NYC pedestrian accidents spur outcry over preventable deaths

Frequent pedestrian deaths have New York City residents demanding improved safety. Many find government’s response lacking.

Pedestrian injuries and deaths due to accidents on the streets of New York City are all too common. The issue has become such a sore spot across all the boroughs that it sparked the city council to pass a package of bills aimed at improving street safety. Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the measures into law a few weeks back and says the intent of all the measures is to support what he calls Vision Zero — an initiative to eliminate traffic-related fatalities.

Some might wonder whether such action is needed. After all, according to The New York Times, city data indicates that deaths from traffic accidents have been on the decline since 1990. More than 700 deaths were reported that year. By 2000, only 381 had been reported. And by 2011, the number of fatalities had fallen to 249.

Still, there are plenty of official statistics to show that traffic accidents remain a pernicious problem. They reportedly show that a New Yorker suffers serious injury or death every two hours as a result of a crash. Some 4,000 people are hurt and more than 250 are killed every year.

The non-profit Tri-State Transportation Campaign has been studying the problem in depth for the past several years and it reports that between 2010 and 2012, 420 pedestrians have been killed in city traffic accidents. The group has even ranked the most dangerous streets. Broadway in Manhattan is number one with nine fatalities. Woodhaven Boulevard in Queens is number two with eight.

An epidemic of traffic fatalities

The 11-bill package recently signed by the mayor seeks to end what one city council leader calls “an epidemic of traffic fatalities” and serious injuries. Among other things, the bundled measures direct the Department of Transportation to undertake more studies and produce regular reports on traffic flow issues and signal problems.

One calls for the creation of seven Neighborhood Slow Zones through this year and next. It would also lower speed limits to between 15 and 20 mph in areas near 50 schools. Another of the measures would result in taxi and limo drivers who are cited for traffic violations that result in someone being critically injured or killed having their licenses suspended. Yet another lists an array of penalties against drivers of any vehicles that fail to yield to pedestrians and bicyclists.

The mayor has also proposed lowering the default speed limit in the city at 25 mph from the current 30 mph. The idea has already won the approval of the state legislature.

Department of Transportation officials won’t say whether some or all the ideas in the plan will be implemented. A spokesman insists that safety is the top DOT priority and that the agency will continue to work with communities to consider all options.

What is clear from all that has been reported is that the public is on high alert and demanding action. Pedestrian accidents happen suddenly and often are the result of driver incompetence, distraction or recklessness. The risks of suffering injuries such as broken bones, brain trauma or wrongful death while simply walking down the street are higher than ever.

Anyone who falls victim to such circumstances should know what their rights are regarding the seeking of compensation. The way to do that is by contacting an experienced personal injury attorney.

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Motor Coach Safety

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) claims that accidents involving motor coaches are rare and that these vehicles are among the safest on the road. The industry transports 750 million passengers per year, with each bus carrying large numbers of people. But, despite this glowing report, an article in USA Today recently charged the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) with undercounting motor coach accidents and deaths at least since 1995. The article further states that inaccurate numbers given by the NHTSA in testimony before Congress creates a false impression that buses are safer than they really are.

Although the NTSB has made recommendations designed to improve motor coach safety, the actual implementation of these changes has languished for more than a decade. The only significant recent improvement, a ban on texting by all commercial drivers, dates from January 2010. An additional proposal would prohibit reaching for, holding, or dialing a cell phone while operating a commercial vehicle. This rule has yet to go into effect.

Inadequate Testing

Government audits of tour bus companies have been incomplete at best. The purpose of these audits is to check compliance with certain rules, such as testing drivers for drugs and alcohol and limiting their time behind the wheel in order to prevent fatigue. But there seems to be no law that specifies how often such inspections must occur. New bus companies can operate for as long as 18 months without a full audit.

In addition, even multiple violations will not necessarily result in the shut-down of a bus company. In 2011, a World Wide Travel bus crash killed 15 passengers near New York City. The company had last been fully audited in 2008 and had been cited for 5 violations of “fatigued driver” since 2009. The Federal Motor Coach Safety Administration (FMCSA) places bus companies on “alert” when spot inspections find repeated safety violations. FMCSA lists 433 out of 3,100 motor coach companies as on “alert.” And, although these companies present a higher level of passenger safety risk, they can continue operating for 9 months or more before receiving a full safety audit.

