Driving and Cell Phones Are a Deadly Combination

Injuries and deaths due to distracted driving—primarily from the use of cell phones—are increasing. Driving and cell phones are a deadly combination.

A study of driving and cell phone use in 2017 found that almost 90 percent of drivers reported using their cell phones while operating a vehicle. The study also found that drivers spent more than three minutes per hour on their phones, a distraction that significantly increased their chances of having a car accident.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that distracted driving caused 391,000 injuries from motor vehicle accidents in 2015, and 3,450 deaths in 2016. Of these fatal crashes, 14 percent involved the use of a cell phone.

Cell phone use is often under-reported in accident statistics, however. NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System Encyclopedia tracks the causes of motor vehicle accidents. Their information relies on drivers or accident witnesses reporting cell phone use. According to a report from the National Safety Council, “Crashes Involving Cell Phones: Challenges of Collecting and Reporting Reliable Crash Data,” police may not report cell phone use if another violation contributed to the accident. For example, the police report may say that the driver failed to stay in the proper lane, but they may not report that it was due to cell phone use. It may be years before we know the true picture of how many injuries and deaths are caused by distracted drivers, particularly those involving cell phones.

Anything that takes a driver’s eyes or attention off the road is potentially an accident waiting to happen. As a result, many cities and states have passed laws to ban texting and driving.

Tucson ban on cellphones and driving

The Tucson City Council voted last year to regulate the use of cell phones and portable electronic devices while driving. The Council passed a hands-free ordinance making the use of handheld electronic devices while driving a primary offense, which means that police officers can pull over drivers they see or suspect are using a cellphone. The mere fact that a driver is holding a cell phone in his or her hand is an infraction.

A previous law stated that drivers could only be cited for cell phone use if the officer had pulled them over for another reason. A similar law has been in effect in Pima County since 2017.

The change is designed to prevent distractions from texting and using phones for other purposes, such as social media, while operating a vehicle. Under the new law, drivers are permitted to use a hands-free device. Drivers cannot use a device that is not hands-free while driving or while stopped on a street or highway (such as at a stop light or sign).

Ticketing for this offense started in late March. A first-time violator can be fined $50, although if there is an accident the fine will be a minimum of $250.

Arizona—only one of 3 states with no texting ban

Arizona is currently one of only three states that does not have a law that bans texting while driving. In 2016, AT&T analyzed data from a campaign called It Can Wait and found that texting bans are working—states with texting bans have far lower rates of texting while driving. This means fewer drivers in the 47 states that ban texting and driving are putting themselves or others at risk for accidental injury or death.

Last year the Arizona Senate considered a law to ban texting while driving. Although the bill that was put forward by committee was not passed, in July Governor Doug Ducey signed into law a bill that prohibits teenagers from texting while driving when they have a learner’s permit, and within the first six months of getting their driver’s license.

Reduce your risk from distracted driving

You can’t control what others do, but you can reduce your chances of injury from an accident by not using your cell phone at all when you’re driving. According to the National Safety Council, drivers having a phone conversation may miss up to 50 percent of what’s going on around them even when using a hands-free device. Texting is even more of a distraction. A driver’s eyes will be off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds while texting, which at 55 mph means the car can travel the length of a football field without the driver paying attention.

If you are walking or bicycling, it is just as important that you stay focused on your surroundings rather than your electronic device.

Remember also to use your seat belt to reduce your risk if you are involved in an accident.

Wrong-Way Crashes Cause Serious Injury and Death

Each year an average of 360 people nationwide are killed in wrong-way crashes, according to a report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The report states that although collisions involving wrong-way drivers only account for about three percent of accidents, wrong-way crashes cause serious injury and death because these are usually head-on crashes.

Several decades of research shows that wrong-way crashes have higher rates of fatalities than other types of accidents. In addition, data from 2004 to 2009 showed that 60 percent of fatal wrong-way crashes likely involved impairment by alcohol.

In Arizona, the number of cases of drivers going the wrong way increased more than eight percent between 2016 and 2017, with over 1,700 reported wrong-way incidents in 2017. That year, wrong way drivers caused 54 accidents, with 18 fatalities.

Arizona Takes Action Against Wrong-Way Driving

The state has been taking measures to reduce wrong-way driving. In the fall of 2017, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) installed a thermal detection system in Phoenix.

