Warm Temperatures Increase Risks for Missouri Children & Hot Car Deaths

466137_boy_hanging_out_car_window.jpgAs the summer season quickly approaches, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would like to remind parents and caregivers about the dangers of leaving children alone in cars. Every summer, there are an increased number of serious injuries sustained by children who are abandoned in hot vehicles.

Last week, we reported the death of a 13 month-old in Lee's Summit, who died after being left in his mother's car all day. The mother reportedly believed she had already dropped the boy off at day care. On the same day, a 7 month-old died in Texas after being left in his father's pickup truck for several hours. In that instance, the father, who didn't normally transport the child to day care, "became distracted after dropping off the older kids," according to MSNBC. In general, more than half of children who die after being left in hot vehicles are simply forgotten by caregivers who were rushed or stressed.

NHTSA research illustrates the heightened risk of serious injury or death for children, accidentally or purposely, left in vehicles in the heat. Hyperthermia, or heat-stroke, is a leading cause of death for children under the age of 14.

Our Missouri personal injury attorneys would like parents to be extra cautious when exiting their vehicle during the summer months. Tragedies may also occur under the watch of babysitters, daycare centers, schools and summer camps. We urge you to talk with day care employees, school employees and caregivers to stress the important of checking for children when they leave their motor vehicles. You should ask that you be notified immediately if any of the parties notice that your child did not arrive on-time to a destination. According to NHTSA, at least 27 documented deaths caused by children being left in hot motor vehicles are reported each year.

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Recent Missouri Accidents Cause Multiple Injuries, Fatalities: None of the Victims Wore Seatbelts

107206_buckle_up.jpgFatal Missouri car accidents are on the rise. As of May 6, the Missouri Highway Patrol reported a 22% increase in the number of deadly car crashes statewide, when compared to the same date in 2011. Our personal injury lawyers can't help but notice a common factor that connects the people injured and killed in many of these accidents: a good number of them failed to buckle up.

Recent Missouri Accidents

May 3: Missouri woman dead after crash near Advance; patrol suspects manslaughter

28 year-old Amanda Allenbaugh was killed when the vehicle she was riding in ran off the road and flipped over, colliding with several road signs and a utility pole before coming to rest. Allenbaugh was ejected from the vehicle along with the car's driver, 35 year-old Donald Smith. Neither of the occupants was wearing a seat belt. The Southeast Missourian reports that Smith was initially suspected of manslaughter after the crash, but as of this morning, he has not been charged with a crime.

May 4: 2 teens dead after crash near Warrensburg

24 year-old Travis Arnold was traveling west on U.S. 50 when he lost control of his vehicle, sending it into the median. Arnold then overcorrected, bringing his car back onto the roadway, where it slammed into another westbound vehicle. Arnold's car went off the right side of the road and overturned: all 3 occupants were ejected. His passengers - 18 year-old Jacob Netz and 19 year-old Malcom Thomas - were pronounced dead at the scene. Arnold also sustained serious injuries and was airlifted to a nearby hospital. None of the 3 young men were wearing seat belts. The driver of the other car was not listed as injured.

602535_seatbelt.jpgMay 4: Woman dies after crash in Springfield

In the early hours of Saturday morning, a pickup truck traveling west on Republic Road in south Springfield crossed the center line into eastbound traffic. It struck another vehicle head-on. 36 year-old Melissa Eastland, an occupant of the pickup truck, was taken by ambulance but later died as a result of her injuries. Meanwhile, the truck's other occupant, 33 year-old Darrell Eastland suffered non-life threatening injuries, as did the driver of the other vehicle. Police say that neither Darrell nor Melissa Eastland was wearing a seat belt, and they are still trying to determine which one of them was driving the truck. They do not believe alcohol was a factor in the crash.

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SUV Skids Off Elevated Highway in New York City & Plunges 60 Feet Into Bronx Zoo: 7 Family Members Killed

162020_on_the_move.jpgA Sunday drive turned deadly for a family in New York: 3 generations of relatives were killed yesterday in the city's deadliest car crash since March 2011.