New Safety Recommendations

In response to a recent rash of fatal bus crashes Congress introduced the Motorcoach Enhancement Safety Act of 2011. Among the NTSB safety recommendations that the legislation seeks to implement are:

  • Requiring seat belts for all passengers.
  • Electric on-board recorders that monitor the number of hours a driver has been on the road. Driver fatigue is the number one cause of bus accidents and accounts for 36 percent of motor coach fatalities.
  • Stronger roofs that resist being sheared off or crushed and prevent passengers from being ejected during a rollover. About half of all motor coach fatalities result from rollovers, with a 70 percent death rate for passengers ejected from the bus.
  • Improved glazing for bus windows to prevent shattering.
  • Windows and exits that are easier for passengers to open.

In the fall of 2011, federal, state and local police began an intensive, two-week inspection sweep, conducting thousands of surprise safety inspections of motor coaches, tour buses, school buses, and other passenger vehicles. In spite of its shortcomings on safety audits, the FMCSA has actually doubled the number of roadside motor coach inspections and safety reviews over the past 5 years. Since 2008, FMCSA has also stepped up its enforcement against unsafe passenger carriers.

These developments are promising, but the NHSTA needs to tell the whole story when reporting on motor coach safety statistics. From 2003 to 2009, the agency failed to include at least 14 motor coach accidents and 32 passenger fatalities among its official tally. Members of the public deserve a more accurate reality check on safety each time they decide to board a motor coach.

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Motorcycle Accidents

Motorcyclists are not very likely to walk away from an accident. With no safety protections like seat belts or air bags, their rate of death or injury following a motorcycle accident can be as high as 80 percent. Wearing a motorcycle helmet that conforms to government standards can prevent more than a third of fatalities. It is also essential that motorcyclists make themselves highly visible-by wearing bright clothing, keeping their headlights on, and avoiding the blind spots of other vehicles.

Accident Causes

Most motorcycle accidents occur during brief trips for purposes of errands, shopping, entertainment and recreation, or visiting with friends. Such accidents are likely to happen within a short time and within a short distance of where the trip originated. The vast majority of motorcycle accidents involve collision with another vehicle. Drivers of other vehicles often don’t see the motorcycle until it is too late to avoid an accident. Typically, a motorcyclist has less than 2 seconds to complete an anti-collision maneuver. In almost half of all multiple vehicle accidents, the motorist’s view of the motorcycle was obstructed by glare or other vehicles. Lack of driver attention and fatigue are also major risk factors, and alcohol use contributes to almost half of all fatalities.

About one-fourth of motorcycle crashes are single vehicle accidents in which the rider collides with the roadway or some other fixed object. Motorcycle driver error is common in two-thirds of these cases, mostly from slide outs and falls due to over-braking, or running wide on a curve due to excessive speed or under-cornering. Male riders between the ages of 16 and 24 have the highest risk of motorcycle accidents, and many of them have previous traffic citations. Proper training and experience greatly reduces accident involvement. Most riders, however, lack expert training and are most likely to be self-taught or to learn from family or friends.

Legal Concerns

Most motorcycle accidents involve some form of negligence resulting in property damage and/or injury. Drivers who speed, tail gate, fail to yield the right of way or who change lanes improperly increase the risk of colliding with a motorcycle.

Carelessness and recklessness are not always easy to prove. A diligent personal injury lawyer will carefully analyze police and medical reports as well as eyewitness testimony and depictions of the crash scene. In states with no-fault insurance laws, accident victims may be limited to payments for medical expenses or lost income. At times, government entities may be liable for accidents caused by defective road design, hazardous road conditions or improper road maintenance. Lawsuits against government entities must be filed within specified time limits. In such cases, accident victims should consult a personal injury attorney as soon as possible.

