Fiery CA accident involved FedEx truck, high school bus

asphalt-3-724075-m.jpgYesterday, ten people were killed in northern California when a FedEx truck veered across a grassy highway median and struck a bus filled with high school students en route to a college visit, causing an explosion. According to USA Today, the truck driver and the bus driver were among the dead, along with eight passengers on the bus. In addition, an estimated 36 or 37 other bus occupants suffered injuries ranging from life-threatening to minor. The victims were reported to suffer burns, broken bones, and head injuries. First responders reported that the aftermath was nothing short of catastrophic. "The victims were all teenage kids. A lot of them were freaked out. They were shocked. They still couldn't grasp what happened," said Jason Wyman of the Volunteer Fire Department in Orland, CA. In the coming weeks, authorities and safety officials will conduct an investigation into what factors may have contributed to this terrible crash.

Because of their massive size and weight, accidents involving large commercial trucks can be extremely dangerous for other vehicle occupants. Here are a few factors that commonly play a role in these crashes.

• Driver fatigue. Truck drivers are notorious for working long hours with little rest, and research indicates that fatigue plays in a key role in many collisions involving large commercial trucks. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), truckers are twice as likely to crash after driving for more than eight hours at a time.

• Nighttime driving. Driving after dark can be tricky for all motorists. In low-light conditions, a driver's depth perception and peripheral vision are not as sharp as they are during the daylight hours, which makes it even more difficult to judge a semi's speed and proximity. Federal data reveals that roadway fatalities happen at a rate three times greater at night compared to the daytime.

• Inclement weather. Conditions like rain, snow and fog can complicate roadway travel, especially for semi-trucks, which can be even more difficult to maneuver in poor weather.

• Driver inexperience. Young drivers tend to have higher accident risks, regardless of what kind of vehicle they're operating. The IIHS reports that research "conducted in Australia, New Zealand and the United States [indicates] that truck drivers younger than 21 and in their 20s have a higher rate of involvement in both fatal and nonfatal crashes than older drivers."

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Talking with teens about drunk driving risks: Strategies and tips for Missouri parents

file000739321417.jpgThe end of the school year will be here before we know it, and Missouri high school students are beginning to plan for big events like prom and graduation. It's a great time for parents to talk with their teen drivers about the dangers of driving under the influence (and of riding with impaired drivers). As personal injury lawyers, we know that teen drunk driving accidents are all too common: in fact, approximately 25% of fatal crashes involving teen drivers also involve alcohol.

Parenting expert Dr. Michelle Borba offers several useful tips to help parents approach this topic with the teen drivers in their lives. Dr. Borba's advice is especially useful because she offers specific, practical methods that parents can easily implement. "Adolescence has always been a time of experimentation," Dr. Borba says. "But the choices parents make and the conversations you have with your teen matter."

Here are a few of basic strategies she recommends:

1. Set clear rules against drinking.

Often, as parents, it can be tempting to put off a conversation until our children are "older." But the fact is that teens are being exposed to drugs and alcohol at extremely young ages. It's best to talk to your teen before a situation presents itself, rather than after it's already happened. Also, it doesn't matter whether or not your teen has a license and/or a vehicle - even if they don't, their friends do. According to Dr. Borba, when parents set clear boundaries and monitor activities, their teens are four times less likely to "engage in risky behaviors like drinking and driving."

2. Put a no drinking and driving rule in writing.

Dr. Borba says anything you can do to give your teen pause - to make them consider what they're doing just one more time - is worth doing. She suggests including the following provision: your teen agrees that drinking and driving (whether as driver or passenger) will mean an automatic loss of his/her license; you agree that your teen can call you for a ride any time, and keep his/her license. Importantly, you have to honor your end of the bargain: if you make your teens promise to call you for a ride, and then you lecture and punish them, it's unlikely that they'll call you for help again.

Dr. Borba also recommends the "waiting at the front door technique," where you hug your teen (smell for liquor and check eyes for redness), and ask how the party was (check speech patterns; smell breath; check for mints and gum to mask the smell). Again, if your teen realizes you're paying attention to these things, he or she may think twice before drinking.