It happened on New York's busy Bronx River Parkway. A 2004 Honda Pilot was traveling south when it hit a center median, causing it to bounce off the concrete wall and hurtle across three southbound lanes, leaving a line of skid marks behind it. Then, the SUV struck a curb, which propelled it over the top of a guard rail. The guardrail was undamaged. The SUV plunged 60 feet into an area of dense brush in the Bronx Zoo.

To watch the Today Show's coverage of the accident, including a video simulation of the crash, click here.

All 7 occupants - relatives, heading to a family party - were killed on impact. Among the dead were the driver, 45 year-old Maria Gonzalez; her parents, 85 year-old Jacob Nunez and 81 year-old Ana Julia Martinez; her daughter, 10 year-old Jocelyn Gonzalez; her sister, 39 year-old Maria Nunez; and her nieces, 7 year-old Niely Rosario and 3 year-old Marly Rosario. The family was less than 5 miles from their home when the crash occurred, and they were all wearing seatbelts. Jacob Nunez and Ana Julia Martinez had arrived in the U.S. only 3 days before the accident: they had come from the Dominican Republic to visit their children (they had 13, 6 of whom live in the U.S.).

The site where the SUV landed is a wooded area of the Bronx Zoo that is closed to the public. No animal exhibits are in the vicinity.

Police do not yet know what caused Maria Gonzalez to lose control of the vehicle: it was a sunny day, the roads were dry, and no other vehicles appeared to be involved. At present, police speculate that the vehicle's speed - around 70 miles per hour - may have been a contributing factor. "Obviously, the vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed," said Ronald Werner, FDNY's Deputy Chief. "It hit something that caused it to become airborne." Some witnesses reported that a tire blew on the SUV, but police have not yet confirmed that. The New York Times reports that there were no visible skid marks on the roadway before the SUV initially collided with the concrete median.

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Drunk Drivers & Repeat Offenses: A Growing Epidemic in Missouri & Nationwide

111147_steering_wheel.jpgNationwide, car accidents involving alcohol are on the decline, but even so, the news is filled with stories of drunk drivers. Consider these recent headlines:

Rockland police: Drunk driver caused three-car crash, Rockland, MA
A Massachusetts woman was injured on Monday after a drunk driver caused a 3 car accident. According to police, 35 year-old Daniel Loughlin's vehicle spun out and smashed into an SUV, knocking it into a 3rd car. The woman driving the SUV was taken by ambulance to a local hospital. Loughlin, who police said smelled of alcohol, already had 2 DUI convictions. At the scene, he admitted he had consumed a few beers. He refused to submit to a blood alcohol test, so his license was automatically suspended. He is now charged with negligent driving, violating marked lanes, and third-offense DUI.

Police: Drunk driver kills 2 in fiery Philly crash, Philadelphia, PA
On Thursday, 26 year-old George Vidra had been drinking when he ran a stop sign and broadsided another vehicle, which caught fire. The occupants (a 26 year-old woman and a 31 year-old man, whose names have not been released) were pronounced dead at the scene. Vidra faces multiple charges, including vehicular homicide and driving under the influence.

State high court tells judge: Give man max on DUIs, Lincoln, NE
The Nebraska Supreme Court intervened in the sentencing of a repeat drunk driver, imposing a 10 year prison term on 56 year-old William Parminter. Parminter, who had been convicted of back-to-back drunk driving charges, is a 4 time offender. The Supreme Court found that Parminter's concurrent sentences for the last 2 offenses were "excessively lenient," and ordered that the Lancaster County District court re-sentence him. Parminter must serve at least 5 of those 10 years.

