For years, traffic safety experts have been big boosters of the idea of replacing intersections with roundabouts (or as we call them here in Massachusetts “rotaries”). Now, as the BBC reports, the idea is finally catching on in America.
For those of us whose first thought of a roundabout is Chevy Chase exclaiming, “Look kids, Parliament! Big Ben! Look kids, it’s Parliament again! Big Ben!” the idea that a roundabout could be safer than an intersection with traffic signals is a bit counterintuitive. For a lot of American drivers, the roundabout is odd and intimidating; the four-way intersection is familiar and comfortable.
But the statistics don’t lie. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, if you replace a four-way intersection with a roundabout, you’ll see a forty percent reduction in accidents and a ninety percent reduction in fatal accidents.
That’s why 3,000 intersections have been replaced with roundabouts in the last decade.
I love it when there’s a simple way to save lives.
My interest kindled by his blog, I’ve been reading Tom Vanderbilt’s book “Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (And What It Says About Us.” It’s a fascinating quasi-anthropological study of the role of the automobile in our everyday lives. The book touches on a number of subjects, from road rage to city planning. But of greatest interest to most personal injury lawyers is his analysis of some of the surprising risk factors that play into many car accidents. Passengers would be wise to heed Vanderbilt’s advice: “Don’t drive in a pick-up truck with a beer-drinking divorced doctor on Super Bowl Sunday.”
Why shun doctors? They seem like a responsible lot; why are they at a greater risk of being involved in a car accident? The researchers don’t know for sure. Some possible theories include: 75 percent of doctors are male (and males are more likely to be involved in car accidents than women); doctors spend a lot of time driving in urban areas, dispensing advice via cell phone; and, last but not least, doctors may be more fatigued than the average driver (a New England Journal of Medicine study showed that interns working an extended shift are ten percent more likely to be involved in a car accident on their way home).
The Super Bowl Sunday risk factor is a famous result that was actually discovered by a doctor – Stanford researcher Donald A. Redelmeier – who was profiled in The New York Times last week for his quirky but illuminating public health research. Dr. Redelmeier’s findings that car accident fatalities spike by forty-one percent on Super Bowl Sunday prompted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to launch a program aimed at getting fans to stay off the road. Before the game on Super Bowl Sunday, the roads are as safe as any other time. During the game, there are actually fewer car accidents than normal because so many people are off the road, watching the game. But after the game (twenty times more beer is consumed on Super Bowl Sunday than a typical Sunday), the number of car accidents goes through the roof. Fans of the losing team – who perhaps were drowning their sorrows in alcohol (or who perhaps left the party right after the game, rather than staying to celebrate and thereby sobering up) – are much more likely to be involved in a Super Bowl Sunday car accident than fans of the winning team.
Divorce or a recent separation is linked with a fourfold increase in car crashes. The reasons for this are murky. But the research is consistent with other research showing that the never-married are much more likely to be in a car accident than the married-with-children. Having children makes you more likely to buckle up and more likely to drive cautiously (especially while the children are in the car).
Pickup trucks are another surprising car accident risk factor. More pickup truck drivers die per 100 million registered vehicles than any other style of car. Given pickup trucks’ size, you’d think that pickup truck drivers would be among the least likely to die in a car accident. But research has shown that a car’s size is of almost no importance when the car or truck collides with a fixed barrier like a tree or a bridge support. Some of the risk of pickup trucks may be connected to the fact that far more men than women drive pickups and men are much more likely to be involved in a car accident. Men also are much less likely to wear a seatbelt. Beyond those possible contributing factors, statisticians have a hard time sussing out why pickups are so dangerous.
So, whatever the reasons, don’t drive with a divorced doctor in a pick-up truck on Super Bowl Sunday.
With this week’s approval of a bill in the Massachusetts House that would ban texting while driving, Massachusetts is poised to become the twenty-ninth state to impose such a ban.
Why it took Massachusetts so long to get a texting ban passed is almost beyond comprehension. The cell phone companies are not lobbying against these laws, nor are cell phone users banding together to oppose them. Practically no other safety measure out there can do so much to reduce car accidents as a texting ban. Just another example of the inertia on Beacon Hill, I guess.
Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly reports in its June 14, 2010 issue that personal injury plaintiffs lost in the vast majority of cases tried in Massachusetts courts in 2009. Under Mass Lawyers Weekly’s rather generous methodology, a “win” for a plaintiff was defined as a case in which the plaintiff received any money at all, even if it was only one dollar, and that dollar was less than what the defendants had previously offered to settle the case. Lawyers Weekly defined a “loss” as a case in which the jury awarded zilch to the plaintiff.
