Language:

The idea of late-appearing car accident injuries sounds strange. If you’re injured, you’ll feel it, right? That’s not always the case. While you are almost certainly going to notice an injury when you’re bleeding profusely or have a badly broken bone, some injuries may be masked in the heat of the moment, and your after-car accident symptoms can take hours, days, or longer to appear. Here’s what you should know.

 A man comforting a traumatized woman after her car accident.

What Causes Delayed Injuries After a Car Accident?

Ever wonder why people often claim they’re sore the day after a car accident? The short answer is adrenaline. Adrenaline (also called epinephrine) is a hormone triggered by the body’s fight-or-flight reflex. When something traumatic like a car crash happens, the body pumps out adrenaline to help you survive a dangerous situation.

Molecular formula & structure of the adrenaline/epinephrine hormone.

Adrenaline enables the body to:

  • Dilate air passages to increase oxygen flow to muscles
  • Contract blood vessels to redirect blood flow to the heart and lungs
  • Decrease the body’s ability to feel pain
  • Increase strength, performance, and threat awareness

With veins full of adrenaline – call it a mute button for pain – you may not feel hurt. Adrenaline can delay common car accident injury symptoms. And, if there are no physically apparent signs of injury, you may even decline medical attention. That can be a big mistake. There are several kinds of injuries that you may not feel for a while.

Common Late-Appearing Car Accident Injuries

The body is a strange and wonderful thing, but sometimes you just can’t trust it. With adrenaline in play, you may not know you’re injured, leading to the phenomenon of late-appearing car accident injuries. Some soft tissue injuries, especially to the organs, aren’t always immediately apparent in any case. As a result, your health could be at risk and you aren’t even aware of it.

People often want to know what to expect physically after a car accident. What are some after-car accident symptoms to look for? Other than feeling sore after a car accident, what should you watch for? Here are some injuries you should be aware of, but may not feel!

The human brain in a body.Brain Injuries

Here’s an example. A healthy woman falls during a ski lesson but rises and continues about her day, joking with friends and seemingly none the worse for wear. She’s completely lucid. Later in the day, she complains of head pain. A few days later, she dies from an epidural hemorrhage.

There may be no difference in the forces the skier experienced in her fall and the forces you experience in a car crash – in fact, a car crash victim may be more at risk because they probably weren’t wearing a helmet. People on certain medications, such as blood thinners, are especially at risk for epidural hemorrhages, but you don’t need any preexisting conditions for it to happen.

This kind of traumatic brain injury is a risk in any crash. According to a congressional report by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, half of all traumatic brain injury victims received their injuries in automobile accidents.

Concussions are another brain injury that may take time to manifest. It happens when a bump, jolt, or blow to the head moves it violently one way and then the other, causing the brain to “bounce” within the skull. It doesn’t matter that your skull didn’t crack. What matters is what happened inside.

Plus, contrary to popular belief, you do not have to “black out” or lose consciousness due to a concussion. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), most concussions do not result in a loss of consciousness. Signs of a concussion can include headaches, dizziness, or even changes in behavior.

The intestines, stomach, and abdomen of the human body.Abdominal Injuries

So-called “blunt trauma” to the abdomen – when something applies sudden, direct force to the body – can happen in car accidents. In a study of patients admitted to a trauma center over two years, from 2010 to 2012, researchers found that it took more than eight hours for intra-abdominal injuries to become clinically apparent after blunt trauma.

According to the study, “patients with a blunt intra-abdominal injury manifested a clinical sign or symptom of their intra-abdominal injury, resulting in their diagnosis within eight hours 25 minutes of arrival to the hospital.” Even in a hospital setting, it took more than eight hours on average to diagnose the issue.

Another example of an abdominal injury that may exhibit delayed onset is a bowel perforation – a tear in the intestines or the bowels due to the blunt trauma from the accident. In one case, it took weeks for physicians to diagnose the patient. Many different abdominal injuries may show no immediate symptoms.

The forces at work in a car crash may even weaponize the safety equipment. Seat belts, for example, protect you in the event of a serious accident, and they prevent you from being ejected from the vehicle. However, the restraints can put sudden and sometimes powerful pressure on your body, resulting in what’s called seat belt syndrome.

Seat belt syndrome takes the form of bruising and tenderness of the abdomen and, sometimes, an injury to an organ or even vertebral fractures. In one case, two different car accident patients were admitted to a hospital with symptoms of seat belt syndrome. While scans were initially negative, both were eventually diagnosed with peritonitis – an inflammation of the abdominal lining. One patient’s diagnosis came within 24 hours. The other took three days.

These injuries can and do happen, and you should seek medical attention and give your body time to reveal any injuries you may have suffered.