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Recent Bus Accident Shows Need for Increased Industry Safety

In the span of a few days in early 2011, two bus accidents – one of which involved a bus traveling from a casino in Connecticut to New York City – put the spotlight back on the issue of bus safety. In total, 17 people were killed in the two accidents – 15 in the New York City bus crash alone.

In reaction to these recent crashes and others, there are currently two proposals to increase bus safety before Congress. However, there are already a number of rules and regulations on the books, with the rules regulating drivers’ hours-of-service being some of the most important.

Hours-of-Service Regulations

In an effort to keep all passengers and others on the road safe, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates the number of hours that a bus driver is allowed to remain behind the wheel. There are three basic kinds of hours-of-service regulations:

  • On-Duty Limit – after bus drivers are on duty for 15 hours, they are not allowed to drive until eight consecutive hours of off-duty time are taken; however, in an absurd loophole, a driver may continue to conduct non-driving work (like paperwork or vehicle maintenance) after the 15 hours has run.
  • Driving Limit – the FMCSA only allows bus drivers a total of 10 hours of driving time, driven consecutively or broken up, after eight consecutive hours off duty. Once drivers use all of their drive time, they must be off duty for eight consecutive hours before driving again.
  • Weekly Limit – called the “60/70 rule,” bus drivers are only allowed to drive a certain number of hours in a given (rolling) week, either 60 hours in a seven-day week or 70 hours in an eight-day week.

In December of 2010, the FMCSA proposed to amend the rules pertaining to bus driver hours-of-service. The proposed rules will serve to improve safety by further limiting the number of hours that a bus driver can spend behind the wheel and on duty.

Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act

Introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act (MESA) would call for:

  • Seat belts to be installed in all new buses
  • Seat belts to be retrofitted into all older buses
  • Passenger ejection protection by installing stronger seats and windows
  • Bus roofs that are crush resistant
  • More stringent inspection requirements
  • Tracking technology similar to the “black box” technology used in airplanes

As is, the American Bus Association chose not to endorse this Act, choosing instead to endorse the Bus Uniform Standards and Enhanced Safety (BUSES) Act of 2011. The American Bus Association – according to information provided by Philly.com – claims that implementing the MESA would cost upwards of $80,000 per bus, according to Philly.com. They argue that the hefty cost associated with compliance would surely result in increased fares that would have a disproportionately negative impact on smaller carrier companies.

While the bus industry claims that the costs of this Act would be too high, Philly.com reports that Joan Claybrook, a former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and currently with Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety (a safety advocacy organization), claims that even a 10 cent raise in fares would be all it takes to cover the increased costs of this Act. If Ms. Claybrook is right, 10 cents is a small price to pay for safety.

The BUSES Act of 2011

Endorsed by the American Bus Association, the Bus Uniform Standards and Enhanced Safety (BUSES) Act of 2011 takes a different approach to bus safety than the MESA. It proposes that – after a period of research and testing – the NHTSA should enact uniform safety rules for the bus industry that would improve safety through:

  • Installing seat belts
  • Strengthening roofs and windows
  • Enhancing emergency egress
  • Improving fire protection standards
  • Establishing minimum standards for all drivers seeking a commercial driver’s license (CDL) with a passenger endorsement

After the safety rules are set forth, the Act would allow up to an 18-year timeframe for retrofitting older buses. To help offset increased costs associated with improving safety, the Act would also provide grants and tax credits to bus companies.

Both proposed Acts seek to improve passenger safety, albeit in somewhat different ways; however, one safety aspect that both have in common is seat belts. According the NHTSA, seat belts on buses reduce the risk of death by an astounding 77 percent during a rollover crash.

Potentially Liable Parties

The bus industry has made it known that, since new safety rules cost money, they favor the least restrictive safety rules. Whether or not the safety measures are implemented, though, bus accidents happen. When bus crashes occur, several different parties may be responsible, including:

  • The bus driver
  • The bus company
  • The bus manufacturer
  • The manufacturer of the bus’ components, including the windows, seats or tires
  • Other drivers, especially those engaging in drunk driving or distracted driving
  • Designers or builders of the roads
  • Municipalities responsible for maintaining roadways on which buses travel

If you have been injured while traveling on a bus, speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. A New York lawyer can help you hold accountable the parties that are responsible for your injuries, allowing you to recover compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If a loved one has been fatally wounded in a bus accident, an attorney can help you file a wrongful death lawsuit that seeks compensation for medical bills, funeral expenses, loss of consortium and lost future earnings.

