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.

Where Are Most Of Austin’s Bicycle Wrecks?

The folks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab have used all that MIT brainpower to put together an interactive map showing Austin’s bike wrecks.

Using data from the Texas Department of Transportation, they’ve mapped over 1,400 wrecks to come up with this map.  Not only does the map show the location for the wrecks, but it also provides statistics on what roads have the most wrecks, and it allows you to see the Google Street View shot for each wreck location.

So what streets are most dangerous for Austin cyclists:  Guadalupe Street, South Congress Avenue, IH 35, North Lamar, South First Street, and East Riverside Drive.

Austin Pedestrian & Bike Accidents An Increasing Problem

According to this morning’s Austin American Statesman, Austin has seen a record number of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities despite the fact that there are still six weeks to go in the year.

About half of the pedestrian fatalities were caused in large part by the pedestrians not being careful.  For example, a number of the deaths involved pedestrians trying to cross IH 35 or other major highways, and a significant portion were caused when the pedestrian was intoxicated.

The bicycling fatalities are different — all were caused by the drivers hitting the cyclist from behind.

These findings mirror my own practice.  I’m seeing increasing number of cases where the victim was a pedestrian or on a bicycle.  Just this year, we’ve handled cases involving a child who was run over and suffered a horrific head injury, a pedestrian who sustained severe leg fractures as he was hit while on a sidewalk, and pedestrians who were hit in parking lots (including one who now needs surgery).

The description of the bike accidents is also similar to the types of accidents we’re seeing.  Most of the bicycle accident victims we’ve represented over the years have involved drivers who have hit the cyclists from behind.  We’ve also seen a number of clients who were injured when the drivers failed to yield to them at intersections — the driver either turns into the cyclist or doesn’t yield the right of way to the cyclist.

Unfortunately, these accidents usually involve significant injuries since pedestrians and cyclists have no protection.

If you or a loved one has been injured as a pedestrian or cyclist, please call us at (512)476-4944 or submit your information via the “submit a case” boxes throughout our website.

IH 35 Wrong Way Driver Kills A San Antonio Police Officer

If you’ve read this blog at all, you know that we closely follow stories about wrong way drivers because this is a phenomenon that seems like it should never happen, and yet it’s becoming routine.

This morning, a San Antonio police officer, Officer Stephanie Brown, was tragically killed along I35 when a wrong way driver slammed his SUV into her patrol car.   

This wreck fits the pattern of most wrong way driver incidents — the wreck happened early in the morning and the wrong way driver was potentially drunk.  Most of these wrong way driving cases are late night accidents involving drunk drivers or are caused by elderly drivers.

This case is an example of one of my biggest concerns about these kinds of wrecks — there’s almost nothing you can do to avoid being in a wreck with a wrong way driver.  And here, the victim was a police officer, someone who likely had special training to avoid auto accidents, and she couldn’t avoid this tragic situation.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Officer Brown and her family and friends, but sadly, Officer Brown won’t be the last victim of a wrong way collision.  As more and more complex highways and interstate interchanges are being built in the Central Texas area, stories about wrong way drivers are becoming more and more prevalent. 

Some of my previous posts on wrong way drivers are: 

A Rash of Austin Auto-Pedestrian Crashes

In the last week of 2010, Austin had two fatal auto-pedestrian crashes along I35.  On December 30, 2010, Luis Ascencio-Sanchez was run over and killed along the access road IH 35 in North Austin.     On the other end of town, Robin Waitt was walking across the southbound lanes of I35 on December 21, 2010 when she was hit by multiple vehicles and killed.  This comes on the heels of another pedestrian fatality on I35 this fall.

This rise of auto-pedestrian cases seems to mirror what we’re seeing in our firm.  While we haven’t had any cases involving pedestrians on I35, we recently settled an auto-pedestrian case involving a pedestrian hit by a Capital Metro bus.  And we are currently working on cases involving pedestrians hit by a tow truck and a valet, among others.

Why the sudden increase in auto-pedestrian wrecks?  Is the economy forcing more people to walk places?  As more people move to urban areas (particularly dowtown) is there just more pedestrian traffic? 

I’m not sure, but I don’t like seeing it.  Because of the “car v. person” nature of these wrecks, the injuries sustained are almost always serious and debilitating to our clients.