The muscles and ligaments of the arm in a human body.Injuries to Muscles, Ligaments, and Joints

Muscles and connecting tissue undergo a lot of stress in car accidents. Bruising is common – maybe you hit your arm or knee on the dashboard or door. The trouble is that you might not feel those bruises or more severe injuries right away. You could have a sprain or a strain and not even know it. What’s the difference?

  • Sprain: A sprain is a stretch and/or tear of a ligament (the tissue connecting two bones). Ligaments are the stabilizers for the joints. Sprains may not be immediately apparent and can later affect mobility, range of motion, and many other daily activities. Without the ligaments in the knee to connect the upper leg with the lower leg, you couldn’t walk or run, as an example.
  • Strain: A strain is a twist, pull, and/or tear of muscles or tendons. Tendons are what connect muscles to bones. Muscle strains are graded by severity. A grade one strain doesn’t inhibit you but will be sore. A grade two strain means nearly half of the muscle fibers are torn and results in pain, swelling, and loss of strength. A grade three strain occurs when either the tendon has separated from the muscle or the muscle itself is entirely ruptured, resulting in severe pain and complete loss of function. You may not even realize these injuries at first, especially grade one and grade two strains.

Many of these types of injuries come from hyperextension – the flexing of the body beyond its limits. Other injuries we see people suffering from delayed onset include:

  • Plantar fasciitis: This is an injury to the band of tissue connecting the heel bone to the toes, causing stabbing pain and limiting mobility. When bracing for an impact, you might brace your heel on the floorboard, causing this kind of injury. Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ): This is an injury to the ligaments in the jaw causing pain, limiting movement of the jaw, and in some cases locking the jaw. TMJ can happen in airbag deployment, for example.Carpal tunnel syndrome: Most people think of this as a repetitive stress disorder, but in truth, any force that constricts or irritates the median nerve in the carpal tunnel can cause it. Causes include wrist fractures and hyperextending the wrist in a car accident.

The neck vertebrae in a human body.Whiplash and Back Injuries in Car Accidents

One of the most common and sometimes most debilitating injuries someone can suffer in a car accident is whiplash. We’ve dedicated an entire page to discussing whiplash in detail, including the tendency of the injury to manifest long after the accident that caused it.

Back injuries are also common, and some can also exhibit delayed after-accident symptoms. An injury like a herniated disc may not present itself until you bend, lift, or even just lay down. Even spinal cord injuries may not be immediately evident but can have a dramatic, long-lasting, and even permanent effect on your life and ability to function. Delayed back pain after a car accident is not uncommon, so pay attention to your body.

Delayed Injury After a Car Accident: Your Mental Health

Car accidents are traumatic events, not just for the body but the mind as well. They can put a great deal of stress on your mental well-being – worries about the future, stress about your health, and even witnessing the effect of the accident on others can stay with you.

Believe it or not, car accidents are the leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the general population. According to a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) study, 39.2% of survivors of motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) develop PTSD. It’s not hard to believe that victims aren’t immediately diagnosed, considering that the standard for diagnosis requires someone to suffer symptoms for at least one month.

Why You Should Seek Medical Attention: Beyond Health

Delayed onset injuries threaten your health after a car accident. However, there’s something else at risk as well: your financial well-being. Not seeking immediate medical attention or not bringing discomfort or pain to the attention of a physician as soon as possible can jeopardize your ability to seek compensation.

Late-Appearing Car Accident Injury Insurance Claims May Be Easier to Deny

The insurance companies involved in a car accident case look for suspicious behavior as they try to filter out fraudulent claims. The unfortunate side effect is that they may deny claims filed days or weeks later for injuries with delayed onset. Thus, if you don’t seek medical attention and aren’t reporting pain, discomfort, or anything that feels wrong or out of the ordinary as soon as possible, the insurance company may argue that you weren’t injured at all and deny your claim.

My advice is to seek treatment immediately. Medical professionals may be able to notice things you aren’t able to feel just yet. Initial medical attention immediately after an accident starts a record of your health after the accident. Insurance companies want to see a pattern of seeking care. They want to see a physician’s diagnosis and treatment recommendations. That’s logical to them. Delayed onset injuries don’t work that way, so this can become a point of contention.

Beware of Signing a Document That Waives the Liability of the Insurance Company

After the accident, the insurance company will be in touch. Be careful what you say to them because, as we’ve established, you may not feel any pain and still have a perfectly legitimate injury. The questions they ask are usually scripted and worded very specifically. You may think you’re being friendly while harming your case for potential compensation.