3. Form an alliance with other parents.

80% of parents believe their teens are attending "substance free parties," but half of teens who attend parties say that drugs, alcohol, or both are available at high school gatherings. What's more, while 99% of parents say they would never serve alcohol at a teen's party, somehow 28% of teens have been served alcohol at parties supervised by parents. It's important to know your teen's friends' parents - simply calling to introduce yourself can make a world of difference. Then, you can always send a quick text to verify plans or confirm that a party is supervised.

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Join us on March 22 for Safe & Sound Saturday in downtown Springfield!

675926_adventure_in_the_mountain_2.jpgHere at Aaron Sachs and Associates, we're proud to be participating in "Safe and Sound Saturday" on Saturday, March 22, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Springfield Expo Center in downtown Springfield. The event, hosted by KY3 and KSPR, provides a chance for families to learn all about different kinds of safety, whether at home, at play or on the road. Members of our staff will be there to hand out bicycle helmets to local children in need and to discuss the importance of safety helmets in preventing bicycle accident injuries.

For nearly two decades, our firm has participated in a child safety helmet program that has provided thousands of helmets to children throughout Missouri. Since spring is nearly here, we think it's a good time to highlight the importance of safe bicycling and helmet use. We hope to see you at Safe and Sound Saturday!

Facts about auto accidents involving bicycles:

• According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), approximately 2% of all motor vehicle accident fatalities are bicyclists. In 2011, 675 cyclists were killed in crashes nationwide.

• Annually, about 300,000 children are treated in hospital emergency rooms for bicycle-related injuries, reports KidsHealth.org. Of that number, at least 10,000 suffer injuries that require hospitalization.

• During the summer months, child bicycling fatalities increase 45% above the monthly average throughout the year.

• Life-threatening head injuries are common in serious accidents involving bicycles. About 67% of cyclists who were fatally injured in 2011 were not wearing helmets.

• Bicycle helmet use has been proven to reduce head injury risks by as much as 85 to 88%.

• Safety helmets are essential, wherever you or your children are cycling: about one-half of all bicycle crashes happen in driveways or on sidewalks.

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Common questions from Missouri car accident victims

February 13, 2014

metal-570770-m.jpgAt Aaron Sachs and Associates, we work with car accident victims every single day, so we know that our clients often come to us with numerous questions and concerns. In this post, we discuss a few questions we commonly hear from injury victims.

Q: What should I do if I was hurt in the accident?

A: You should seek medical care for your injuries as soon as possible. Some injuries such as head, neck or back injuries can worsen unless you obtain prompt medical treatment. Be sure to tell the doctors about all of your injuries and any pain and discomfort stemming from the wreck: their records could help establish your claim for damages. Failing to get the care you need to recover could not only jeopardize your health, it could also negatively impact your claim.

Q: How will my medical bills get paid?

A: There may be several sources to pay your medical bills including your own health insurance, government benefits (such as Medicare or Medicaid), and/or medical payment coverage from an auto insurance policy. While some of these sources may require reimbursement from any settlement you receive in the future, using them to pay your medical bills should keep your balances current and could result in a higher net recovery when your case is resolved. The liability carrier for the responsible party typically will not pay medical expenses as they are incurred, but will wait until the final settlement. The same is also true of your own uninsured motorist coverage.

Q: Do I have to cooperate with insurance adjusters?

A: The answer depends on whether the adjuster is working for the other driver's insurance or your own insurance. If the adjuster is working for the other driver's insurance company, you have no duty to cooperate with the adjuster. You do not have to give the adjuster any information or a recorded statement. Most importantly, you do not have to sign any form or authorization sent to you by the other driver's insurance company. Your attorney will collect and provide the information the other driver's insurer may need to evaluate your claim while protecting your rights at the same time.

