Good News for California Drivers -- House Lawmakers Examine the Issue of Medically Unfit Commerical Truck Drivers

July 30, 2008 by Gregory J. Brod

Last week, U. S. House Representatives heard the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee denounce the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for not solving the problem of medically unfit truckers possessing fabricated medical certificates. The hearing focused on eight outstanding National Transportation Safety Board recommendations and many congressional mandates to ensure that commercial driver’s license holders are medically fit to drive. According to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, medical oversight of commercial drivers has been on the National Transportation Safety Board’s “Most Wanted” list since 2003. The FMCA requires Interstate Commercial Drivers to pass a comprehensive physical exam before obtaining a commercial drivers license and carry a medical card, which has been issued by a qualified medical examiner and proves the driver meets the medical requirements, at all times and produce it upon request by State and Federal Inspectors. After an extensive investigation the committee found that there is no practicable mechanism in place for inspectors to determine whether a certificate is valid. Out of the eight recommendations, one of the main focuses of improvement made by the committee was for enforcement authorities to develop a way to identify invalid medical certification during safety inspections and routine stops. The committee believes the flaws in the medical certification process can lead to increased highway fatalities and injuries for commercial vehicle drivers, their passengers, and the public.

We, the attorneys here at the Brod Law Firm, are relieved to read about House lawmakers examining and addressing the issue of medically unfit truck drivers. We like to think these efforts will help make our roads less dangerous and lower the number of commercial truck accidents. It should be pointed out, however, that the report put out by the Committee states that its results cannot be generalized to the commercial driver or the medical examiner population as a whole. We find this point very important, because we know that commercial drivers are always assumed as the guilty party in any accident in which they are involved. That being said, it is also important not to underestimate the report and its findings. We find it disappointing that some medical professionals may not always use their best judgment when issuing medical certificates. After reading this report, we wondered how this information might frighten or impact the public, and we hope it doesn’t stop them from getting in their cars as usual. Whatever the public feels about the subject, our advice to them remains ever constant: Always use caution when sharing the road with a commercial truck. And this information put out by the committee should make drivers even more aware of the potential dangers that exist when they share the road with a commercial truck.

We also like the advice given by automedia.com in an article titled “Big Rig Blues—Don’t let those trucks get you down", as well as their reminder that “without big rigs and their cargo, 82 percent of the country’s communities would be without groceries and other goods.” The article points out another important fact, which is, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Study, 75 percent of all truck related incidents are car initiated. This means that accidents between big trucks and cars are not always the fault of the big trucks. Most importantly, this shows drivers of cars don’t always know how to drive around trucks. In summary, the advice they give is as follows:
• Trucks have four blind spots and it’s important to avoid them.
• The most dangerous blind spots are to the left and right of the truck starting just beyond the cab and fanning across three lanes of traffic, and running the length of the truck.
• A big rig driver cannot see approximately 15 to 20 feet immediately in front of the cab, which should discourage you from merging into the middle of a long line of semis on the highway, especially if you’ve got a small sports car.
• If you are not sure if you are visible to the truck driver, look at his side mirrors. If you can see his face, he can see your car.
• The obvious blind spot is behind a big rig, up to 300 feet behind.
• Everything that impacts your vehicle impacts a big rig—times 10. If there are steep grades or wind impacting your commute, make sure to stay away from big rigs.

• Big rigs need a lot of space to stop. If a big rig is traveling at 55mph, it will take 300 feet to stop. Remember this when you are passing a big rig, and maintain your passing speed until you are a comfortable distance in front of the truck.

All of this information is meant to empower all drivers so that they may safely and responsibly share the road with commercial trucks. We believe an informed driver is a safe driver. Sadly, however, even the most skilled or aware driver can be involved in an accident. Here at the Brod Law Firm, we are prepared to help anyone who has been in a car accident involving a commercial truck.

San Francisco Bay Bridge Accident Sends a Motorcyclist to His Death and Drunk Driver to Jail

July 23, 2008 by Gregory J. Brod

On July 19th at approximately 5am, motorcyclist, Ryan Willis Jones, age 30, was riding eastbound on the Bay Bridge was side swiped by driver of a car, Daniel Francisco Olivera, age 31, of Oakland. As he was changing lanes, his car hit the rear of Ryan’s motorcycle. Ryan was taken to San Francisco General Hospital, where he pronounced dead. Daniel was suspected of drunk driving and he was arrested and booked at San Francisco County Jail, according to CHP Officer A. Paulson.