The system uses cameras at exit ramps and along the interstate. When a camera spots a vehicle traveling the wrong way, it sends an alert to ADOT, which then sends messages to highway alert boards to warn drivers of the danger. If the system detects a wrong-way driver at an off-ramp, it activates a flashing red sign to alert the wrong-way driver.

In any case, the system also notifies law enforcement, who can then travel to the scene. As of mid-June, this technology had detected more than 12 wrong-way drivers.

The state has also installed hundreds of larger “Do Not Enter” and “Wrong Way” signs throughout Arizona.

As part of Arizona’s effort to address the wrong-way driving problem, Governor Doug Ducey signed a law last year that imposes tougher penalties for motorists caught driving the wrong way. Wrong-way drivers in Arizona who are found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol will now face felony charges, including a possible four months to 2½ years in prison. Anyone stopped for wrong-way driving will be fined $500 and will be required to attend traffic school.

“Drive Aware Get There” Safety Campaign

ADOT’S Drive Aware Get There safety campaign was launched to reduce wrong-way driving and help motorists learn what can they can do to protect themselves from a wrong-way driver.

Because research shows most wrong-way drivers are impaired, driving defensively is key to preventing a tragic encounter. Motorists are advised to avoid distractions while driving and to focus on their surroundings, including what is far ahead on the road, giving them a chance to spot any erratic driving and take action before it becomes an issue.

ADOT advises that if you are on a two-lane road, stay away from the center line to accommodate oncoming cars that may be closer to the center line. If you see a vehicle coming towards you, get to the side of the road and call 911. If you are on a highway, try to stay in the right lane, as wrong-way drivers are more likely to be in the far left lane or in the carpool lane.

If you see that a wrong-way driver is coming towards you, ADOT recommends you slow by easing your foot off the gas and try to steer away from the wrong-way driver. Again, if you can, get off the road and call 911.

Of all vehicle accidents, head-on collisions have the greatest potential to cause serious injuries and fatalities. Although Arizona is taking steps to reduce the chances of wrong-way driving, you can do your part to keep yourself and others safe by being alert, wearing your seat belt, not driving while impaired, and avoiding distractions while driving.

Medical Errors Can Lead to Medical Malpractice

A few months ago the AZ Daily Star reported that Banner University Medical Center’s conversion to a new computer system came with a cost to patient care and had resulted in numerous instances of medical errors. The Star cited an investigation by the Arizona Department of Health Services, the state licensing arm that licenses medical facilities and other medical providers, that found at least two substantiated allegations that included the delivery of medications and care for critically ill patients. Although the hospital denied the errors resulted in negative outcomes for patients, the unfortunate reality is that vulnerable patients are the ones at highest risk of medical malpractice in hospital settings.

Patients who have experienced an adverse outcome following a medical procedure or surgery often wonder if their experience rises to the level of medical malpractice, and if they have legal recourse against the doctor, nurse, or medical facility where the incident took place.

What is Medical Malpractice
According the Board of American Liability Attorneys, medical malpractice occurs when a hospital, doctor, or other health care professional, through a negligent act or omission, causes an injury to a patient. The negligence might be the result of errors in diagnosis, treatment, aftercare, or health management.

Medicare “Never Events”
Medicare also weighs in on medical malpractice by providing a list a “Never Events,” which are conditions that may happen in a hospital that are so severe that Medicare will not pay for the additional cost of treating for the event. The “Never Events” list includes:
 Pressure ulcer stages III and IV;
 Falls and trauma;
 Surgical site infection after bariatric surgery for obesity, certain orthopedic procedures, and bypass surgery (mediastinitis);
 Vascular-catheter associated infection;
 Administration of incompatible blood;
 Air embolism;
 Foreign object unintentionally retained after surgery.

Do I have a Medical Malpractice Claim?
When a medical malpractice attorney evaluates a medical malpractice claim, the initial screening will try to determine whether the medical harm was due to negligence, and assess the impact of the medical error to the patient. If there was negligence and the patient was inconvenienced for a period of time but was able to make a full recovery, it’s unlikely a medical malpractice attorney would accept such a case because the damages would not justify the cost of the claim.

However, if the attorney learns during the screening process that there was negligence on the part of the physician or other medical provider and the harm to the patient was catastrophic or resulted in death, the attorney may accept the case and begin the investigation process.

Every case involving medical error is different, as is the level of harm. The attorneys at Hollingsworth Kelly encourage patients or patient advocates to contact our office for a free evaluation if they believe their unsatisfactory experience with a medical provider rises to the level of medical malpractice.