If you say you’re feeling fine, the insurance company may ask you to sign a document that releases the insurance company from liability. You’re not injured, so no big deal, right? The document can be called any number of things, including (but not limited to):

  • Release
  • Release from Liability
  • General Release
  • Release From All Claims
  • Liability Waiver
  • Waiver of Liability

Regardless of what they call it, they’re asking you to settle your case, no matter what injuries manifest later. It can be incredibly difficult to seek compensation for an injury that hasn’t become apparent if you sign this form.

Speak to an Attorney Before You Sign Anything

You may file this under “obvious” coming from me, but I’ve seen too many people accept too little compensation for their injuries. These people can get stuck with expensive medical bills and other complications that significantly diminish their quality of life. Others sign away their rights for nothing and must make do without any financial help.

What to Do After You’re in an Accident – “I Got Hit By a Car But I Feel Fine”

Here’s a quick checklist of things to do after you’re in an accident:

  • Seek medical attention immediately, even if you don’t feel any post-car accident injuries.
  • Be as forthcoming as possible with your doctor. If something feels wrong, strange, or just new, say so.
  • Keep good records and document everything.
  • Be cautious when communicating with an insurance company.
  • Don’t sign any waivers or releases.
  • Consider hiring a personal injury attorney.

The bottom line is, if you’re in a car accident, seek medical attention even if you “feel fine.” Delayed injury after a car accident is a very real possibility. Carefully monitor your body and mind after the accident, and continue to do so. Bring any concerns, pains, discomfort, or even weirdness to the attention of a physician.

Speak to the insurance company as carefully and as little as possible, or better yet, contact an attorney to try to avoid making a costly mistake. You may suffer from delayed injuries after your car accident, be injured and not even know it yet. And, even with a diagnosis, do you have any idea what the immediate and long-term care costs might be? And what about other expenses and costs that may be associated, like missed time at work?

This is what I work on all day, every day, on behalf of my clients. I do everything I can to try to ensure they’re treated fairly, and my team has extensive experience dealing with these injuries. We have a good idea what care could cost you – and it’s probably more than you think!

Don’t delay. We don’t charge up front for our services — instead, we collect a portion of any compensation we recover for you. If you don’t collect, you don’t pay an attorney’s fee.2 Contact us and let’s see what we can do for you.

You were just in a car wreck, but thankfully, no one was hurt. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for your car, which is a total loss. So what now?

In situations where you’ve suffered injuries, the next best step once you’ve received immediate medical attention is clear: find a car accident lawyer who will fight for you. But what if you just want to make sure the insurance company fully compensates you for the loss of your vehicle? It may be time to negotiate.

You had a working vehicle when you started your journey. Whoever is at-fault for the accident that damaged or even destroyed your vehicle should make you whole – or rather, unless they were uninsured or underinsured, their insurance company should. Here’s how to try to make sure that happens.

Claims and Offers and Adjusters, Oh My

In a car accident, the at-fault insurance company may accept responsibility for the damage to your vehicle and make an offer to settle the property damage claim. If the insurance company does not accept responsibility for their insured and refuses to compensate you, hiring an attorney is probably the smart move.

You will almost always deal with the at-fault driver’s insurance company through its adjuster in the insurance claim process. An adjuster works for the insurance company, and will review and negotiate your claim. Typically, part of the adjuster’s job is to try to minimize potential compensation for your claim in order to control costs for the company.

When the insurance company accepts fault, and makes an offer, this will either go towards the repair of your vehicle, or they may decide the vehicle was a total loss and pay you for the vehicle’s value.

Potential Issues When Dealing With Insurance Companies

We deal with insurance companies on a daily basis. Here are three common tactics some insurance companies may use as you seek fair compensation for your vehicle.

Delay

Insurance companies may not be in a hurry to pay you. In fact, you may not hear from them for days, weeks, or even months! And when they get in touch, they may ask for some documentation or evidence that they should already have. Keep calm and be patient. Delay tactics can cause people to settle for less than they deserve to “get it over with.” It can also put you in a real financial bind if the car isn’t drivable and you’re stuck without a way to work, or if your car is racking up storage fees at a tow lot and you can’t afford to get it out.

Denial

In a few cases, some insurance companies may outright deny your claim. This can be a strong-arm tactic, and may be the result of a perceived weakness in you or your claim. Some insurance companies may argue almost anything you do makes the accident your fault – even something miniscule like an officer thinking you were doing 1 mph over the speed limit. Don’t give up! If their insured was at-fault in the accident, they should compensate you. Refer back to the accident report, and press your claim.