Drunken Driving Foes: Return Licenses to Repeat Offenders, Boston, MA
WCBVTV investigates the number of Boston drivers who have had their licenses revoked for life after committing 5 drunken driving offenses. The answer? 1,824. The article identifies 2 specific Boston men who appeared in court on the same day: Edward Wright, who pleaded not guilty to his 8th drunk driving charge; and Stephen Buchanan, who pleaded not guilty for his 5th OUI (operating under the influence). The fact is that drunk drivers who lose their licenses are continuing to drive drunk anyway, leading the MADD chapter in Massachusetts to advocate for alternative penalties (like ignition interlock devices).

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Polk County Driver Faces 2nd-Degree Murder Charges After Allegedly Striking, Dragging His Cousin

1094467_high_country_road.jpgIt's no secret that car accidents can have unspeakably tragic consequences. Most crashes are 100% preventable: they happen as the result of a driver error, carelessness, or both. However, the Missouri Highway Patrol believes that a recent hit and run collision was anything but an accident, and today, they filed second-degree murder charges against a Polk County man.

The incident happened on Sunday evening near Eudora. Earlier in the day, 28 year-old Tommy Ray Bryant and his cousin Shannon Shaffer Sr. were involved in a physical fight during family gathering at Lake Stockton. According to witnesses, both men had been drinking. Hours later, Bryant and Shaffer fought again at a residence on Route W, west of Highway 123. This time, the altercation also involved Shaffer's son, and his girlfriend was also present. According to the probable cause statement from law enforcement officials, a neighbor heard the fight and attempted to break it up. He led Bryant away from the driveway and down the street on foot.

As they walked away, investigators allege, Shaffer got into his truck, pulled out of his driveway, and drove directly at the 2 men. The neighbor was able to get out of the way, but the vehicle struck Bryant, who dove into the grass. The vehicle drug Bryant approximately 50 yards while continuing to accelerate, and then it sped away. Bryant was killed.

Police continue to search for Shaffer, who has not yet been arrested. After he is taken into custody, he will be held on $250,000 bond.

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Jaywalking Georgia Mother Fights Vehicular Homicide Conviction

1118296_crosswalk.jpgThis week, an Atlanta mother formally appealed a conviction of second-degree vehicular homicide. Raquel Nelson's young son was killed by a drunken hit and run driver as she and her family crossed the street: her plight earned national attention when she was charged and subsequently convicted in connection with her son's death.

The incident happened in April 2010. Nelson had spent the day out with her 2 daughters and young son, and the family was walking home from the bus stop. They needed to cross Austell Road to reach their apartment complex directly across the street, but the nearest crosswalks were a half mile away in either direction. Instead, the family crossed the northbound lanes to the median: as they crossed, 4 year-old A.J. darted away from his mother and ran towards his older sister, who had already crossed to the median safely. He ran directly into the path of an oncoming van. Nelson, who was carrying her young daughter, was also injured in the collision: she lunged towards A.J. in an attempt to save him.

It was later revealed that the driver of the van, Jerry Guy (who fled the scene), had been drinking and taking prescription pain medicine that day. He was also partially blind, and he had been convicted of hit and run on 2 separate occasions in 1997. Guy was also charged - he pled guilty and was sentenced to 6 months in prison. In contrast, Nelson could face 3 years in prison if her conviction is upheld. Prosecutors contend that because Nelson was jaywalking, she bears partial responsibility for her son's death.

It's certainly a controversial case. When Nelson was initially charged, the case received national media coverage, with Georgia prosecutors coming under heavy fire for opting to charge her. Also, it has brought attention to the dangers posed to pedestrians in suburban areas, particularly in Atlanta. Several of Nelson's supporters have argued that it was unreasonable to expect Nelson to walk half a mile with her 3 young children, cross the street, and then walk half a mile back to her home. Further, they argue, that her jaywalking offense doesn't make her criminally responsible for her son's death: instead, that burden lies with Guy.

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MO Supreme Court Votes 5-2 to Uphold Caps on Non-Economic Damages in Wrongful Death Lawsuits

file000704919536.jpgLast week, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of our state's limits (or "caps") on non-economic damages a plaintiff can collect in a wrongful death lawsuit, reports LegalNewsline.com.