Using these definitions of a “win” and a “loss,” Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly broke the data down by county and found the following percentages of plaintiff’s wins in Massachusetts state courts in 2009:
- Suffolk County (Boston, Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop) – Plaintiffs won in twenty-five percent of the trials.
- Norfolk County – Plaintiffs won in fourteen percent of personal injury trials.
- Middlesex County – Plaintiffs won only twenty-seven percent of personal injury trials.
- Bristol County – Personal injury plaintiffs won only thirty-two percent of trials.
- Essex County – Plaintiffs won thirty-six percent of jury verdicts.
- Hampden, Berkshire, Franklin, and Hampshire counties – the percentages of jury verdicts for plaintiffs in these counties ranged from twenty-nine to thirty-three percent.
The data are even worse for Massachusetts personal injury plaintiffs if you revise the definitions of a “win” and a “loss” to fit what most lawyers mean by those terms. Superior Court Judge Brady has kept a personal log of all the negligence trials he’s presided over since being appointed to the bench in 1993. Judge Brady scores a case a “win” for the plaintiff only if the amount the jury awards the plaintiff is greater than the last settlement offer made by the defense. In the 151 negligence trials that Judge Brady has heard in his nearly twenty years on the bench, only 16 have resulted in wins for the plaintiff.
The odds of prevailing at trial may seem pretty dismal for Massachusetts personal injury plaintiffs but there are a few things that should be said about this data. First, there’s an obvious selection bias at work in this study. About ninety-eight percent of cases are resolved by either pre-trial settlement or some form of pre-trial motion to dismiss.
The game theorists tell us that the two percent of cases that make it to trial are cases where at least one party is overestimating the strength of its hand. If you assume a rational defendant in a case, once the defendant is convinced of his legal liability and the dollar value of damages that a jury would force him to pay, the defendant will settle the case, simply to avoid the time and expense he would have to pay to defend the case through trial. The cases that don’t settle tend to be troubled cases where there is vast disagreement about either the defendant’s legal liability or the amount of damages. So the vast majority of personal injury plaintiffs in Massachusetts fare better than the trial data would suggest because the trial data represent the outlier cases that make it to trial.
Nevertheless, I don’t think Massachusetts personal injury lawyers should be happy with those numbers. I think they reflect a certain level of complacency by some Massachusetts personal injury lawyers about how cases should be investigated and tried to a jury. I’ve previously blogged about how Massachusetts’ largest medical malpractice verdict of 2009 – a $15 million case – was turned down by a number of Massachusetts medical malpractice law firms before being taken by a California attorney who was much more aggressive than most Massachusetts medical malpractice attorneys in terms of the number of depositions that he took and the theories that he pursued.
I sensed a lot of defeatism in the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly article about trying cases in certain counties, especially Norfolk County. I’ve lived the better part of my life in Norfolk County and I have no compunction about trying a case to a Norfolk County jury. You simply need to know who your jurors are and frame the issue properly for them.
Each year more than a quarter million bikers descend on the Laconia/Weirs Beach area for the biggest motorcycle rally in the northeast. And each year, the event is preceded by dire media predictions of motorcycle accidents, property damage, and out-of-control revelry.
Yet each year, the bikers pour millions of dollars into the local economy, ride their motorcycles responsibly and leave town without much commotion or disturbance.
In short, the media myth about Laconia’s Bike Week always departs from the less-sensationalistic reality. Exactly why the media chose to portray bikers as wild hellraisers is unclear.
Hunter Thompson attempted to tackle the subject in his excellent work Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga, but even the good doctor ultimately was at a loss to explain why the news media demonizes bikers.
The news media’s demonization of bikers dates back at least sixty years. In 1947, a larger-than-expected group of bikers showed up in Hollister, California for an annual rally. Life magazine ran staged photos of bikers surrounded by empty beer bottles and its story created the impression that the town was under siege by bikers in the so-called “Hollister riot.”
This false portrayal was later elevated to iconic status by Marlon Brando’s bravura performance in The Wild One, which depicted the sensationalized version of the Hollister rally and which popularized the greatest motorcycle jacket of all time – the Schott Perfecto – as an American fashion statement. (James Dean would later also wear the Perfecto).