Quick, Lowball Settlement Offers

On the opposite side of the spectrum from the first two tactics is when an insurance company tries to get you to take a low settlement offer immediately, despite that fact that it doesn’t cover your losses. This is more likely to be a problem in cases where the damage is light. The insurance company may be betting you’ll pocket the cash rather than fix the car. Don’t fall for it, especially if they claim it is “take it or leave it.” Take the time to get multiple estimates if your car is repairable – or find comparable cars for sale locally if it is totaled – to give you a basis to negotiate fairly. Often, the best bet is to have the insurance company pay the repair shop you’ve chosen directly.

Should You Take the Insurance Company’s First Offer to Repair or Total Your Vehicle?

That’s a judgment call. Most people don’t really know the value of their cars and therefore how much they’re owed if it’s a total loss. If you did not recently purchase it, you probably don’t know the market for it. However, you would know if it had a lot of problems, damage, mechanical issues, and so on. If you are well-informed, and satisfied with the insurance company’s first offer, then accepting it can be the right decision.

However, if you are not satisfied with the insurance company’s offer, you should arm yourself with information to negotiate with the insurance adjuster.

How Do Insurance Companies Value Your Vehicle?

To negotiate with the insurance company, you need to know how they work. They’re concerned with the pre-accident cash value of your car, sometimes called the “fair market value.” Fair market value is the price a willing buyer would pay a willing seller, when neither is being compelled to buy and/or sell, and both have reasonable knowledge about the relevant facts. When the insurance company accepts liability, this is the number they use to decide whether to offer to repair the vehicle or to total it.

When calculating repair costs versus value, insurance adjusters may use the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) publication, the “Official Used Car Guide,” to determine the fair market value. The NADA is published monthly and is available online at www.nadaguides.com.

Am I Able to Negotiate With the Insurance Company?

Absolutely. The foundations for any good negotiation are a fair idea of what your car or its repairs will cost and patience. Be a good-faith negotiator. Document everything, and ask for documents in return. If the insurance company refuses to be fair or realistic in their offers to you, you may consider filing suit in a civil court – and remember, just because you file a lawsuit does not mean you’ll end up spending time in a courtroom.

Trying to Negotiate for More, Point 1: Fair Market Value

While the insurance company may use the value from a service like ValueScope to determine fair market value, you can negotiate with your own sources, such as the NADA guide. There is typically room to negotiate based on the actual condition and mileage of your vehicle, and adjustments by region if applicable.

How to Negotiate When the Insurance Company Offers to Repair Your Vehicle

An insurance company may offer to repair a vehicle if the cost of repairs plus supplemental claims equals less than 75% of the vehicle’s pre-accident cash value. “Supplemental claims” include things like the projected rental vehicle costs during the repair period.

You should get multiple estimates for the amount of repairs your vehicle will need. You can look for highly-regarded repair shops and get their opinions and estimates. After you get the estimates and provide them to the insurance company, the insurance adjuster may make an offer.

If you don’t agree with the offer and the adjuster has never seen the damaged vehicle, then you can require the adjuster or the insurance company’s appraiser to personally inspect your damaged vehicle.

Where Can I Get My Car Repaired?

An adjuster may tell you they want you to take your car to a particular garage – typically, a garage with which they get a volume discount. However, you have the right to take your vehicle to any repair shop of your choosing.

Trying to Negotiate for More, Point 2: Repair Versus Total

If you believe that your car cannot be adequately repaired, there is typically some room to negotiate. This is tied directly to fair market value – that number is driving everything that comes after. It may be difficult to get an insurance company to change its mind here, but it is worth trying if you believe you will not be left with a safe, functional, reliable vehicle after repairs are completed. Pursuing a diminished value claim may put you over the top.

How to Try to Negotiate a Better Settlement When the Insurance Company Totals Your Vehicle

Insurance agent working during on site car accident claim processThe total loss negotiation process is straightforward. A vehicle is legally considered a total loss if the cost of repairs and supplemental claims equal or exceed 75% of the fair market value – which, again, can typically be negotiated. If your car is a total loss, and the insurance carrier accepts liability, they are required to pay fair market value for the vehicle.

In addition to using the NADA information, fair market value is often determined via a local market survey. Local fair market value must be determined by using either the local market price of comparable vehicles or, if no comparable vehicles can be found, quotes from at least two qualified dealers within the local market area. If your vehicle was in better-than-average condition prior to the collision, the adjuster is required to give due consideration to this fact when determining value.

The insurance company is not obligated to pay the full balance of an existing lien on the vehicle. If you owe more on the car than it is worth at the time of loss, all the insurance company has to pay is fair market value, not the payoff amount.

If you do not agree with the settlement offered by the adjuster, you have the right to request that the adjuster send to you in writing the amount of the offer along with the specific policy provisions or legal basis the adjuster is relying on in support of the offer.