The case (Sanders v. Ahmed) involved Ronald Sanders, whose wife Pauline died in 2005. In 2003, Pauline had been admitted to an Independence hospital after experiencing numbness in her legs and difficulty walking. Her primary care physician requested a consultation from a neurologist, Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed. After seeing Pauline (who had a history of seizures), Dr. Ahmed changed her medication and prescribed the drug Depakote.

Pauline's condition did not improve - in fact, she began to deteriorate. Over the next week, she became lethargic and suffered a focal seizure, and Dr. Ahmed cancelled her Depakote dosage at that time. Within days, Pauline stopped responding to all stimuli (even painful stimuli), and it was determined that she had suffered permanent brain damage. She lived in a long-term care facility for 2 years before she died.

Initially, Sanders had filed a personal injury lawsuit against Dr. Ahmed, which was subsequently amended into a wrongful death suit after Pauline passed away. The suit alleged that Dr. Ahmed failed to recognize and treat rising ammonia levels in Pauline's body, which was caused by the Depakote (Pauline's medical condition made it impossible for her body to dispose of byproduct ammonia). Those rising levels, Sanders claim said, resulted in the damage to Pauline's brain.

The jury concurred: when the lawsuit went to trial, Sanders was awarded $920,745.88 in past economic damages, and $7.5 million in future non-economic damages, making his total award $10,120,745.88.

However, because of Missouri's cap on non-economic damages, the final amount of his award was cut to $1,265,207.64. Sanders' non-economic damages had been cut to reflect Missouri's $350,000 cap on these awards.

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Recent Study Reveals Many Teens Still Admit to Texting and Driving, Despite Knowing the Dangers

908434 teen old car_.jpg A recent study from State Farm Insurance found that only 22% of parents talk regularly with their teen children about safe driving responsibilities - and that many teen drivers still believe texting and driving is less dangerous than drunk driving. The study found that 57% of licensed teen drivers admit to texting and driving: while 83% of those surveyed acknowledged that drinking and driving leads to car accidents, only 63% expressed the same attitude towards texting while behind the wheel.

Distracted driving, drunk driving, and the general inexperience of teenagers combine to cause many car accidents on Missouri roadways. In 2010, a Missourian was injured or killed every 35.5 minutes in an accident involving a teen driver, according to the Missouri Highway Patrol. In general, young drivers are 4 times more likely to crash per mile driven. For our Missouri personal injury lawyers, these are staggering statistics.

How can parents help reduce teen accidents?

Many schools provide driving classes and drunk-driving damage demonstrations. These courses include statistics, real stories, videos and photographs to convey a powerful message that drunk driving and distracted driving on Missouri roadways is dangerous and leads to serious injuries and death. Some courses bring an actual vehicle that was totaled in a drunk-driving accident.

However much it seems that your teen doesn't listen to you, studies show that parents and respected care-givers still have much influence. What's more, the State Farm study showed that parents and teens actually talk less about safe driving practices after the teen becomes licensed - during the time period when these conversations are the most crucial.

The news is full of celebrities who use poor judgment while driving, and these examples provide cautionary tales that can help you demonstrate the very real risks. For example, many teenagers were affected by the death of Jackass movie star, Ryan Dunn. Dunn and a friend (newly married Iraqi war veteran Zachary Hartwell) both died after Dunn chose to drink and then drive 130 miles per hour. He lost control of his Porsche, which traveled 40 yards off the roadway where it hit a tree and exploded.

Also, Utah State teenager Taylor Sauer's parents have used their daughter's tragedy to demonstrate the real dangers of texting and driving to other teens. Sauer's last Facebook message, posted seconds before she slammed into a slow moving tanker truck, was this: "I can't discuss this matter now. Driving and facebooking is not safe! Haha." Sauer never even attempt to brake: she smashed into the truck at 80 mph and was killed instantly.

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Automotive Technology & Distracted Driving: Are Innovations Making Missouri Motorists Safer?