Ignoring Auto Recalls May Put You at Risk for Car Accidents

When a class of vehicles presents a safety hazard that increases the risk for car accidents and serious injury, the manufacturer may recall the vehicles to correct the unsafe issues. Automakers are required to fix defects by repairing or replacing the defective part, offering a refund, or very rarely by repurchasing the vehicle.

Since the beginning of the year, several automakers have issued recalls to fix or replace defects that could have serious safety risks for drivers and their passengers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provides monthly reports of vehicles that have been recalled, along with the safety issues that need to be addressed. It’s important to know if your vehicle has been recalled—doing so can help you avoid an accident or serious injury.

How to Check if Your Car is Part of an Active Safety Recall

If you registered your vehicle when you bought it, the manufacturer will mail a notice to alert you it has been recalled. It’s important to keep your vehicle registration updated so you can receive these notifications.

You can sign up with NHTSA to receive e-mail notifications for a vehicle’s specific make and model. You can also check a car’s recall record by entering its VIN number at safercar.gov.

Follow the safety guidance and instructions from the manufacturer if you find that your vehicle has been recalled. In some cases, the defect may pose such a serious safety risk that you will be advised not to drive the vehicle. Do not drive warnings were issued earlier this year when Ford recalled certain 2006 Ford Ranger trucks and Mazda recalled 2006 B-series trucks due to the danger presented by Takata airbags. Although other automakers have also recalled vehicles to fix this airbag issue, Ford and Mazda requested that owners not drive these vehicles until they are repaired, fearing catastrophic injuries.

In another case, Fiat Chrysler recalled more than 4.8 million vehicles in the U.S. to fix an issue that could leave drivers unable to turn off cruise control. Affected vehicles were from the 2014 to 2019 model years and included Jeep (Cherokee, Grand Cherokee, Wrangler), Dodge (Charger, Challenger, Journey, Durango), Chrysler (Chrysler 200, Chrysler 300, Chrysler Pacifica), and Ram (Ram pickups—1500, 2500 and 3500; Ram cab chassis trucks—500/4500/5500). Fiat Chrysler strongly advised drivers to avoid using cruise control until the repairs are made.

In addition to these recalls, this year Hyundai, Honda, Toyota, Kia, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Volkswagen, and General Motors (among others), have also issued recalls to fix a variety of safety issues that could increase the risk of crash or injury. Examples of these recalls include a possible electrical short in the anti-lock brake module due to entry of water, which could lead to an engine fire with risk of injury (Hyundai); possible crack in the drive belt automatic tensioner flange, which could lead to engine stall and crash (Mitsubishi); inaccurate tire information label that could result in overloading and increasing crash risk (Toyota); improper tempering of window glass, which, if broken, could cause the glass to break into large pieces and cause injury (General Motors).

It will cost you nothing to get the work done on your vehicle if it has been recalled. You should call your local dealership as soon as possible if you find that your vehicle has been recalled. Neglecting to do so may put you, your passengers, or other drivers at risk of serious, catastrophic personal injury in the event of a car accident.

Fighting Back Against Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is something most families may not consider when faced with having to place a loved one in a nursing home. If a facility looks bright and clean and the staff is friendly, that may give families the confidence that their loved one’s needs will be adequately taken care of, and that they will be safe with trusted caregivers.

Sadly, that is not always the case. Stories in the news too frequently alert us to alarming reports of nursing home negligence—not just neglect, but also verbal, physical, and sexual abuse, intentional overmedication, and robbery.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are 1.4 million Americans living in 17,000 nursing homes in the U.S., with almost 70 percent of those facilities run by for-profit corporations. When nursing homes have pressure from corporate owners to meet ambitious profit goals, budget considerations may take precedence over the care and staffing requirements of their most vulnerable residents.

In the CDC publication Elder Abuse Surveillance: Uniform Definitions and Recommended Core Data Elements, elder abuse is defined as “An intentional act or failure to act by a caregiver…that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult.”

When family or friends of a nursing home resident suspect their loved one may have been harmed, they often find it difficult to prove, especially if the elderly resident has difficulty communicating.

Some families are fighting back against elder abuse in nursing homes by placing cameras in the rooms of their loved ones to monitor the interactions with—and care of—the elderly resident. This approach can bring peace of mind to a family, as it allows them to provide supervision for their elderly loved one’s care. In the best case, they would be reassured that their family member is receiving the care and compassion they deserve. In the event that this is not the case, the family would be alerted to the situation and may take timely action to correct it.