After we read this information in our local newspaper, we, here at the Brod Law Firm, collectively wondered how this particular driver, or anyone for that matter, could consider driving while under the influence of alcohol. We wondered why--after being inundated over the years by all the ad campaigns that show the catastrophic consequences of drunk driving, such as those telling us “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk”; and after having witnessed all the efforts of organizations like M.A.D.D. (Mother’s Against Drunk Drivers) who, since the 1980’s, have worked tirelessly with the help of educators, government, corporations and media on promoting personal responsibility against drunk driving; or after having witnessed our law makers pass laws that are extremely harsh on drunk drivers--people still risk driving drunk? We then concluded that maybe the public has forgotten the legal limits of alcohol allowed in the body when driving a vehicle and/or forgotten what exactly can happen if they are caught driving drunk. So we thought we could help re-educate the public by reminding anyone reading this of some of the basic information they should know regarding drinking and driving.

In a guide put out by the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) titled The ABC’s of BAC: A Guide to Understanding Blood Alcohol Concentration and Alcohol Impairment, blood alcohol concentration, (BAC) is explained in detail. We feel some important facts to know about BAC are:
• The amount of alcohol measured in a person’s body is measured by the weight of the alcohol in a certain volume of blood, which is known as BAC. Every State has passed a law making it illegal to drive with a BAC of .08 or higher.
•Alcohol is quickly absorbed and can be measured within 30 to 70 minutes after a person has had a drink.
• The type of alcohol you drink does not affect your BAC, meaning a typical drink equals about half an ounce of alcohol (.54ounces). This is the approximate amount of alcohol found in:
o one shot of distilled spirits, or
o one 5-ounce glass of wine, or
o one 12-ounce beer.
• Because of the multitude of factors that affect BAC, it is very difficult to assess your own BAC or impairment.
• Though small amounts of alcohol affect one’s brain and ability to drive, people often swear they are “fine” after several drinks – but in fact, the failure to recognize alcohol impairment is often a symptom of impairment.
We consider this information extremely useful for anyone thinking about driving after drinking. However, the best way to stay safe after drinking is not to drive. It is better to call a taxi or designate a non-drinking friend as a driver. Otherwise, the consequences of driving drunk can result in tragedy like this one. No one wants to be arrested or be responsible for the death of another.

We feel for the victim’s family of this terrible motorcycle accident and hope they receive the support they need during this difficult time. We also thought this would be a good opportunity to remind our readers that motorcyclists have the same rights as drivers of cars. According to the NHTSA, motorcyclists were about 35 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a traffic crash and 8 times more likely to be injured. We believe the reason this is so is because motorcycles are not always easily seen by drivers of cars. Drivers should never forget to pay attention and watch for motorcycles on the road. Motorcyclists deserve the same courtesy as drivers of cars. Unfortunately, the most experienced motorcyclist can sometimes end up in a tragic accident, such as this one, due to the negligence of another.

California Highway Accident Injurs Family, Leaving One Dead

July 15, 2008 by Gregory J. Brod

When we came across the headline "Escondido Boy Dies In Highway 78 Accident," it gave us a moment for pause. Here at the Brod Law Firm, we never like to read about anyone dying for any reason, but we especially don’t like to read about children dying in tragic car accidents such as this one. On Saturday, July 12th around 4:20pm an 8 year old boy was traveling with his family west on Highway 78 when the tragedy occurred. According to Highway Patrol Officer Brad Denham, the boy’s Grandmother was driving when one of the tires blew out, causing them to veer off the freeway and crash through a chain- link fence that bordered the off-ramp. Sadly, the boy was ejected from the back seat and was rushed to Tri City Medical Center, where attempts were made to keep him alive, but he died that same evening. His family suffered minor injuries.

After reading such a story, we don’t have enough factual information to make any conclusions regarding fault. All we can do is speculate. What we do know for sure, however, is that there was a tire blow out. We can ponder over whether or not hazardous road conditions led to the accident or if the tires on the car were defective or poorly maintained. The sad truth is, though, sometimes blow outs happen even if tires are not defective or properly maintained and road conditions are safe. We hope the victims of this accident focus less on finding the answers to these questions and more on finding the strength and resources to cope with their loss. Regardless of why the tire blew out, this story brings to mind the importance of tire maintenance. Even if you are a safe driver, there are some instances where the proper maintenance of your tires can save your life. According tiresafety.com there are few simple safety tips you can follow regarding maintenance of your tires, that don’t require much time, and they are:

• Look for the manufacturer’s recommended air pressure located on the door jamb of your vehicle, and always check your air pressure to make sure it is up to standards, especially if you are carrying extra weight.
• For accuracy, you should do a monthly check on your air pressure with a tire guage when tires are cold. Driving heats up tires and makes the reading incorrect.
• Don’t overload your vehicle as overloading results in tire damage.
• Always do a visual check of your tires and look for signs of wear.
• For maximum mileage, rotate your tire every 5,000 miles.