236993_car_navigation_system_by_gps_1.jpgThese days, it seems like a car is now more of a piece of consumer technology than anything else. Today's drivers can talk to their friends, jam out to their iPod play lists and find their destinations without ever taking their eyes off the road, according to the Denver Post. Or at least that's the claim of manufacturers. In reality, an increasing array of distracting technology is being added to cars.

Some would argue that these devices are making our roadways safer by allowing drivers to multitask without ever taking their eyes off the road. Others argue that any type of electronic device in a vehicle serves as a distraction and increases a motorist's risk for a car accident.

"Consumers are wanting, expecting and you could say demanding more technology in their cars," said Tim Jackson, president and chief executive of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association. "As their lives have become more technologically driven, they want those same creature comforts in their cars."

Our Missouri car accident lawyers understand that the race is on to have the most modern and technologically advanced car. Unfortunately, a number of these new devices, mostly designed to make your trip in the car easier, do nothing more than take driver attention away from the road and endanger all motorists. "Certainly, car companies should focus on streamlining the interface, enabling you to perform what you need to perform with a minimum of buttons being touched, maybe controls from the steering wheel," said Jeremy Anwyl, vice chairman of Edmunds.com.

Jim Buczkowski, director of Ford electronics and electrical systems engineering, concurs. "The most important thing we've found in our research and various studies is keeping your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel," Buczkowski said.

A number of electronic devices now allow you to make phone calls, reply to a text message, surf the Internet and get driving directions without ever taking your hands off the wheel or your eyes off the road. A number of these new features are all voice activated: Ford and Toyota are two companies that offer such features.

But the number of car accidents in our country are still entirely too high. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly 5,500 people were killed in the U.S. in car accidents that reported distracted driving in 2009. The number one distraction reported in these accidents was the use of a cell phone - reported in nearly 20% of these accidents.

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Warm Temperatures Bring Increased Risk for Teen Drivers in Missouri and Nationwide

1072482_calendar.jpgApril is upon us, which means the end of the school year is just around the corner. Needless to say, lots of teens are looking forward to taking a break from classes and hitting the roadways with their summer vacation plans. What they may not be looking forward to, or even know about, are the dangers they face behind the wheel. The months ahead host 100 of the deadliest days of the year for teen drivers, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Our Missouri personal injury lawyers understand that our teen drivers are at a high risk for injury accidents, as they simply have less driving knowledge and less driving experience. What's more, 9 of the 10 deadliest days for teens on our nation's highways are between the months of May and August.

Organizations like MADD - along with other teen safety advocates - are spreading the word about the dangers our teens face on our roadways in an attempt to educate both them and their families. Awareness is the first step to preventing a car accident in Missouri and elsewhere in the country. Car accidents are the number one cause of death for teens - and 1/3 of these accidents are alcohol related.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were more than 208 million licensed drivers in 2008 in the United States. Teen drivers, or those between the ages of 15 and 20, made up more than 6%, or 13.3 million, of the total number of licensed drivers. This number illustrates a more than 5% increase from the 12.7 million teen drivers in 1999.

It is estimated that, in 2009, roughly 3,000 teens in the United States were killed in motor-vehicle accidents. Another 350,000 teens were treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained from these incidents. These statistics reveal that more than 10% of all drivers involved in fatal accidents were between the ages of 15 and 20. In 2009 alone, Missouri had nearly 200 deaths resulting from motor-vehicle accidents that involved a teen driver.

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Roadway Defects & Their Impact on Missouri Car Accidents

1200286_Blank.road_sign.jpgWe all rely on state and local governments to keep our roadways safe. Unfortunately, for various reasons, defective roadway conditions still cause serious car, truck, or motorcycle accidents, making it necessary to file Missouri defective roadway claims.

How defective roadway conditions cause accidents: A hypothetical example

Michael and Paige were driving home from visiting friends when an extremely strong storm blew in. The wind was so strong that the rain was blowing horizontally: it was everything Michael could do to keep the car on the road. Other drivers on the crowded highway did the same. There was nowhere to pull off to get to safety.

