Another Wrong Way Crash In Austin

Early this morning (August 19th), Austin endured another wrong way crash, a wreck where a driver is driving the wrong way on a highway.  Details are not out yet, but one man was killed and two women were critically injured following a head-on collision on I35 southbound near Airport Boulevard.

When a wreck like this happens, you may ask how it’s possible to be driving the wrong way on a highway.  But the unfortunate reality is that these wrong-way wrecks happen far too frequently.

For example, earlier this month, teens headed to Austin were killed in a wrong way crash on I30 in Greenville, near Dallas.

In June, an Austin woman was killed in a wrong way wreck on Ben White Boulevard.

In May, two people were killed in a wrong way wreck on Parmer Lane.

In fact, this is a subject that I’ve studied and written about frequently.  Some of my posts on wrong way crashes include:

Most of these wrong way crashes share two characteristics.  First, most occur at night.  Second, most involve alcohol or drug use.

There are several things that can be done to try and minimize the risks of these wrecks, especially on highways.

Better entrance ramp designs.  A core issue in these wrecks are confusing on-ramps and off-ramps.  For example, here in Austin, Ben White Boulevard is a common site of wrong-way wrecks.  That is probably not surprising given that the on-ramps near Ben White and Lamar Boulevard are some of the most confusing in the city.  Making on-ramps and off-ramps simple help reduce these wrecks.

Lowering traffic signs.  The data shows that “wrong way” signs are more effective when they are at the driver’s line of sight.  These signs should be lowered more than typical street signs.

If you want to learn more about wrong-way wrecks, the Texas Transportation Institute has an interesting report on wrong way driving.

Check Your Tires — Tragic Caldwell County Wreck Yesterday

Background of the tire tread Yesterday, there was a horrific car wreck on Texas 130 in Caldwell County that killed 4 adults and left 5 more children injured.

The wreck hits home as it occurred near the Texas 130/Schuelke Road intersection, and yes, Schuelke Road does refer to my family.

The investigation is just beginning, but one suggestion is that the driver lost control after the vehicle lost the tread on one of the tires.  The theory is that the tire became so hot from driving at the toll road speeds (the speed limit is 85 miles per hour) that the tread separated.

It wouldn’t be the first time such a wreck occurred on 130.  I travel it fairly frequently back and forth between Austin and Lockhart, and there are often the remnants of tire thrown across the highway.  There is also a report that a tire blow out led to a fatal crash along 130 near Manor back in April.

The lesson to learn is that you need to check your tires.  Speed limits are now higher than they’ve historically been, and you should take time to make sure the condition of your tires can handle the driving conditions you’ll be encountering.

I’m also intrigued by these types of wrecks because they bring novel legal theories.  For example, the injured or killed would obviously have a claim against the driver who lost control.  But they may also have a products liability claim against the tire manufacturer or a claim against the manufacturer of the vehicle that the vehicle wasn’t designed well enough to sustain the forces in the rollover collision (these are called crashworthiness cases).  These types of cases, with novel and not always obvious claims, are the ones where hiring the right lawyer can really make a difference in the type of recovery ultimately obtained.


Austin Police Chief: Too Many Austin Car Wrecks

Young man using smart phone in his car

Young man using smart phone in his car

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo took the unusual step this week of having a press conference to urge Austin drivers to be more safe.   Chief Acevedo was prompted to take the action because this year has already been record-setting in terms of number of traffic fatalities.

Acevedo noted that the top causes of wrecks are intoxication, speed, distraction and failure to stop.

I won’t argue with Chief Acevedo.  We see wrecks car caused by these four items every day.

Personally, we hope Austinites and others heed Chief Acevedo’s warnings so that our roadways are safer for all of us.

You can read more about his press conference here and here.

This Is A Terrifying Trucking Idea

truckingI’ve heard bad ideas, but this might be the worst — letting teenagers drive trucks across the country.

The trucking industry is currently pushing legislation that would allow drivers as young as 18 years old to drive trucks in interstate commerce — across state lines.

I don’t have anything against teenagers.  In fact, I have one.  But I’m also in the process of teaching her to drive, and I see her friends drive.  And I see the carnage of trucking wrecks even when the drivers are experienced.  Common sense tells you that this is a terrible idea from a safety standpoint.

