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, http://teendriving.statefarm.com, 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.

Vanishing Lawsuits and Jury Trials

Warrior Award 2015The statistics from the Texas State Office of Court Administration are startling.  In the last ten years, the number of lawsuits having been filed has dropped 17%.  At the same time, the number of civil jury trials have dropped 34%.

What’s that mean for you?

It makes a difference when you’re hiring a lawyer.

The reality is that while the number of “litigation” lawyers or “trial lawyers” have been on the rise, the actual number of lawyers who have actually participated in a jury trial has been plummeting.  Lawyers calling themselves “litigators” may file lawsuits and do discovery and go through alternative dispute resolution and settle cases, but most rarely, if ever, see a jury.

A recent Texas Bar Journal reported on a survey of lawyers who called themselves litigators.  Of those with ten years of experience, 30 percent had NEVER tried a case to a jury.  And perhaps even more remarkable, only 36 had tried two or more cases to a jury.  That means that almost one third of the lawyers calling themselves litigators had never had a jury trial and another third had only had one trial.

Unfortunately, when you’re hiring a lawyer, you may never know whether the lawyer has ever tried a case or whether the lawyer has ultimate plans to just settle your claims.  This can often affect the ultimate recovery that you make.

Some of us are trying to do something about it.  I’m proud to be an active member of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers’ Association (I’m the immediate past president).  We have started giving out a “Warrior Award” to our members who take cases to jury trials.  This is a way of acknowledging those of us who have actually tried cases, and a way to encourage other lawyers to take their cases to trial.  We have also started a system where lawyers help one another with voir dire or other parts of the case to make trying cases a little easier.

I certainly don’t think our system will change the face of the state’s lawsuits, but I do hope it can help provide better representation for injured persons throughout Central Texas.

 

Painful Lessons

broken armIn our injury cases, we spend a lot of time really trying to understand our clients’ injuries.

As I tell clients, it’s one thing to say that an injury causes you pain or causes you to be limited in your daily activities.

But it’s another thing entirely to hear anecdotes about your pain or your limitations. Those anecdotes paint a much better picture of how an injury really affects you.

Unfortunately, my family and I have a recent reminder of that lesson.

In February, my twelve year old son was taking part in an activity in his Sports and History class at school (and yes, they have better classes than we had). While doing the activity, my son fell and broke his arm.

The last month has been a real reminder on how injuries truly affect a person’s every day life.

For one, I’ve been reminded of the limitations that an injured person experiences — in ways that many of us take for granted.

But in addition to that, I have had a number of conversations with people about my son, the injury, and how he’s doing. And I’ve again been reminded how the anecdotes really tell the story.

For example, it’s one thing to tell people that my son has been limited by the injury. But people have a different reaction when I explain that his cast over his hand prevents him from wearing any pants with buttons or that because of his cast, I have to help him wash his hair every night.

I hope that he’s at the end of the road with his recovery, but that the lessons will stay with me.

 

 

Auto Accident: New Study Shows Stoned Drivers Are Safer Than Drunk Drivers

drunkdriveA new National Highway Transportation Safety Administration study has found that driving while drunk is more dangerous than driving under the influence of other drugs.    Under the data, positive test results for several types of drugs found only small increases in the risk of a crash, but being under the influence of alcohol caused an almost 600% increase in the risk of being in a wreck.

The study makes for a good headline, but it certainly doesn’t make for good science.  You see, the findings don’t mean that driving under the influence of other drugs is safe.  Far from it.  But what the study does highlight is the need to find better tests to determine when the driver is under the influence of drugs.

The best example was the study relating to marijuana.  There is no doubt that driving under the influence of marijuana is dangerous.  The real issue is determining who is under the influence of marijuana.  Positive tests for marijuana usage could go back to usage for several days.  A driver, therefore, may test positive long after the impairment is worn off.  And that’s the problem.  A driver may test positive for marijuana while driving at a point when the driver is no longer under the influence, and someone would say that they’re a safe driver despite the positive test.  Reading the data the wrong way, it could be argued then that marijuana doesn’t impair the driver.  But that’s not the case; driving under the influence is still dangerous, but the test being used to determine marijuana usage doesn’t determine whether the person is still under the influence.

In contrast, blood alcohol tests for alcohol have a high correlation to impairment.  If a driver tests positive, that driver is still impaired, and you can easily identify the risks.

The long and short of it is that the study can’t be read to argue that drivers under the influence of drugs other than alcohol aren’t impaired.  Driving under the influence is still dangerous and regardless of the substance causes a risk to the driver and others.

 

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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