You should always require the adjuster to give you a written statement along with the total loss payment offer. This statement should include estimates, evaluations, and deductions used in calculating the payment, as well as stating the source of these values.

Trying to Negotiate for More, Point 3: Local Market Prices

It’s a good idea to do your own research into pricing of cars similar to yours in your local market. You may find examples that the insurance company did not consider. The closer the example to your own car, the more leverage it may provide. If the insurance company is choosing base model vehicles, for example, and your vehicle had many options, you likely have a good argument for a higher price.

How to File a Complaint Against the Insurance Company

Insurance agent working on car accident claim process with accident victim

If negotiations aren’t going well, you have options. If you have a complaint about an insurance company and the way they are handling your claim, you may call or write the Consumer Insurance Information Division of the North Carolina Department of Insurance.

The toll-free telephone number is:
855-408-1212

The mailing address is:
North Carolina Department of Insurance
Consumer Services Division
1201 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699

The Consumer Services Division will take information from you, and then an analyst from the Division will request information from the insurance company, agent, or adjuster. If the analyst finds that there is just cause for the complaint, they will then make a recommendation to both sides as to how to settle the situation.

If this does not resolve the problem, a deputy commissioner may arrange a conference with the insurance company involved to resolve the problem. If the conference does not resolve the disputed issue, then the deputy commissioner may recommend to the commissioner to take appropriate legal action, including a public hearing (filing a lawsuit).

Our Recommendation: Generally No Need for an Attorney Unless You Were Hurt or Insurance Co. Isn’t Fair

At our firm, we recommend you handle most property damage claims yourself. This can save you both time and money. You do not want to unnecessarily delay the property damage aspect of your claim, and property damage claims typically are too low to justify hiring an attorney. If the insurance company just isn’t being fair, then consider involving an attorney.

However, if we represent you on a bodily injury claim related to the accident, we can handle any diminished value claim you may have.

Whatever the size of your case, our goal is the best representation and service we can provide. If you have questions, or want to see if we can help, give us a call at 1-866-900-7078 or contact us online.

Shocking Facts About Hit-And-Run Crashes

The only thing more infuriating than being in an accident that’s not your fault is watching the driver flee the scene, and it’s unfortunately not all that uncommon. According to research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, more than one hit-and-run crash happens every minute on America’s roads.

Hit-and-runs occur when at least one person involved in the crash flees the scene before offering help or information to others involved. While hit-and-runs typically occur between two moving cars, they may also involve pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcycles, parked cars, and other property.

Hit-and-runs are serious business and can increase the cost of your medical care and the severity of outcomes, given the delays or total absence of medical attention for victims. These types of accidents can be very difficult for you and your family, and you may be looking for remediation and insurance support. If this has happened to you, you may need a hit-and-run lawyer.

Unfortunately, hit-and-runs are increasing. Experts say staying to help the injured victim could save a life. So, why do people flee the scene of the accident?

Hit-and-Run Stats: Putting Them in Perspective

Here’s what a national AAA study shows about the severity and frequency of hit-and-runs.

  • Hit-and-runs accounted for over 5% of traffic fatalities.
  • There’s an average increase of 7.2% every year.
  • Fleeing drivers accounted for 20% of pedestrian crash fatalities.
  • 68% of people killed due to hit-and-runs were pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • 737,100 hit-and-run crashes occurred in 2015.
  • 2,049 people were killed in hit-and-runs in 2016 – a 60% increase since 2009.

To put it in perspective, that’s almost six deaths per day and more than one hit-and-run every minute on US roadways.

68% of people killed due to hit-and-runs are pedestrians and bicyclists

Possible Causes of This Alarming Trend of Hit-and-Runs

No one knows exactly why there is an increase in hit-and-run collisions, but there are many theories, ranging from population increase to distracted drivers.

Population Growth

With a population of 328 million, the United States is the third most populous country in the world. And the U.S. Census anticipates that the population will double during this century.

This means there are far more people on the road, which increases the number of collisions, including the likelihood of hit-and-runs.

Distracted Driving

Another theory for the increase of hit-and-runs centers on distracted driving, namely cell phone usage.

In many states, texting and driving is illegal, meaning that a collision due to phone usage turns an accident into a criminal offense. This may be a scary enough consequence to send a driver fleeing the scene and creating a hit-and-run situation.

A Zendrive study revealed what many of us intuitively suspected. More than half of Americans (60%) use their phones when they get behind the wheel. The study also found that drivers spend more than 3.5 minutes every hour on their phones while driving, even though a two-second distraction increases the chances of a crash by 20 times.