Suddenly, 6 orange construction barrels were blown across the highway. Cars came skidding to a halt or swerved to miss the barrels. A truck behind Michael and Paige was unable to stop in time and plowed into the back of their car.

Michael and Paige sustained serious injuries. Michael was unable to work for 18 months and required multiple surgeries and extensive rehabilitation. Paige suffered from post-traumatic stress and complications from her pre-existing Addison's disease. Their 528i BMW was totaled.

What type of Missouri roadway defects cause accidents?

The following Missouri roadway defects may be the main cause or a contributing factor in a serious car, truck, or motorcycle accident.

• Lack of appropriate signs regarding construction zones, speed-limit changes, merging traffic, or weather conditions.

• Lack of appropriate safety barriers such as guardrails.

• Unsafe shoulder drop-off.

• Construction debris on roadway or shoulder.

• Inadequate roadway maintenance.

• Dangerously designed roadway intersections.

• Improper Missouri roadway construction.

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Driving in Rainy Weather: How to Stay Safe in Springfield & Throughout Missouri

Dsc_125.jpgIt's a gray Wednesday here in the Ozarks: local weather forecasts predict a stormy week ahead. Since we're heading into the rainy season, our Springfield, Missouri personal injury lawyers thought it might be a good time to discuss safe driving practices in bad weather.

The Highway Patrol is already reporting serious problems caused by flash flooding throughout the state. "The flooding situation in Southern Missouri has turned deadly," says Colonel Ron Replogle. "The Missouri State Highway Patrol has conducted approximately 18 water rescues in Troops E, D, and G and has recovered the bodies of two fatally injured subjects in the Troop G area since Friday. Both of these individual's vehicles were swept from low water crossings by swift moving water as they attempted to cross. Many of the roads in the southern portion of the state which are near or crossover waterways are still under water and should be considered impassable and extremely dangerous to cross."

Just this afternoon, KY3 reported that a Stoutland school bus stalled after driving into approximately 3 feet of water. Responders from the Mid County Fire Protection District had to physically carry the driver and 11 student passengers to dry land. (To see photos of the incident, click here.)

Staying safe in these rainy conditions requires making some adjustments when you're behind the wheel. Below, please find a few tips to help you arrive safely at your destination.

1327499_water_drops.jpgSafe Driving in Bad Weather:

• Make sure your vehicle is well maintained. For example, if your tires are bald, you'll have significantly less traction, and you'll be more likely to hydroplane. Also, make sure your wiper blades are in good shape: safety advocates recommend replacing your blades at least once a year.

• Turn your headlights on. It's a simple step that will help you see and be seen. (Also: Missouri state law requires that you turn on your headlights anytime you have to use your windshield wipers.)

• NEVER attempt to drive through fast-moving water, no matter how shallow you think it is. A vehicle can be swept away by a very small amount of water.

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Keep Missouri Roads Safe Over St. Pat's Weekend: Don't Drink & Drive

cohdra_100_3899.JPGHappy St. Pat's! For those who are planning to celebrate: our Joplin car crash attorneys want to draw your attention to a recent press release from the Missouri Highway Patrol. It's titled "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over on St. Patrick's Day Weekend."

On March 16-18, the release says, the Patrol "will participate with other law enforcement agencies to arrest impaired drivers, and to help safeguard Missouri's roadways." Several troops statewide will participate in multiple checkpoints (where individual drivers are checked for sobriety) and DWI saturation patrols (where multiple offers saturate a targeted section of a roadway).

According to Missouri state law, drivers are required to submit to an alcohol test upon a police officer's request. When a driver refuses, his or her license is automatically revoked for one year. Currently, the penalties for a first-time conviction of drunk driving in Missouri are a 30-day driver's license suspension. After the 30-day suspension, a driver is eligible to get a 60-day restricted driving privilege. A driver is able to get a full driver's license once again after all reinstatement requirements are met. Aside from these legal consequences, even more severe repercussions can result from drunk driving accidents: namely, serious injuries and deaths.