If the presence of a camera is known to nursing home staff, it could serve as a deterrent to abusive activity. In the case of an accident, the recording could help clarify what happened and could prevent nursing home staff from being wrongly accused. On the other hand, if the recording were to document actual abuse, it could serve as proof if civil or criminal action were to become necessary.

Placing cameras in nursing homes to monitor activity is not without controversy, however. In general, the nursing home industry is opposed to it, citing concerns about privacy of the resident, any roommates, and staff.

To date seven states have passed laws allowing the use of cameras in nursing homes. Two states—New Jersey and Wisconsin—initiated a program to loan secret cameras to families to assist in documenting suspected abuse. State laws and guidelines vary regarding permission and policies for placing cameras in nursing homes. For example, in Texas, the law does not apply to private facilities, only to state-supported living centers.

In Arizona there is no current legislation regarding video cameras in nursing homes. Families who want to place a camera in a loved one’s room may want to determine the facility’s policies before taking such action.

If the nursing home allows the placement of a camera, there will be concerns such as privacy to consider. For example, if there is more than one resident in a room, you will be required to get consent from them, or from their guardians or Powers of Attorney.

As the U.S. population continues to age (by 2030 1 in 5 will be age 65 or older), the importance of good nursing home care will be a great concern for many Americans. As opportunities will continue to exist for abuse, using tools like cameras for accountability will help ensure that vulnerable nursing home residents are treated with compassion and respect.

If a loved one has been a victim of elder abuse or negligence, contact the experienced and compassionate attorneys at Hollingsworth Kelly for a free consultation.

Do Self-driving Cars Really Mean Fewer Auto Accidents?

Self-driving cars have been making their way onto streets and highways for a few years now, and the technology continues to improve. While they may hold the promise of fewer auto accidents due to human error, they aren’t yet error-free.

Several cases of injuries or deaths involving self-driving vehicles have been in the news, including the incident of a pedestrian killed in Tempe, Arizona in March 2018 by a self-driving Uber. This was the first known traffic fatality involving a pedestrian and a self-driving car. The car was in self-driving mode and had a human safety driver in place. A preliminary report on the accident showed that the car recognized the need to brake when the victim was spotted on the roadway. However, the emergency braking system had been disabled to allow the human safety operator in the vehicle to brake when necessary. Unfortunately, the human operator had been distracted watching a show on her mobile electronic device and did not see the pedestrian. According to the report, the system did not alert the human operator to the need to brake.

Following this fatal accident, Uber suspended testing of its self-driving vehicles in several states. Arizona governor Doug Ducey then suspended Uber from continuing to test its vehicles in Arizona. By the end of May, Uber announced that it would no longer test its self-driving vehicles in Arizona at all.

Arizona had been particularly keen to attract self-driving car companies to the state. Governor Ducey issued an executive order in 2015 promising little in the way of regulations for companies wanting to test their self-driving vehicles in the state. Dozens of companies flocked to Arizona to take advantage of the permissive and regulation-free atmosphere.

Several companies, including Uber, GM, Ford, Waymo, Tesla, and others are developing and testing self-driving cars. These companies vary widely in the level of development, including the number of miles they are able to drive without requiring human drivers to take control.

Some states, such as California, require manufacturers of self-driving cars to report incidents in which human drivers have to take control (also called an “intervention”). One site reported that in California, Waymo cars traveled approximately 5600 miles without human drivers taking control or intervening. General Motors reported one intervention approximately every 1250 miles. Unlike California, Arizona does not require manufacturers who are testing self-driving cars to report incidents in which human drivers take control. The New York Times, however, was able to determine that Uber was barely meeting its target in Arizona of just 13 miles per intervention as of March 2018.

As of March 2018, there were an estimated 600 driverless cars on the road in Arizona. Waymo was testing cars with an operator in the vehicle, but not behind the wheel, as of November 2017. Arizona still doesn’t require companies to report accidents involving self-driving vehicles, so it’s difficult to determine a total number for how many injury and non-fatal accidents have involved a self-driving vehicle in the state.

Are we allowing these vehicles on public roads before all the issues that could affect public safety have been worked out? As the recent unfortunate accident involving the pedestrian in Tempe shows, even cars with a human safety driver aren’t yet infallible. In addition, there are numerous other factors to consider, including insurance, reporting requirements, and liability issues. As the LA Times pointed out, self-driving cars are here, but are we, and our social and legal structures, ready for them?