Drunk Driving

Driving a vehicle drunk or impaired is a crime. Like texting and driving, fear of that criminal charge on top of causing a collision could lead someone to flee the scene, effectively creating a whole new criminal charge.

Every day, about 28 people in the United States die because of alcohol-related vehicle crashes – or one person every 52 minutes in 2019, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

While these represent only a few theories on the hit-and-run increase, there is no definitive answer as to why hit-and-runs have continued to increase.

Some potential reasons for the increase of hit-and-runs include drunk and distracted driving

Common Characteristics of People Involved in Hit-and-Run Crashes

Leaving the scene of a collision is illegal in every state and can lead to serious criminal charges. In some states, even a misdemeanor hit-and-run (involving property damage or minor injury) carries a potential sentence of up to one year in jail, as well as fines.

According to Jennifer Ryan, director of state relations at AAA, “While no one likes being involved in a crash, leaving the scene will significantly increase the penalties for drivers – whether they caused the crash or not.”

Yet, it happens over two thousand times a day.

Who Are Hit-and-Run Victims?

  • Fatally injured pedestrians under age six or over age 80 were half as likely to be victims of hit-and-runs as in any other age groups.
  • In crashes involving children, the driver is identified more than 60% of the time versus 39% for older victims.
  • Males make up around 70% of hit-and-run victims in crashes.

Who Are Hit-and-Run Drivers?

  • Drivers are likely to be young males with a history of prior DWI and license suspension.
  • Drivers tend to drive older model cars, suggesting a lower socioeconomic status.
  • Drivers frequently have positive blood alcohol content (BAC) at the time of arrest, and drivers who leave the scene are between two and nine times more likely to have been intoxicated at the time of the crash.
  • Drivers who flee crashes involving children ages 15 and younger or women are more likely to be identified later on.
  • Drivers are about twice as likely to be identified in hit-and-runs when they happen in locations other than the road or crosswalks.

What Factors Contribute to Hit-and-Runs?

  • Environmental factors such as lighting, roadway design, and location.
  • A lack of witnesses on a low-traffic road.
  • The time it happens — hit-and-runs are 4.5 times more likely to happen between midnight and 4 a.m., because of low visibility and a higher likelihood of an intoxicated driver.
  • What type of roadway it is – because if it is undivided or has a lower speed limit, pedestrians often attempt to cross it.
  • How heavily populated the area is — urban areas have more hit-and-runs than low-population areas simply because more vehicles and pedestrians are in close proximity.

How Insurance Issues Can Impact Hit-and-Run Driver Decisions

In the United States, all drivers are required to have automobile insurance. If a driver causes a crash, his or her insurance will potentially pay for damages that the accident victim suffers as a result.

Unfortunately, not every driver has insurance. Some drivers:

  • Don’t have a valid driver’s license
  • Have a suspended license
  • Are unable to afford insurance
  • Do not qualify for coverage

Any time a driver has no insurance, that driver is a risk to others on the road. When uninsured drivers are at-fault in accidents, they are supposed to pay the bills that victims incur as a result of the crash.

Without insurance, few drivers have assets to cover the medical bills, lost wages, and other damages associated with the accident, which may total in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Drivers with no license and no insurance are more likely to hit-and-run because they know they are breaking the law. This could result in victims being injured more seriously due to delayed medical care.

Can Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Policies Protect You in a Hit-and-Run?

If you’ve been in a hit-and-run, you need to find out if your insurance will pay through an uninsured/underinsured motorist policy.

Whether an insurer will pay and how much they pay will depend on the type and extent of coverage you bought when you purchased your auto insurance. If you are a victim of a hit-and-run accident, consult with an experienced attorney who can help you review your policy and determine if an uninsured motorist claim is a viable solution.

Countermeasures: What You Can Do

These statistics are alarming. What can you do to avoid being a victim of a hit-and-run?

When a Collision Happens

If you are in a vehicle and are the victim of a hit-and-run, follow these steps:

  1. Pull over to get out of traffic. Write down or take a picture of the license plate number of the other vehicle. Police say that many victims are tricked when the driver of the other vehicle appears to pull over but then takes off, leaving behind a very confused victim.
  2. Try to get a description of the vehicle and where it is heading if it speeds away.
  3. Contact law enforcement immediately.
  4. Photograph the damage.
  5. Stay at the scene — panicking decreases your chances of getting viable information.