I see analogies between the public perception that bikers (in large groups) are rabble rousers and the popular perception that motorcycles are inherently dangerous. The fact of the matter is that every year there are very few accidents at Laconia when you factor in the extraordinarily large number of bikers who congregate there (more than a quarter million).
Part of the reason that Laconia is such a safe event is that part of town is closed to any traffic except for motorcycles. One of the biggest causes of motorcycle accidents is auto drivers who don’t “Look twice” before changing lanes. These riders are constantly looking out for one another to make sure no one gets hurt.
So let’s hope for an even safer than usual Laconia Bike Week this year, let’s hope it’s a bigger-than-expected boon to the local economy, and do our part to look twice on the roadways.
The Boston Globe had this interesting article about a hidden phenomenon: the average of motorcyclists is creeping up (the average rider is now over 40!) and, to add insult to injury, older riders are getting hurt worse in accidents.
Older motorcyclists are especially vulnerable to brain injuries, as the blood vessels on the top of the brain stretch as you get older and, therefore, are more likely to tear when an older biker gets in an accident.
With Memorial Day approaching, and Americans driving to vacation spots, we will soon see the busiest driving season and, unfortunately, the most roadway accidents. Also with summer comes people pulling motorcycles out of the garage to get out and do some riding.
That’s why May is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month.
In 2008, 5,290 motorcyclists lost their lives in fatal highway crashes. Motorcycle riders are thirty-seven more likely than auto drivers to be involved in a fatal accident.
As an auto driver, the biggest thing you can do to promote motorcycle safety “Look twice, save a life.” The most common motorcycle accident occurs when an auto driver fails to spot a motorcyclist until it’s too late.
As a biker, the best thing you can do for your safety is to wear a DOT-compliant helmet at all times. Wearing one increases your odds of survivability in a serious accident by nearly forty percent.
Antilock brakes have become standard on cars, but motorcycles still lag behind in adopting them. Harley-Davidson, for example, only began offering them as an option in 2008, so most bikes out there are unequipped.
Many motorcyclists think they simply don’t need antilock brakes.
Now, however, comes a new Insurance Institute For Highway Safety study that shows motorcycles equipped with antilock brakes are thirty-seven percent less likely to be involved in a fatal accident. If it reduces your risk of dying by more than one-third, I’d say it’s worth springing for the option package.
The passage yesterday in the Senate of a bill banning text messaging while driving and imposing visual and other medical tests on drivers over 75 years old is good news inasmuch as it presages a ban on hand-held texts, but the potential ban on hands-free devices and the medical review of seniors raise a lot of questions.
There really is no research data showing that hands-free wireless devices are anymore distracting than your car radio or carrying on a conversation with a passenger in your car.
The idea of having seniors’ doctors pull their license also makes me uncomfortable. A doctor’s duty is primarily to his or her patient, just as a lawyer’s duty is to his or her client. I wouldn’t like the idea of having to rat my clients’ driving out to the RMV (such a law would represent an unprecedented abrogation of attorney-client privilege) and I don’t think doctors should have to do it either. If the evaluating doctor is the driver’s personal physician, it really represents an intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship.
It appears that there are a lot of details to be ironed out about the medical evaluations of senior drivers. What happens if one doctor declares a patient unfit to drive and the driver gets a second opinion pronouncing him capable of driving? Why is the first doctor’s opinion sacrosanct and inviolable? If this is going to work at all, there need to be objective criteria that are employed, rather than doctors’ loosey-goosey opinions. Otherwise, there may be Due Process issues with the proposed law.
If Massachusetts passes the Senate version of the bill, we will be going further, perhaps, than any other state in regulating driving by seniors. According to this chart by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, the only jurisdictions that require anything more of seniors than eye tests or special renewal procedures are New Hampshire and Washington, D.C. and the Massachusetts bill would seem to be going even further than those jurisdictions.
This is something all drivers in Massachusetts will be keeping an eye on.
Dave Hudacsko, part of the team responsible for the “Semper Ride” motorcycle accident film that I blogged about here, saw my blog post about the movie and reached out to me to let me know that the film has a website – http://www.semperride.com – and that, pending final approval from the Marine Corps, you’ll be able to watch a lot of the film and see other features on the website.
The film’s target audience is young Marines – too many of whom are dying in motorcycle accidents – but it should also appeal to any young male motorcycle rider you know who’s convinced of his own invincibility and certain that he is too good a rider to ever have a motorcycle accident.
I think anyone interested in preventing motorcycle accidents can give a giant “Hoo-rah!” to that.