Unfortunately, the statistics bear this out.  Right now, some states allow 18 year-olds to drive within their state borders.  In those states, the statistics show that younger truck drivers are four to six times more likely to be in wrecks than those drivers who are older than 21.

That’s a big difference.

Let’s hope sanity prevails and that only more experienced, safer drivers are allowed to drive across our country’s roads.

The Failure of Tort Reform

Steve Cohen has an interesting article, On Tort Reform, It’s Time To Declare Victory and Withdraw, detailing the failings of tort reform in the medical malpractice context.  In his article, Steve outlines some of the things we’ve learned since tort reform started passing in waves, including in Texas:

1) Tort reform hasn’t decreased healthcare costs.  The theory was that doctors afraid of getting sued were prescribing all kinds of unnecessary tests.  In fact, studies have shown that doctors in states that have enacted tort reform measures prescribe tests at the same rate as those that haven’t had tort reform measures.

2) Runaway juries aren’t a real problem.  Indeed, the data suggests that the average jury awards in medical malpractice cases are significantly lower than the average awards handed down by judges.  If anything, juries are conservative on these cases.

3) Tort reform hasn’t significantly decreased the cost of insurance for doctors, though in states with tort reform measures the increases in rates have been slightly lower than the increases in states without tort reform.

What has happened since tort reform?  Insurance company profits have skyrocketed.  That’s who has really benefited from tort reform.

Unfortunately, in Texas and other states, while trying to craft tort reform for medical malpractice cases, the reforms have bled into other areas of claims, and have hurt the rights of most injured persons and businesses.

With tort reform proven to be a failure, it’s time to make sure it stops.

Drivers Aren’t Being Smart With Their Smart Phones

Avoid-texting-while-drivingAT&T released the results of a scary study this week finding that smart phones are allowing people to drive while distracted in new and “creative” ways.

According to the study:

  • 61% of drivers surveyed admitted that they text and drive
  • 33% admitted emailing while driving
  • 28% admitted surfing the internet while driving
  • 27% admitted using Facebook while driving
  • 17% admitted snapping a photo or selfie while driving
  • 14% admitted using Twitter while driving
  • 14% admitted using Instagram while driving
  • 12% admitted shooting video while driving
  • 11% admitted using Snapchat while driving
  • 10% admitted using video chat while driving

This is obviously a concerning trend.  As we find more and more uses for smartphones, it appears that we’re also creating more and more ways to drive in a distracted manner.

That’s bad news for all of us.



Do Self-Driving Cars Need Driver’s Ed?

I’ve been following the stories of self-driving cars.  As a personal injury lawyer who sees the devastation of car wrecks, I’m interested in technology that can help my clients be more safe.  On the other hand, knowing all the calculations that go into safe driving — watching for other cars, pedestrians, bicyclists, animals, and other risks — I’ve wondered how technology would be able to handle all of those risks.

Well, it looks like we might still have a ways to go.  Google and other companies have been testing nearly 50 self-driving cars around California.  Reports earlier this week confirmed that, since September, the self-driving cars had been involved in four accidents.  While that might not sound like a lot, if four out of every 50 cars on the roads were involved in wrecks during that same period, it would be catastrophic.

The companies aren’t releasing many details of the wrecks, but reports indicate that two of the wrecks occurred while the cars were in self-driving mode and two occurred while the drivers controlled the cars.

We’ll see how this technology develops going forward.

Posted on: May 12, 2015 | Tagged

What Will It Take To Get A State-Wide Ban On Texting While Driving?

Earlier this week, families who have been destroyed by texting while driving wrecks came to Austin to urge state lawmakers to adopt a state-wide texting while driving ban.  Unfortunately, they’re not alone.  Stories like those shared by these families have been repeated over and over and over.

There is no dispute that texting while driving is dangerous.  Studies have even shown that it’s more dangerous than drinking while driving.  You would think that a state-wide ban would be a no-brainer.