If you’re in one of these wrecks, you also need to be aware of potential sources of recovery.  It’s obvious that you my have a claim against the person that hit you.  But if you have your own vehicle and carry uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, that may be an additional source of a recovery.

Weary Truckers Create A Risk For I35 Trucking Accidents

trucking IH 35 is a bit unique in that it spans from the southern border with Mexico to the northern border with Canada.  But no matter where you are along the highway, you face a grave danger of being involved in a trucking accident.  And yesterday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune had a good article, based in large part on an I35 truck wreck, about one of those risks — tired truck drivers.

For the most part, truck drivers are supposed to be limited in the number of hours they can drive.  In 2005, the hours-of-service rules were amended to require a little more rest for drivers.  Since that time, the number of fatal trucking accidents has decreased.  But it’s still a problem.  From the article:

While things are headed in the right direction nationally, annual fatalities in big truck wrecks are still the equivalent of a jetliner crashing once a week, said Steve Keppler of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

“If that many plane crashes were happening,” Keppler said, “people would be up in arms and the air traffic system would be shut down.”

And a lot of these trucking accident fatalities are caused by fatigue.  You need look no further than the 2005 legislation to see how fatigue contributes to trucking accidents.  While the 2005 legislation lowered hours-of-service for most drivers, it also exempted a number of drivers, including those in the agricultural, utility and construction fields.  While the rate of fatalities have gone down since the new rules, the accidents involving utility trucks are up 57 percent since their drivers were exempted.

And much of the trucking industry continues to put its head in the sand and say that weary drivers aren’t a problem.  In the article, the spokesman for the American Trucking Association called wrecks caused by fatigue “a very small problem.”  The trucking industry also sued the Minnesota State Patrol in 2009 to stop police from using a “fatigued driver checklist” to keep truckers off the road.

It’s this attitude that makes trucking cases so interesting.  Because of regulations, drivers are required to keep a log of their driving time.  But in many cases, the log is altered or the drivers maintain two or more logs to help hide the amount of time that they’re really driving.

Maybe the problem was best summed up by an unidentified driver in the article:

I don’t get paid while I’m sitting waiting to load and unload.  My fixed costs doesn’t allow me to run legal…I sleep four hours a night.  It isn’t out of choice.  It’s finances.

I beg to differ.  It is a choice.  And it’s a choice that’s putting all of us at risk.

Beware The Dangers Of Pulling Over On The Side Of The Road

I received a news story of a trucking wreck on IH 35 in Oklahoma where two gentlemen, Phillip Martin and Brian Robertson, were having car troubles.  They pulled over to the side of the road, got out of their vehicle, and went to sit against the passenger side of their truck in the shade until help could arrive.  Unfortunately,  a truck driver came along, hit the disabled truck, and killed Mr. Martin.

This is but the latest example of how dangerous it can be to be parked on the side of the road.  Almost all of us have to pull over at some time or another.  We may have car trouble, run out of gas (that’s included for my mom), or have a child or passenger that needs you to pull over so they can throw up (as happened to one of my kids recently).  Regardless of the cause, many of us have found times when we needed to pull over. 

 Unfortunately, motorists have a tendency to look at disabled vehicles or other cars pulled over on the side of the road, and when motorists look over in that direction, their cars tend to drift in that direction, creating a significant risk of collision and injury.

Perhaps the best examples of these dangers is from police traffic stops.  Police officers have long realized the dangers of being stopped on the side of the road.  For example, from 1993-2002, law enforcement officials estimate that 681 officers were killed in accidents involving traffic stops.    Police departments across the country are now working on a number of solutions to help minimize these risks.  Some of the things discussed include policies on how officers should position vehicles, how cars can be modified to provide the best visibility, to legislative solutions (such as the Texas law requiring motorists to significantly slow down when passing a traffic stop).

For other drivers, technology is helping with the risk.  A number of car manufacturers are are investigating or starting to equip their vehicles with lane departure sensors that let drivers know when they might be inadvertently drifting into other lanes.  A good summary of these can be found in this Wikipedia article.   

But until that technology becomes common, it’s critical that all of us pulling over be cautious and aware of what’s going on around us.

Schuelke Law 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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