If the adjuster is working for your carrier, then your relationship is established by your policy, which is a contract between you and the insurance carrier. Most policies require that you cooperate with your insurance company in its investigation of your accident. That generally means, if asked, you must give a recorded statement about the accident. It is a good idea to consult with an attorney prior to giving a recorded statement, even to your own insurance company.

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Cell phones & semi-truck drivers: A dangerous combination for Missouri motorists

January 30, 2014

1412241_sunset.jpgIt's no secret that hand-held cell phone use is a common contributor to car accidents in Missouri and throughout the United States. As our personal injury lawyers know, numerous studies have indicated that cell phone use has a detrimental effect on a driver's performance. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) estimates that driver distraction plays a role in 15 to 20% of all crashes at all levels, from those that result in minor property damages to those that cause serious, life-threatening injury. And when the distracted driver is operating a large, heavy semi-truck, the potential for damage is even greater. In fact, the odds of being involved in a "safety-critical event" are 23.2 times higher for truckers who text while driving.

In January 2012, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FCMSA) passed new cell phone and text message restrictions that apply to drivers of commercial vehicles. Notably, the rules completely prohibit semi-truck drivers from texting when they're behind the wheel. Texting is defined as "manually entering alphanumeric text into, or reading text from, an electronic device. This includes, but is not limited to, short message service, e-mailing, instant messaging, a command or request to access a Web page, or pressing more than a single button to initiate or terminate a voice communication using a mobile phone." The rules do permit truckers to talk on their cell phones under certain circumstances, provided they're in compliance with the terms of the 2012 restrictions.

Frequently asked questions about distracted driving rules and commercial truck drivers

Under FCMSA guidelines, is there an acceptable way for semi-truck drivers to use cell phones when they're behind the wheel?
Drivers may use cell phones to conduct a vocal conversation, provided they meet the following criteria:

• The phone must be located so that the driver can access it while wearing a seat belt.
• The driver must use a headset or a speaker phone feature to conduct calls.
• The driver must use a single-touch button or voice-activated dialing to initiate calls.

Are truck drivers permitted to hold cell phones or dial numbers?
No. Holding a cell phone or dialing a phone number constitutes a violation of FMCSA rules. In fact, just reaching for a phone - even if the driver intends to use a hands-free feature - is prohibited.

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Avoiding car accidents: Winter weather tips for Missouri motorists

January 16, 2014

snow-1336027-m.jpgHere in southern Missouri, we've already had our fair share of snow and ice this season - and winter isn't over just yet. In this post, our Springfield personal injury lawyers discuss the facts about car accidents and winter weather, and review a few useful tips to help you travel safe.

Car accidents and inclement weather: Facts and statistics

• According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), driving when the weather is bad increases your risk of being involved in a crash. Poor weather directly affects several aspects of driving, including driver capabilities, vehicle performance, pavement friction and traffic flow.

• Annually, of all car accidents that happen nationwide, an estimated 24% (over 1.5 million crashes) are weather-related, meaning they "occur in adverse weather (i.e., rain, sleet, snow, and/or fog) or on slick pavement (i.e., wet pavement, snowy/slushy pavement, or icy pavement)."

• Weather-related accidents cause an average 7,130 deaths and over 629,000 injuries every year.

Taking precautions in winter weather: Tips to help you stay safe when driving in snow and ice

• Prepare - and double check - your vehicle before hitting the road. In particular, you'll want to make sure your battery is fully charged, your heating system is functioning properly, and your tires are in good condition (check air pressure and tread depth). It's also a good idea to fill up your gas tank and get an oil change if you have to travel a long distance.

• Carry an emergency travel kit, just in case. Being prepared for the worst can be life-saving, especially when the weather is bad. Be sure you pack an ice scraper, blankets, jumper cables, bottled water and non-perishable food items. And be sure you have appropriate clothing in case you have to deal with the elements.

• Buckle up. Wearing your seat belt is the easiest, most surefire way to reduce your risk of being injured in a crash - and that's true in all kinds of weather. Fasten that belt, and likewise, make sure your passengers are properly restrained - especially if you have young children on board.