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New York City Bicycle Accidents: Will More Bike Lanes Provide Solutions?

The mayor’s recent announcement of an initiative to increase dedicated bicycle lanes on streets in Manhattan, Brooklyn and other boroughs came as welcome news to cycling advocates such as Transportation Alternatives. In a recent Quinnipiac poll, a solid majority of New Yorkers supported an expansion of bike lanes “because it’s greener and healthier for people to ride their bicycles.” Yet while New York City has 6,000 miles of streets that cater to cars, taxis and, for the most part, trucks and buses, a modest expansion of bike lanes by 255 miles in recent years has triggered opposition.

NYC bicycle accidents can be reduced by making sure that bicyclists do not have to shoulder in among much more massive motor vehicles. The risks to the cyclist are obvious, whether he or she is wearing a helmet or not. Broken bones, back injuries, concussions and other head and neck injuries frequently result when a car or truck strikes a bicycle or a rider slams into a door that suddenly opens in the path ahead.

The mayor’s office recently released a memo highlighting several important points in support of further bike lane expansion:

  • Community Boards around the City have approved bike lane installations on major thoroughfares, and several high-profile major projects in Brooklyn and Manhattan were initiated by the community itself.
  • Bike lanes can be altered after installation to remedy unforeseen conflicts with parking or other concerns.
  • Safety increases for bicyclists and pedestrians: while ridership has increased in recent years, crashes and serious injuries have gone down. Bike lanes reduce the frequency of crashes by 40 to 50 percent.
  • Two thirds of the bike lanes created in NYC did not impact parking availability nor reduce the number of traffic lanes.

Bike advocates see the attempt by some to mandate bicycle registration in New York City as an attempt to reduce overall biking numbers and decrease the need for dedicated lanes. One solid rationale behind this point: cyclists benefit from the idea of “safety in numbers,” and more riders on NYC streets make motorists better aware of the need to drive safely.

Safer Streets for Younger Bicyclists

Child bicycle accidents make up a disproportionate share of all vehicle/bike crashes, and drivers have an enhanced responsibility for looking out for young rider. This obligation is underscored by the fact that a defendant in a New York personal injury case has a greater burden of proving contributory negligence of a child rider in the aftermath of an accident causing injury or wrongful death.

A new NYC bike-share program will bring even greater numbers of bicyclists to the streets, as well as enhancements to our quality of life. Reduced air pollution, less crowding and better physical health will all result if bike use increases significantly in the near future. But motor vehicles will always share those roads, and while accident rates will certainly be reduced by implementation of smart transportation policies, crashes between bicyclists and cars, trucks, buses and taxis will never be eliminated. After any bike accident that causes injury or fatality to a rider, accident victims and surviving family members demand answers and deserve compensation for the losses they suffer.

NYC Bike Accident Attorneys Protect Riders on City Streets

New York City enforces a lengthy list of ordinances designed to enhance bicycle safety, and many of these focus on the role of the cyclist. Only riders 12 years and younger on small bikes may ride on sidewalks (unless otherwise designated), riders must always hold on to the handlebars, brakes must be in good repair, and lights are required from dusk until dawn.

But the most careful rider has no protection when a driver illegally merges into a bike lane, rolls through a stop sign without looking or opens a door without first checking in the rearview mirror for an approaching bike. Driver negligence presents the foremost danger to NYC cyclists, and the costs resulting from a motorist’s distracted driving or other lapse of attention can be immense.

A New York personal injury attorney with experience in bike accident litigation can provide important insights to an injury victim or family that faces lost wages, medical expenses and other damages. The harm caused by a bicycle collision can leave all participants confused about what really happened, and a bike crash lawyer can provide crucial representation by securing witnesses, consulting with experts to assess crash evidence and negotiating with insurance companies to hold negligent motorists accountable.

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