found that nearly one out of three pedestrians is using a mobile device while attempting to cross a busy roadway. Furthermore, texting pedestrians were four times less likely to follow safety rules. Your best chance of avoiding involvement in a pedestrian accident is to pay close attention to the vehicles traveling near you.

Use extra care when crossing. When possible, use designated pedestrian crossings, as drivers are more likely to anticipate foot traffic in such crosswalks. Before stepping into the roadway, always look left, then right, then left again - and keep your eyes peeled for turning vehicles.

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Distracted driving dangers: Preventing distraction-related car accidents in Columbia and throughout Missouri

file000897811811.jpgAccording to a recent study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, nine out of 10 U.S. drivers believe that distracted driving is a bigger problem now than it was a mere three years ago. Unbelievably, despite growing awareness of this problem, 53% of survey respondents admitted to sending texts or emails while behind the wheel. "As a safety advocate, AAA finds it concerning that the majority of motorists recognize distracted driving dangers, yet choose to engage in them anyway," said Linda Gorman, director of communications and public affairs for AAA Arizona. "Drivers of all ages contribute to this problem. However, this issue tends to be more prevalent among young drivers, as electronic devices, such as cell phones, are proven to be the most common form of distraction for teens."

Facts about distraction and its effect on driving performance:

• There are four basic kinds of distraction: visual (looking at something besides the road); cognitive (thinking about something other than driving); physical (using your hands to perform a non-driving related task); and auditory (listening to something not associated with driving). Depending on the cause of a driver's distractedness, more than one of these forms of distraction may occur at the same time.

• Numerous studies indicate that all forms of distraction have a detrimental effect on driving performance. However, texting is widely viewed as the most "alarming" source of distractedness because it involves three of the four basic kinds of distraction (visual, cognitive and physical). Texting drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash than non-distracted drivers.

• While texting may be one of the most driving risky behaviors, it's certainly not the only distraction that can increase a driver's risk of having an auto accident. Other potentially dangerous non-driving related tasks include using a cell phone (whether it's hand-held or hands-free), eating and drinking, talking to passengers, reaching for objects, and fiddling with the radio. Trying to perform any of these tasks while behind the wheel reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving, making you less likely to identify potential roadway emergencies and respond to them promptly and safely.

Avoiding distraction: Tips for Columbia drivers

• Turn off your electronic devices when you're behind the wheel. Stowing them where you can't see or reach them can help you avoid the temptation to use them while driving. If you can't turn off or silence your phone while you're driving, pull over in a safe location to answer important calls or messages.

• If you're traveling with passengers, have a companion answer any calls or messages that can't wait until you arrive at your destination.

• Don't try to save time by performing certain tasks during your drive-time. If you're short on time, don't try to make up a few minutes by eating or grooming while you're behind the wheel.

• Remember that safe travel (for you, your passengers, and the other motorists traveling near you) should be your number one priority. The vast majority of non-driving related tasks can wait until you've arrived safely at your destination. Help reduce preventable accidents caused by driver distraction, and keep your attention on the road.

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