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Loose objects in a vehicle can cause serious injuries when Missouri car accidents happen

October 15, 2013

3-cylinder-suitcase-353172-m.jpgWhen a serious car accident happens, the force of the two vehicles' impact can cause life-threatening injuries to vehicle occupants. However, it's not just vehicular impact that can lead to traumatic injury: research indicates that objects within a vehicle can cause deadly harm to passengers in the event of a crash.

Recently, a 16-month old Illinois boy was killed in Alorton when he was struck by a loose object during a car accident. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Marshawn Billops was riding in a vehicle that, for unknown reasons, struck a light pole, causing a television to strike him in the head as it was projected out of the backseat. Marshawn's mother and six year-old sister were treated for minor injuries, but Marshawn suffered serious head injuries and was ultimately airlifted to St. Louis Children's Hospital. He later died as a result of those injuries.

Car accidents and unsecured objects: What research reveals

• One study ("The Danger of Loose Objects in the Car: Challenges and Opportunities for Ubiquitous Computing") found that the passenger area of an average vehicle contains 4.3 potentially dangerous loose objects.

A 2011 European study conducted by Goodyear Dunlop found that, in the event of a car accident occurring at 50 kilometers per hour (around 32 miles per hour), an eight kilogram dog (approximately 18 pounds) can strike front seat passengers with a weight of up to 400 kilograms (approximately 882 pounds). "There is a major risk of objects within the car turning into missiles in an accident," said Jens Völmicke, Director of Corporate Communications for Goodyear Dunlop Europe. "For example, a glass bottle, laptop or toy kept in the back of the car will hit the front passenger with up to 50 times its own bodyweight in a collision at 50km/h."

Protecting yourself and your passengers from unsecured objects: Safety tips for Missouri drivers

• Use the truck or cargo area of your vehicle when you're packing for a trip - that way, you don't have to worry about loose items becoming projectiles in the event of a crash. When using a cargo area, use nets and tethers to secure the items you pack there.

• If you must put larger items in the passenger area of your vehicle, organize those items so that "the maximum amount of surface area makes contact with the backseats, and [position them] in such a manner that would prevent movement or shifting," recommends CultureOfSafety.com.

• Keep loose personal items - cell phones, sunglasses, etc. - stowed in your glove compartment or console. Even a small object can cause injury to vehicle occupants in the event of a collision.

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Missouri drivers cautioned about increased car accident risks during deer mating season

white-tail-deer-1-1224735-m.jpgThis week, the Missouri Highway Patrol issued a news release cautioning drivers about the danger of deer-vehicle collisions during the months ahead. In this post, our Springfield personal injury lawyers share some facts about car accidents involving deer, along with a few tips to help you travel safely this fall.

Deer-vehicle collisions: The facts

• In 2012, Missouri drivers were involved in 3,980 collisions where a deer-vehicle strike occurred, reports the Highway Patrol. These accidents resulted in five fatalities and over 400 injuries.

• Nationwide, State Farm Insurance estimates that 1.22 million accidents were "caused by the presence of deer" between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013. And the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) estimates that deer-vehicle collisions result in about 200 deaths each year.

• Deer-vehicle collisions are three times more likely to occur in November than they are on any day between the beginning of February and the end of August. October is the second most at-risk month for these kinds of accidents, and December is third.

• At this time of year, deer tend to be more active because it is their mating season. Further, activities like hunting and crop harvesting may also cause increased deer activity and sightings during the autumn months.

Avoiding a deer-vehicle collision: Tips from the Missouri Highway Patrol

• If you see a deer along or in a roadway, you should slow down immediately and proceed with caution. Deer tend to travel in groups, so if you see one, you should assume there are likely others in the vicinity. Also, be sure to look out for deer in areas marked with deer crossing signage.

• Be especially alert for deer activity on roadways near streams, wooded areas or farmland. Deer often venture onto roadways in these locations.

• Remember that deer are the most prone to activity in the evening hours between 6:00 and 9:00 p.m. Since visibility is also limited during this time of day, you should use extra care when driving at and after dusk.