Avoid a Hit-and-Run as a Pedestrian

A pedestrian hit-and-run accident can be even more challenging to deal with. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind as a pedestrian to try to reduce the risk of being hit by a car:

  1. Wear bright colors or reflectors so you can be more visible to drivers. Colors that easily reflect light, like white or yellow, are good choices. Reflectors can make you visible in a car’s headlights within 500 feet.
  2. Stay on the sidewalks and crosswalks, especially at night.
  3. Stay off roads without sidewalks, or walk against traffic if there are no sidewalks. Walking against traffic allows you to see oncoming cars that might not see you.
  4. Look where you are going. When crossing a street, look left, right, and then left again.
  5. Be alert. You can’t control what other people are doing, but by being alert, you can control what you’re doing and how you might need to react to a potential situation.

Of course, none of these things can guarantee your safety, but by doing your best to stay safe, you are potentially reducing your risk.

Get a Free Case Evaluation from Experienced Lawyers

If you or someone you know was the victim of a hit-and-run, contact us immediately or call 1-866-900-7078 for a free case evaluation. You may be unable to obtain the compensation you may deserve on your own. Our car accident attorneys are here to help. The call and case evaluation are free.

Text UsText Us

Texting + Walking in NC – You Could Get Hurt (And Be Liable)

Remember this video of the woman who fell into a fountain while texting that went viral a few years ago?

In interviews after the video became popular, the woman later reminded viewers that the video, while humorous, was a good reminder about the seriousness of texting and walking. She asked: What if that fountain had been a bus?

But, despite her warnings, texting and walking has become a real problem with devastating consequences.

Texting While Walking Accidents

According to a 2018 report released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pedestrian deaths reached their highest number since 1990. An estimated 6,283 pedestrians were killed and, on average, 17 pedestrians were killed each day in fatal crashes.

Moreover, texting while walking, or “distracted walking,” has contributed to the rise in these numbers, causing more than 11,100 injuries in 2017 alone.

Researchers from an Ohio State University study also believe the actual number of injured pedestrians is much higher due to many not seeking treatment in an emergency room or not reporting the involvement of a cell phone in the accident.Aerial top view of a man with smartphone crossing the road in the city

Efforts to Stop Texting and Walking Accidents in NC

Several cities, such as Honolulu, HI, Montclair, CA, and Stamford, CT, have created laws banning “distracted walking” in response to several fatal pedestrian accidents. Now, North Carolina has decided it’s also time to take action.

According to WFMY News, one of Watch for Me NC campaign’s latest initiatives has been focusing on this very problem – encouraging pedestrians to keep their eyes on the road, not on their cell phone screen.

“It’s something we see all the time. It’s very common, see people walking with their heads down texting…not paying attention to their surroundings,” said Officer Brad Smith with UNCG Police in the WFMY story.

He went on to say that the number of distracted pedestrians, combined with the number of distracted drivers, makes for many very dangerous situations.

Texting and Walking Could Be “Contributory Negligence” in NC

In North Carolina, we have what is called “contributory negligence” which basically means that if you’re found to have contributed to the accident in any way, the other party (or their insurance company) may not have to pay for your injuries or property damage – even if they were “more” at fault.

In our experience, this means if you were distracted by a cell phone at the time of an accident, an insurance company may try to use that against you to avoid paying your medical bills or other damages.

However, the state of North Carolina does allow for some exceptions to the contributory negligence rule. If you may have contributed to your accident in some way, we highly recommend that you contact a pedestrian lawyer in NC.

NC Pedestrian Accident Lawyers

The injuries from a pedestrian accident can be serious and long-lasting. If you or a loved one were hit by a car, you should contact a North Carolina pedestrian accident lawyer right away.

A NC pedestrian accident lawyer may be able to help you get the medical treatments you need now and provisions for future medical needs.

The Law Offices of James Scott Farrin has helped thousands of residents in North Carolina fight for the benefits they needed and we may be able to help you. Contact us online or give us a call at 1-866-900-7078 for a free case evaluation today.

In our practice, we see a lot of car crash victims. We see the pain and the consequences of crashes every day. The road can be a dangerous place. Many of us are also parents who have or will have children on those roads.

JUMP TO SECTION:

If you think teenage children of attorneys are significantly different from anyone else’s, let us assure you that they are not. However.

We do have the advantage of context, knowledge, and perspective. We know what’s out there to influence teen drivers, good and bad. We have seen the tragic effects of car crashes on families. We hope that, by sharing, we can help you and your teenagers make the road safer for everyone.

The Stats Quo – Teen Driving Fatalities in North Carolina

The first step to solving a problem is to admit you have one. Perhaps your teen is a conscientious driver – that’s absolutely terrific! But they may have friends who aren’t, and no one wants their friends to become a statistic. Especially one of these.

North Carolina’s Teen Fatality Rate Is 64% Higher Than the National Average

It’s the third-highest rate in the country at 2.36 teen driver deaths per 10,000 licensed drivers under 19 years old. For perspective, there were 42 teen driver deaths in North Carolina in 2017. In New York, a state with 42% more licensed teen drivers, there were only 19.

