Posted on August 19th, 2022 by Zane Cagle
A new report from the National Highway Traffic Administration shares some sobering news if you travel in Missouri and Illinois. Roadway fatalities saw a jump in the first quarter of 2020 when we had record low numbers of vehicles on the roadway. However, those high rates have continued to increase through the first quarter of 2022 for a 20 year record high. Of course, a lot of things happened in early 2020. We did NOT see a reduction in road fatalities during early 2020 when most schools and many businesses were shuttered due to Covid. Instead, there were far fewer people on the roadways but the fatalities increased. Safety experts had hoped that once traffic returned to normal levels, drivers would reduce speeds and exercise more caution. It hasn’t worked out that way.
One would logically think that fewer vehicles on the roadway during the harsher months of the pandemic would mean fewer opportunities for crashes. Nope. Roadway traffic has been back to pre-pandemic levels for quite some time and in 29 states, roadway fatalities continue to increase rather than plateau.. Experts who are generally correct about these statistics say we are on track to have the highest road fatality numbers since 2002.
This is not a statistical win. Missouri and Illinois are two states that have seen drastic increases in roadway fatalities. Missouri saw about a 10.3% increase. Worse, Illinois reports a 24.4% increase from 2021 to 2022.
Why are roadway fatalities increasing?
While we do not have the exact breakdown of all data about all of the fatalities between 2021 through 2022, we can make some basic assumptions. These assumptions have proven true for decades. There are three main areas of contributing causes to crashes: inattentiveness/driver error, mechanical failure and weather.
The word “accident” implies that vehicles collide simply due to chance without a cause. Ninety-nine percent of motor vehicle crashes have an actual cause, meaning they do not happen simply by coincidence with no apparent cause. The most common contributors are inattentiveness, mechanical failure and weather.
The majority of motor vehicle crashes occur due to driver error. Driver error is the mother umbrella of factors causing crashes. Inattentiveness causes a good deal of driver error. Inattentiveness is different than “distracted driving”. Distracted driving is attempting to operate a motor vehicle while you are on an electronic device. No one is good at driving a vehicle while operating their smartphone. When you are on your phone, you miss light changes, drift into other lanes and all of the kinds of dangerous behaviors and you may not even realize it. Distracted driving is dangerous and each one of can put an end to it immediately.
Inattentive driving is the category of any behavior that keeps you from focusing 100% on the roadway. It can be as simple as failure to concentrate on the task at hand. Daydreaming and rubbernecking are common for inattentive drivers. It can be really hard sometimes to always stay super focused as a driver, but it should not be that challenging to stay engaged. Staying concentrated on the roadway is really important to increase your chances of making it to your destination safely. Inattentiveness includes applying makeup, adjusting systems in your vehicle, focusing on conversations with other occupants over driving and drowsy driving. We have all been inattentive while driving at some point, however, we can focus on making sure we are always attentive going forward.
If your tire tread is worn, you risk blowout. If you don’t maintain your brakes, you risk brake failure. Tire blowouts and brake failure on the interstate can be catastrophic. Those of us that put a lot of miles on our vehicles know the importance of maintenance for safety. Vehicles can be expensive to maintain and are often the area we slack when economics get tight. If a tire blowout or failed brakes do not directly cause a collision, the failure often strands you roadside. There are few more dangerous places to be than on the roadside of an interstate or highway with a stranded car. It is incomprehensible the number of folks I have represented you were seriously injured or had a loved one killed while they were attending to their stranded vehicle on a busy roadway.
In the Midwest, weather can change in an afternoon. We know the temperatures can drop drastically and rain/sleet start falling from the sky after the first of November through May. But hey, we are Midwesterners, so we should know what to expect. These days it is so easy to monitor the weather hour by hour on your smart phone. You don’t have to wait for a radio or television news report. When you know bad weather is coming, make plans. While planning not to travel will not solve every weather-related fatality, it would save some. When we are talking about lives, especially yours or mine, isn’t that pretty important?
While this may seem really obvious, we have to change our speeds and driving behaviors when the weather changes. Again, not to be patronizing, but we have all driven down Interstate 70 in blinding rain and yet, several cars blow past you at a high rate of speed. No, they do not possess superior visibility, but they continue to travel at a high speed. Speeding can be treacherous under the best of conditions, but when the weather changes, continuing to speed profoundly increases your chances for a collision. Simply increase your following distance, slow down and plan your turns. Weather changes can include snow and ice, but heavy rain creates more driving hazards than people recognize.
Individual Steps to Reduce Crashes
Obey the Rules of the Road- Follow the road signals and speed limits. Failing to yield is one of the most common driver errors that result in crashes.
Wear a Seat Belt every time you get in the vehicle. Put the seat belt on EVERY TIME. Murphy’s Law will catch up with you the one time you do not wear it.
Be Attentive-Pay attention all the time. If you become drowsy, take a break. Refrain from talking on the phone while you drive.
Fatal Crashes Are Way Too Common
Every single fatal motor vehicle crash is such a waste of life. While I have represented families of those killed in car collisions, the overwhelming feelings of waste never eases for me.. This recent report from the NTSA reflects what we have seen in the severe injury and fatal crash reports from the Missouri State Highway Patrol. It will be interesting to see future national statistics. Based upon the MSHP statistics, Missourians are failing to buckle up. Instead of increasing our seat belt usage rates, many are opting out. Actually, in most vehicles, you have to do some maneuvering and overt actions to avoid wearing a seat belt. When seat belts increase your survival rate over 50% at minimum, it is easier just to wear the dang thing. If all drivers simply wore the safety belt, many lives could be saved. At the same time, the number of severe injuries could be reduced.
Wrongful Death Claims
While a lot of my law practice is representing family members of those killed in car and motorcycle crashes, there simply are too many roadway fatalities. We become numb to the number of crashes that we hear in the news. Each statistic represents a life and a devastated family. Fatal crashes happen in mere seconds but permanently change lives. If one safety article could prevent one fatality, we would write thousands. Not only has a life ended too soon, but the ramifications and suffering of family and friends is always extreme. If you have been in a serious motor vehicle crash or lost a loved one, you will need legal help. You will also want someone experienced in wrongful death litigation. Haggling with insurance companies is without a doubt the last thing that anyone should have to do while they are grieving and trying to put their lives back together.
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