• When encountering a deer on the road, many drivers' first instinct is to try and swerve out of the way to avoid hitting the animal. However, safety experts say doing so could easily lead to overcorrection, which can cause your vehicle to roll over, careen into oncoming traffic, or strike another roadside object, like a tree. If you see a deer in your path, brake firmly and resist the impulse to yank the steering wheel sharply.

• However, you shouldn't assume that you're only at risk for a deer-vehicle collision in rural areas. According to the Patrol, 25.5% of 2012 collisions involving deer occurred in urban environments.

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HB339 limits recovery in Missouri personal injury lawsuits

September 18, 2013

car-crash-274334-m.jpgDuring the Missouri legislature's veto session on September 11, 2013, state lawmakers overrode 10 of Governor Nixon's vetoes, including Nixon's veto of House Bill 339. This new law places restrictions on personal injury lawsuits filed by uninsured motorists who are injured in Missouri auto accidents. Under HB339, drivers who are injured in accidents and who have not been insured by at least six months prior to the accident are not permitted to seek non-economic damages from insured drivers, even when the insured driver caused the crash.

Originally, the bill's supporters said it would prevent uninsured motorists from "driving up costs for the system," but in his veto letter, Governor Nixon expressed serious concerns about potential issues and ambiguities in the way the law is written: "House Bill Number 339 cannot receive my approval because it is riddled with ambiguity that will generate excessive litigation over how and to whom its provisions would apply. Significantly, House Bill Number 339 does not adequately define the term 'uninsured motorist,' which is the very crux of the bill...Given the magnitude of barring an individual's access to the courts, it is unacceptable to leave this key term open to interpretation."

However, state lawmakers ultimately disagreed with Governor Nixon. The override was approved on a 109-51 vote in the House, which is the bare minimum required for the two-thirds majority necessary to override a gubernatorial veto, and then passed by a wider margin - 26-8 - in the Senate. Supporters - including insurance companies - celebrated the decision, saying the bill "encourages motorists to purchase insurance so they are adequately protected." Opponents, however, continue to echo Governor Nixon's concerns about the potential problems the bill could create - and also point out that existing state laws already mandate penalties for uninsured drivers.

Facts about Missouri HB339:

• The term "non-economic damages" refers to monies for damages like pain and suffering, emotional distress, scarring and disfigurement.

• The law applies to uninsured drivers who own their vehicles as well as uninsured permissive drivers of the vehicle and uninsured non-permissive drivers. It does not apply to passengers.

• The restrictions outlined in HB339 do not apply if insured at-fault drivers were under the influence of drugs or alcohol when the accident occurred, or if these drivers were convicted of involuntary manslaughter or second-degree assault in connection with the crash.

• The restrictions do not prevent uninsured accident victims from recovering economic damages (such as medical expenses, lost wages, etc.).

• The statute will take effect on October 11, 2013, so accident victims will want to seek legal advice as soon as possible to ensure their rights are protected.

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Positive Train Control technology could prevent fatal train accidents in Missouri, nationwide

September 4, 2013

railway-1382856-m.jpgAs Missouri personal injury lawyers, we know that train accidents are - thankfully - a rare occurrence, but when they do happen, the potential for serious, life-threatening injuries is extremely high. Within the past decade, officials from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have investigated 27 separate train accidents nationwide - accidents that claimed 63 lives, caused injury to approximately 1,200 people, and resulted in millions of dollars in property damage. What's more, in 1970, the NTSB began recommending the implementation of technology that could've prevented all of those accidents: a system known as Positive Train Control (PTC). As of today, that technology is still not in use.

According to the Association of American Railroads, PTC "describes technology designed to automatically stop or slow a train before certain accidents occur. In particular, PTC is designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, derailments caused by excessive speed, unauthorized incursions by trains onto sections of track where repairs are being made and movement of a train through a track switch left in the wrong position." In 2008, Congress passed a law requiring that PTC systems be implemented by December 31, 2015. However, in recent weeks, media outlets have reported that "only a handful" of U.S. railroads will meet that deadline - in fact, the railroad industry claims that "they face logistical and technological hurdles" and need more time to implement the systems, even though billions of dollars have already been spent on PTC. Now, a new bill has been introduced that seeks to extend the deadline for at least another five years.