These tips are a good example of what it takes to stay safe on the road. We wish our clients and readers heed these tips as well as continue to educate themselves on how to be safe drivers. If your tire blows out, you could lose control of your car and hurt not just yourself but other drivers as well. Everyone deserves to feel safe on the road, and maintaining your tires is just one way you can ensure the road is a safe place.

California Cell Phone Laws – May I dial my phone while driving?

July 10, 2008 by Gregory J. Brod

July 1, 2008 has arrived and the new cell phone laws in California are now in effect. It is now against the law to use a handheld wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle. A friend recently asked me if it would be considered a violation of the law to dial a telephone while driving, even though he planned to talk on the phone through a hands free device. His question raised an interesting point. California Vehicle Code Section 23123, which states the law, is silent on the issue of dialing.

The law specifically prohibits the use of a wireless phone that doesn’t allow for hands-free talking and listening. The point of the law is to reduce the significant number of motor vehicle accidents caused by distracted driving, which I discussed in a previous blog entry, California Cell Phones While Driving - New Laws. The new laws are not intended to tell drivers everything they should and should not do while driving a motor vehicle. I have personally seen drivers in the Bay Area eating food, applying makeup, and even reading the newspaper while driving. I am not aware of any laws that specifically prohibit a driver from eating a sandwich while on the highway, for example, but if it happened frequently enough, and traffic collisions were caused as a result, you could expect a law to address that conduct, as well. It does not appear that dialing your hands-free telephone while driving is against the law, but as with anything you do while operating a car, you have to be smart, cautious and keep your eyes on the road.

The Dangers of Driving Drowsy During the Holidays

July 9, 2008 by Gregory J. Brod

Over this past 4th of July holiday, a 65 year old San Jose woman, Verna File and her friend, Royce McFadden were killed in a rollover crash as they were returning home to California from a dog show in Missouri. Verna File and husband, Bill, were traveling with their their friends, Royce and Vickie Mc Fadenns, along with both couples’ bichon frise dogs. According to the Colorado State Patrol, Bill File was driving a 2000 GMC Yukon on Westbound Interstate 70 Saturday evening when he drifted into the center meridian. The SUV rolled over twice before landing on its top. Verna File and Royce McFadden,62, were declared dead at the scene, and Bill File and Vickie McFadden sustained serious injuries. The Colorado State trooper who was at the scene said the bichon frise dogs traveling with the couples were transported to the local veterinarian and that alcohol and drugs were not factors in the motor vehicle accident. The state patrol suspect driver fatigue as the contributing factor. If driver fatigue was truly a factor in the accident, we hope drivers pay attention and remember this story the next time they feel drowsy and want to get behind the wheel of a car.

Most people don’t think about driving long distances while feeling fatigued as seriously risky behavior or as behavior that has deadly consequences. Yet according to data put out by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) regarding research conducted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Association(NHTSA)and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute(VTTI), the opposite is true. Their research measured real-world driver behavior through video and sensor devices on 100 vehicles over the course of one year, and researchers found:

• That nearly 80% of crashes and 60% near crashes recorded involved some type of
“driver inattention” within three seconds of the event
• Drowsy driving was by far the leading cause of driver inattention
• Driving drowsy increased a driver’s risk of a crash or near- crash by four to six times.

What is also interesting is how much people fail to realize how lack of sleep affects roadway safety, as stated in an article written by the NSF posted on DrivingDrowsy.org titled Drowsy Driving a Dangerous Yet Preventable Hazard for Holiday Drivers. In the article, Richard Gelula , NSF’s chief executive officer states, “drowsy driving may be just as dangerous as drunk driving because sleepiness results in slower reaction times and performance; reduced judgment and vision; delayed information processing and short term memory formation; and increased anger and moodiness.” He also makes a statement which we here at the Brod Law Firm find the most poignant of all: “Drowsy driving risks the life of not only the driver, but the lives of their passengers—family and friends—and other drivers on the road…the disastrous effects of fatigue related crashes can easily be prevented; all It takes is for people to recognize the problem and get off the road.” The NSF has put forth a set of warning signs that a driver should use to gauge when it is time to pullover and stop driving:

• Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking and/or heavy eyelids
• Drifting from you lane, swerving, tailgating and /or hitting rumble strips
• Yawning repeatedly
• Trouble remembering the last few miles driven
• Missing exits or traffic signs
• Trouble keeping your head up

Here at the Brod Law Firm, we feel for the victims of this particular 4th of July accident, and we hope the readers of this information come away with a better understanding of what is at stake when anyone drives while feeling fatigued. The tips above we find invaluable when we consider how many lives could be saved every year if drivers followed them. We believe arriving at your destination safely is more important than drowsily driving in order to beat traffic or to arrive early at your destination.