Nationwide, there were nearly 10,250 people killed in 2010 because of alcohol-related traffic accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there was an increase in the number of truck and van drivers' involved in alcohol-related accidents from 2009 to 2010. These numbers demonstrate that the problem isn't getting any better. Although accidents caused by drunk drivers are completely preventable, hundreds of Missourians continue to die in these crashes every year.

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Missouri Highway Patrol Reports Increase in Fatal Car Accidents in 2012

PIC1077690099.jpgOur Springfield car accident lawyers were troubled to see the Missouri Highway Patrol's news release on March 7. The headline reads "Missouri Traffic Deaths on the Rise After Six Year Drop." According to the release, the Patrol is reporting a sharp increase in auto accident fatalities in early 2012: "When comparing early last year to the same time period this year, as of the date of this release, Missouri has experienced an increase of 29 traffic crash traffic crash fatalities." All Missouri drivers would do well to take note of the Patrol's findings, as many of these fatal accidents share common characteristics.

• Of Missouri auto fatality victims in 2012, 2/3 were not wearing seat belts.

• In recent fatal crashes, a "common theme of the contributing circumstances" is lane departure. Many of these accidents involved drivers who ran off the right side of the road, often overcorrecting in response; or drivers who crossed the center line and collided with other vehicles head-on.

It's difficult to identify a single causal factor for the increase. According to stltoday.com, Captain Tim Hull declined to single out texting and driving as the sole culprit: "It's a lot of things that take their mind off that full-time job of driving," Hull said.

This point is an important one. By now, most people know that texting and driving is dangerous, and that it has caused numerous fatal accidents (although many of those same people still admit to doing it anyway). However, it's a misconception that the "distracted driving" label is all about texting. A distracted driver is any driver whose focus is divided between driving and another task. Distracted drivers might be talking on handheld or hands-free cell phones. They might be eating lunch, or putting on lipstick, or flipping through iPod playlists. Or they might be texting. The crux of the matter is this: when your focus is divided, you are much more likely to cause an accident.

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Excessive Speed Causes Injuries, Fatalities on Missouri Highways

834002_nospeed.jpgOn March 6, an 18 year-old Florida man was sentenced to 15 years in prison for vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident. The charges are connected to a 2010 incident, wherein Ramesse Harris (then, only age 16, and driving a stolen car) fled from Manatee County Sheriff's Deputies and initiated a chase. Law enforcement officials called off the pursuit when Harris entered St. Petersberg, due to concerns about risking public safety by continuing a high speed chase on city streets. About 60 seconds later, Harris ran a red light and T-boned a car driven by 56 year-old Gary Lane Smith. Harris was injured, and Smith was pronounced dead at the scene. Throughout the chase, law enforcement reported speeds between 60 and 100 mph.

While relatively few Missouri drivers have been pursued by police, many of us are likely guilty of speeding. Excessive speed is a leading cause of auto accidents in Missouri: each year, drivers traveling well in excess of the posted speed limit are responsible for car accidents that result in serious injuries and fatalities.

As with many other kinds of accidents, car crashes caused by excessive speed are easily preventable: catastrophic injuries and expensive medical costs caused by these accidents can be avoided. Missouri drivers are urged to follow a few simple rules to help prevent car accidents, and keep all motorists and passengers safer on our state's highways:

• Observe and obey posted speed limits. Speeding can limit the time you have to avoid a dangerous collision.

• Pay attention. Distracted driving, often caused by cell phone use and texting, leads to a loss of focus on the road, and can be as dangerous as driving while intoxicated.

• Don't drink and drive. If you do plan to drink, appoint a designated driver.

• Don't tailgate. Following too closely reduces the time and space you need to avoid a car crash.

• Don't drive while tired. Tired driving carries many of the same risks as drunk driving, and can lead to a deadly accident.

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