Officials from the Association for American Railroads claim that the industry isn't trying to avoid the mandate, but other advocacy groups have criticized the industry for its failure to adopt PTC technology in a timely fashion. "When they are pushing for a five-year extension with no changes you have to wonder if they aren't hoping that some deregulatory White House will come along before then and just lift the burden," Ross Capon, president and CEO of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, told MSN News.

PTC technology is designed to prevent accidents like the following:

• January 2005: Two trains collided in Graniteville, South Carolina, causing a chlorine gas tank car to be punctured when it derailed and subsequently release a dangerous toxic cloud. Hundreds of people suffered injury, nine people died, and a nearby textile plant sustained considerable damage and ultimately closed down.

• September 2008: A freight train and a Metrolink commuter train collided head-on near Los Angeles, California, resulting in 25 deaths and more than 100 injuries. In that accident, the engineer of the Metrolink train was reportedly distracted by text messages on his cell phone.

• July 2013: Dozens of people were injured and 79 were killed when a train traveling twice the speed limit derailed in Spain.

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Teen siblings killed in Webster County when truck overturns into the James River

memorial2.JPGHere at Aaron Sachs and Associates, our Missouri personal injury lawyers were saddened to learn of a recent accident that claimed the lives of two teen siblings from our area. KY3 reports that 17 year-old Dara Hensley and her 15 year-old brother Noah were pronounced dead at the scene of the accident, which occurred shortly after 2:00 p.m. Wednesday on Highway A in Webster County, between Marshfield and Diggins. According to Sergeant Jason Pace, spokesman for the Missouri Highway Patrol, Dara Hensley was northbound in a 2007 Toyota Tundra when the vehicle struck a bridge guardrail, ran off the bridge, overturned, and flipped into the James River.

A water rescue team from the Springfield Fire Department responded to the crash, along with firefighters from Marshfield and Logan-Rogersville. The truck was found submerged in 10 to 15 feet of water, but investigators believe the siblings both died of injuries they sustained in the accident. Both were wearing seat belts at the time of the crash. The Patrol continues to investigate what factors might have caused the Tundra to strike the guardrail, but Sgt. Pace says the accident does not appear to be related to weather conditions or high water in the James River.

Today, members of the Hensleys' church youth group are remembering their lost friends. At the time of the crash, Dara and Noah were traveling from their home in Seymour to Hillside Christian Church in Marshfield, where they had planned to help their church group prepare for an upcoming rummage sale. Both siblings were actively involved with the church: Noah was the lead guitarist in the church's praise band, while Dara helped with technical aspects of services, operating the projector and providing technical assistance.

Visitation services for Dara and Noah Hensley will be held at noon this Saturday at Hillside Christian Church (769 Hillside Loop in Marshfield).

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Increase in Missouri car accidents over 2013 July 4th holiday

921217_crashed_car.jpgMany people celebrated this Fourth of July holiday by traveling to visit friends and families for barbeques and fireworks. Unfortunately, our Missouri personal injury lawyers know that holidays tend to come with an increased risk for car accidents, due to increased traffic on our state's roadways. Over this year's holiday counting period (which began Wednesday, July 3, 2013 and ended Sunday, July 8, 2013), the Missouri Highway Patrol worked 358 crashes throughout the state. Overall, there were 17 car accident fatalities and 157 people injured as a result of traffic crashes. Also, state police arrested 199 people for driving under the influence during this long holiday weekend.

No traffic fatalities occurred on Wednesday, July 3, 2013. However, 358 auto accidents took place between Thursday, July 4 and Sunday, July 7. Seven fatalities occurred Thursday, resulting from several different kinds of auto accidents:

• A man died in Pulaski County after his ATV left the roadway, went airborne, struck a tree and overturned. Additionally, a passenger on the ATV was ejected into the Big Piney River and sustained serious injuries.