But apparently it’s not.  Some legislators argue that a ban would be an unnecessary invasion into people’s rights.  Are you kidding me?  Is the speed limit an unnecessary invasion?  Are laws against DWI an unnecessary invasion?  Texting while driving is just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, and we need to be doing what we can to protect our kids and families.  Will a ban stop texting while driving?  No.  But it will help, and that’s better than nothing.

You should watch the stories of these families below.


Teaching Teen Drivers

Articles about teen drivers seem to be in the news (or maybe because I’m teaching my own teen to drive, I’m just noticing the articles more).  Regardless, there were two recent articles I saw that probably interest you if you have a teen driver.

The first reports on a study that finds that 60% of teen driver wrecks result from distractions.  This is probably not a surprise to any of us.  But the study was noteworthy for me because of the way it was conducted — the AAA Foundation watched nearly 1,700 in-car videos of teen drivers who were involved in wrecks to diagnose what the teens were doing immediately prior to the wreck.  The two biggest factors were talking to others in the car and using a cell phone, either for talking or for texting.  If you click the link, there is a video story that shows some of the video excerpts from the wrecks.  This is certainly something I’m going to make my teen driver watch.  Passing on this type of information should be of what we teach our kids.

The second article is a Wall Street Journal article entitled Better Ways To Teach Teen Drivers.  The story is based on a 2014 study that placed video cameras in parents’ cars to review what they were teaching their kids.  The analysis found that, by and large, teens are being properly taught the mechanics of driving — how to turn, how to control speed, etc.   Unfortunately, the study found that parents did not do a good job of teaching teens accident avoidance — how to recognize hazards, how to avoid those hazards, etc.

The best line in the article was discussing the fact that parents spend a lot of time on things they had trouble with, such as parallel parking.  But as the story noted, “Most people don’t get killed parallel parking.”  Instead, the article encourages parents to spend more time working on hazard recognition and judgment — making left turns into oncoming traffic, how to merge on and off highways at high speed, etc.  The article also encourages you to work with your kid in bad weather conditions, in crowded roads, and the like so that the teens’ first time experiencing these things are not while they are alone.

It pains me to give credit to an insurance company, but State Farm has a teen driving program called Road Trips on its teen driving website,, that can help you with the process.  The website also has a 3-d video tool that helps kids learn to scan for hazards as they’re driving.



New Baseball Study Shows Even When Brain Injured People Appear “Normal”, They’re Not

baseball2I recently saw a study that is near and dear to my heart on two subjects — baseball and concussions.

One of the biggest frustrations of people with head injuries is that even though they look normal to their friends and family members, something is off.  Now, a new study involving professional baseball players provides a strong example of how people are impaired even though they look (and even feel) normal.

The study, reported in the American Journal of Sports Medicine and summarized in the New York Times, followed Major League Baseball position players (non-pitchers) who returned to action following concussions.  What the researchers found was stunning.  These batters, even though they themselves felt they were no longer impaired, performed significantly worse in the weeks following their return to play.

The study looked at 66 players over several years who had concussions.  In the two weeks before their concussions, they players had an average batting average of .249, an on-base percentage of .315, and a slugging percentage of .393.  For the two weeks after their return from the injury, the batting average had dropped to .227, on-base percentage had fallen to .287, and slugging percentage had fallen to .347.

Despite these players feeling that they were fine and back to normal, their batting averages and on-base percentages had each fallen by almost 9%, and their slugging percentages had fallen by almost 12%.

In order to rule out the idea that the drop off was just from the players being away from the game, the researchers also studied players who had taken a similar amount of time off for bereavement or paternity leave.  For those players, the batting averages, on-base average, and slugging percentages all INCREASED after their breaks.

This study is strong evidence for two things:

1) even though victims of brain injuries may appear normal to the outside world, they may still be impaired; and

2) that victims of concussions and head injuries are likely impaired in all types of ways for far longer than even the injured persons suspect.

Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC maintains offices in Austin, Texas. However, our attorneys and lawyers represent clients throughout the state of Texas, including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Forth Worth, El Paso, New Braunfels, San Marcos, Kyle, Buda, Round Rock, Georgetown, Lockhart, Bastrop, Elgin, Manor, Brenham, Cedar Park, Burnet, Marble Falls, Temple and Killeen. By Brooks Schuelke

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