How awake are you while you drive? In the age of burning the candle at both ends, many Americans are chronically sleep deprived. Unfortunately, as a result, being drowsy or falling asleep at the wheel is a huge problem for American drivers. This is such a big problem that one website, DrowsyDriving.org, is completely devoted to raising awareness of driving while fatigued. This website is run by the National Sleep Foundationm, which reflects how much of a widespread problem this phenomenon is.
Unfortunately, PA seems relative lenient on distracted driving use compared to other states. This is a dangerous and significant problem when it comes to the safety of drivers on our state's roads. Interestingly enough, PA does not currently have a law that prohibits drivers from using their cell phones while they're driving. Instead, PA only has a texting law that prohibits sending and receiving text messages. This means that drivers can still use social media, take pictures, or use other phone features while driving. Additionally, the fines imposed if you are caught texting while driving are minimal compared to other states. Across the state, over 18,000 citations have been issued over the past five years, and the total amount issued has increased by almost 120%. Almost all people cited were males, and most were in their 20s.
Although we may think more commonly about car and truck accidents, bus accidents are not uncommon, either. Recently, Greyhound was sued for injuries its passengers sustained while riding one of their buses from New York City to Cleveland. According to news reports, the bus crashed after the driver fell asleep at the wheel. One of the 43 passengers died and many sustained severe injuries. One passenger recently received a payment of $27M from the bus company due to the severity of his injuries, which included an amputation of one of his legs and over 30 surgeries related to other injuries.
An incident of texting while driving recently took the life of a pedestrian in PA. According to news sources, a college student was texting while driving her car in Allentown. She ran a red light and hit a minivan, which caused her car to spin into a nearby pedestrian. That pedestrian was thrown over 20 feet in the air and died soon after. The driver's cell phone data reflected that she was arguing with someone else over text at the time of the accident. Additionally, videos from the crash scene show that the driver's car did not slow down as it approached the red light at the intersection, although other cars responded appropriately according to the traffic lights.
Pennsylvania is in the midst of an unsettling trend in recent years. PennDOT reports that about 4,000 people are hit by cars each year in our state. These pedestrian/car encounters seem to increase during the winter months, where drivers appear to be more aggressive, especially in the afternoon. Many of these accidents also appear to involve distraction, either on the part of the driver or the pedestrian. To increase visibility, it is recommended that pedestrians stay off of their phones, wear reflective clothing, walk against the flow of traffic, and cross only at designated areas. Drivers need to be alert, not distracted by mobile devices, and anticipate pedestrians on the road with them.
A Pennsylvania legislator is starting a new initiative to keep drivers safer this week called "STASH and Avoid a CRASH". This iniative is meant to draw awareness and reduce incidences of distracted driving in PA. STASH encourages drivers to put their cell phones in the glove compartments while they're driving, or use a GPS docking system on their dashboard to avoid handheld use while driving. Although texting while driving is illegal in PA, distracted driving is still a huge problem across the state.
In recent news, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that PennDOT, our state's transportation department, can be held liable for vehicular injuries caused by dangerous guardrails on our state's highways. Usually, the state cannot be sued for damages due to negligence under an act called the Sovereign Immunity Act; however, it was ruled that exemptions can be made for state guardrails that were installed negligently and whose design creates a dangerous situation. This new ruling came after a case in which a person was in a car accident during winter. The snowy and icy conditions caused the driver to spin out and hit a guardrail. The guardrail ended up spearing the car and also caused injuries to the driver. Although this exemption cannot be assumed in all car accident cases on our highways, it is an important ruling to keep in mind.
Recently, a driver in Chambersburg was accused of hitting a teenager, then driving away. This hit and run incident resulted in a broken leg. Other people who were walking with the victim made multiple attempts to stop and alert the driver to what had happened, but the driver did not stop. A person who was driving directly behind the car also attempted to get the driver to pull over, but was unsuccessful. State police interviewed the man when he returned to the accident scene about 10 minutes later.
In the Pittsburgh area this week, a section of I-70 was closed due to a large tractor-trailer accident. According to accident reports, the truck went off the road and got stuck between the guard rail and the highway. The driver was trapped inside the car and received treatment at an area hospital for his injuries. At the time of the article, there was no mention of other cars being involved in the accident.
As students are going back to school and driving their friends around, it is important to talk to your teens and tell them about these statistics. Infographic courtesy of AAA.