• A 72 year old woman was killed on Highway 36 in Macon County when she attempted to cross Highway 36 and her car was struck on the driver's side. It is unknown whether or not the woman was wearing her seatbelt. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

• A 32 year old man died in a car accident when he lost control of his vehicle and ran off the right side of the roadway. The driver then overcorrected, swerving across the road where his vehicle was struck by another vehicle in the passenger door. The three passengers in man's car were all wearing seatbelts at the time. However, the passengers and driver of the other vehicle all passed away too.

On Friday, July 5, 2013 two people died due to traffic accidents:

• A woman died in Warren County when she ran off the road and overcorrected, causing her vehicle to rotate off the roadway, strike a shallow ditch, and overturn. She was partially ejected from the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene.

• Another accident occurred in St. Louis after a woman suffered an unspecified medical condition and lost control of her vehicle, running off the road and striking a pedestrian waiting at a bus stop. The driver of the vehicle was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. The pedestrian suffered moderate injuries from the accident.

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Prevent ATV accidents and injuries this summer: Keep safety in mind

1115332_atv_driver.jpgATVs and four-wheelers are popular recreational vehicles here in Missouri, especially during the summer months. However, our Springfield personal injury lawyers want to remind you that ATVs and four wheelers can create certain safety risks, and these vehicles must be operated with extreme caution. Recently, several ATV accidents have occurred right here in Missouri, some resulting in serious, life-threatening injuries.

On June 3rd in Washington County, a married couple and their young son were riding an ATV when the vehicle swerved off the road. In response, the driver overcorrected, causing the ATV to overturn and eject all three occupants. The child, 3 year-old Aiden Whitehead, died at a nearby hospital, while both parents suffered minor injuries.

Then, on June 5th, another serious ATV accident occurred in Camden County. According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, a 28 year-old woman was operating the ATV with two young children on board. When the woman failed to negotiate a turn in the roadway, the ATV flipped over and rolled down an embankment. One passenger, 7 year-old Budde Salisbury, was life-flighted to University Hospital in Columbia with serious injuries. The other two occupants - the driver and a 9 year-old girl - suffered moderate injuries and were taken from the scene by ambulance. No one on board was wearing a safety device.

Nationwide, there were 327 reported ATV-related deaths and an estimated 107,500 emergency room treated injuries in 2011, according to ATVSafety.gov. In Missouri, there have been 78 reported ATV deaths between 2008 and 2011, and 70 of those deaths were children under age 16. In fact, the majority of ATV-related fatalities occur among children under 16, whether passengers and drivers. Remember, some ATVs aren't designed to be operated by young riders, or to carry more than one person at a time.

Here's the good news: most ATV accidents can be prevented through proper training and safety precautions. The state of Missouri offers free ATV training courses to individuals who purchase ATVs and to their immediate family members. The training is provided by the company you purchase the ATV from and involves a one-day, hands-on program conducted by a certified instructor. It covers pre-ride inspections, starting and stopping, turning, operating on hills, emergency stopping and swerving, and riding over obstacles. Importantly, these courses also address local laws, safety techniques, and the proper use of riding gear.

When operating or riding on an ATV, safety gear is a must. One particularly essential piece of gear is a helmet, which can help prevent serious head injuries. The helmet should fit properly and be certified by the Department of Transportation, the American National Standards Institute or the Snell Memorial Foundation. Eye protection also provides important protection from flying objects or debris (rocks, bugs, etc.), which can cause injuries or impair your vision. Finally, gloves, boots, long-sleeved shirts and long pants are often an effective way to safeguard yourself against the elements.

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Study: "Designated drivers" still drinking, increasing car accident risks

1174747_by_a_beer.jpgHere at Aaron Sachs and Associates, our personal injury lawyers frequently work with the victims of drunk driving accidents, so we know how devastating these crashes can be. To discourage impaired driving, we often blog about the many alternative options available to drivers who find they've had too much to drink. However, research conducted by the University of Florida at Gainesville suggests that one such option - appointing a designated driver - may not be as safe as was once believed.

The study, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, found that more than a third of so-called "designated drivers" still consume some amount of alcoholic beverages prior to getting behind the wheel. In fact, about half of designated drivers drink enough to register blood alcohol levels of 0.05% or above, which is enough to impair driving performance. The study has raised certain questions regarding the precise definition of a designated driver: is it a person who completely abstains from drinking for an entire evening, or the person who has had the least to drink by the end of the evening? Research shows a reoccurring trend of the designated driver being the person who is the least intoxicated by the end of the evening. This finding has raised renewed concern about roadway safety, because drinking any amount of alcohol can hinder a driver's performance and place other motorists in danger.

Currently, the legal blood alcohol concentration limit for drivers is 0.08%. However, people's motor skills begin to be affected when their BAC reaches 0.02%, and they show signs of impairment at 0.05%, according to the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Recently, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that states lower the legal blood alcohol level for drivers from 0.08% to 0.05%. In addition, the NTSB recommended improving sobriety checkpoints and ignition-interlock technology that prevents a car from starting when a driver has been drinking.

Here in the U.S., the current standard has been in place since 2004. Reducing the legal blood alcohol limit to 0.05% would match over 100 other countries' legal blood alcohol level. There has been a noticeable reduction in fatal auto accidents in countries that lowered their acceptable BAC levels, and the NTSB believes that lowering the blood alcohol limit would help reduce fatal auto accidents for Americans as well. The proposal has gained support from state highway officials, but is not as popular with beverage industries and restaurants. Those against lowering the BAC level argue that most offenders that are involved in serious accidents have BACs much higher than the 0.05%-0.08% range. Despite this argument, the NTSB maintains that changing the law would help reduce the 10,000 deaths that occur yearly due to drunk-driving.

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Distractions like headphones cause increase in fatal accidents involving pedestrians

40789_music_to_my_ears.jpgAs Missouri personal injury lawyers, we know that distracted drivers pose a major threat to motorists on our state's roads. However, in recent years, distraction (particularly the use of headphones or earbuds) has proven to significantly increase accident risks for pedestrians as well. A 2012 study indicates that the number of pedestrians who were seriously injured or killed in auto accidents while wearing headphones has tripled over a six year period. In many of these accidents, the other vehicle involved was a train.

Recently, a Maryland man died after he was struck by a freight train while walking on the tracks and wearing earbuds. According to the Baltimore Sun, 37 year-old Kevin Scott Street didn't hear the train approaching until the last moment, even though the train sounded its horn repeatedly as it approach. Authorities say Street turned and saw the train just before he was struck, but he was unable to get out of the way in time. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Accidents like these are becoming increasingly common nationwide. Last summer, two Missouri teens died under similar circumstances in the St. Louis area. In May 2012, 14 year-old Cameron Vennard was killed in Kirkwood while walking on train tracks en route to meet friends at a restaurant. Then, in July, 15 year-old Mitchell Maserang was struck by a train in Wentzville as he walked to a local flea market, using the tracks as a shortcut. Both teens were wearing earbuds when they were struck.

Pedestrian accidents and distractions: The facts

• In a 2012 study published in the journal Injury Prevention, a Maryland pediatrician examined pedestrian accidents involving moving vehicles that occurred between 2004 and 2011. He found 116 cases where the pedestrian was wearing headphones, and 70% of those accidents proved to be fatal.

• Of the auto accidents involving pedestrians wearing headphones, more than half involved trains, and almost one-third of those trains sounded a horn in warning prior to the accident.

•The majority of fatal accident victims - 68% - were male, and 67% were under age 30.

• The number of fatal accidents involving pedestrians wearing headphones increased from 16 in 2004-2005 to 47 in 2010-2011. "Sensory deprivation that results from using headphones with electronic devices may be a unique problem in pedestrian incidents, where auditory cues can be more important than visual ones," the study found.

• According to Operation Lifesaver, a person or vehicle is hit by a train about every three hours in the United States.

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