Teen Driver Deaths Rose By 12% in 2020 – a Year With Less Driving

According to the North Carolina Highway Patrol, a total of 142 teens died on North Carolina roads between January 1 and November 20, 2020. While we do not know the methodologies used to gather the data, that number dwarfs the number of teen fatalities recorded by the North Carolina Department of Transportation in 2019, which was 80. We’ve already analyzed the effect of COVID-19 on car crashes, but if these numbers are comparable, they’re alarming.

In 2019, 47% of Teen Fatalities Regardless of Driver Age Were Unbelted

The NCDOT’s annual Crash Facts book shows that teens, whether drivers or passengers, are still engaging in risky behavior and not wearing their seat belts. Why they were not buckled in is a matter of speculation, but we believe it may come down to two factors: teens are more prone to risky behavior, and/or they are not getting proper example behavior from their parents.

Teen Traffic Deaths: Distractions, Drinking, or Other?

If a random person were asked the cause of teen driving deaths, the two most common answers would likely be drinking and distractions. But does actual data bear that out?  The 2019 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey notes that among U.S. high school students that drove, 5.4% of those drivers drove when they’d been drinking in the past 30 days.

Meanwhile, the same study revealed that 39% of those teen drivers texted or emailed while driving in the past 30 days. Additionally, 43.1% of U.S. high school students surveyed said they did not always wear a seat belt when riding in a car they weren’t driving.

Among the most dangerous distractions teens face on the road are other teens, namely passengers. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) statistics indicate that the presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk for unsupervised teen drivers. In other words, without an adult in the car with them, teens distract each other. Further, the data showed that the crash risk increased with each additional teen present.

Teen Deaths and Injuries on North Carolina Roads (and Their Causes)

In North Carolina, in 2019, alcohol was noted as a factor in 446 crashes in which a teen was injured, with nine fatalities. On the other hand, distracted driving was noted as a factor in 2,145 crashes in which a teen was injured, with five fatalities. Speed was noted as a factor in 1,327 injury crashes and 33 deaths. It’s worth noting that these need not be mutually exclusive – a drunk, distracted, speeding teen driver may well check all the boxes.

This all begs the question: is there anything we can do to help ensure our teens are safe on the roads, given their inexperience behind the wheel?

Distracted Driving Apps Might Help Curb Teen Car Accidents and Deaths

Practically every teen has a smartphone. They’re more apt to have social media as well. And that’s hard for teens to ignore. That ping they hear which signals them to reach for their phones? It’s addicting. Physiologically addicting. Read this fascinating blog to find out why our brains can prevent us from ignoring the ping.

Leave it to technology to solve a technology problem. New apps are approaching the issue in a number of ways to ensure we’re focused on the road and not the phone. According to DMV.org, these apps offer safety features that can:

  • Mute text alerts
  • Send calls to voicemail
  • Send auto-replies via text that the person is driving and cannot respond
  • Some will even send alerts to parents

With numerous apps that can help curb distracted driving, we cannot review them all, and we do not officially recommend any particular one. You should investigate all the options and choose the one with the features that meet your specific needs and work on your specific phone.

You can search your app purveyor of choice to see what’s on offer (including searching for the apps below), read reviews, and compare features. Here are some which offer more interesting ways to cut distracted driving than simply a locked phone.

Note that mobile service providers like AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon may offer apps and features designed to help limit texting and driving. Ask your carrier about those apps and features.

OneTap works much the same way as AT&T Drivemode. It prohibits texting while driving, manages your texts and calls while you’re on the road, and lets those texting you know that you’re driving.

OMW aims to eliminate one of the most common reasons for texting while driving – requesting or sharing an arrival time. The app lets you invite people to follow your trip, know where you are, and about when you’ll arrive.

Lifesaver is a parent-controlled app that locks a connected phone when a car is in motion. Once the vehicle comes to a stop, the phone is unlocked and can be used.

Down for the Count is an app that actually rewards teens for safe driving habits through a pledge system. Teens pledge to drive safely, and others can sponsor them. The more safe miles they travel, the more they’ll earn from their sponsors.

DriveSafe.ly® is an app that will read your texts and emails to you. It will announce callers by name and has auto-on functionality. You can set it to auto-respond as well, so you never need to interact with your phone while driving.

Devices That Track Driving Behavior

Apps are entirely software-driven solutions. There are, of course, ways around them and leave it to teens to know how to circumvent the technology. If you’re looking for something that doesn’t necessarily depend on their phones, you might consider a hardware-based solution.

Again, we’re not endorsing anything. You should always investigate and consider any solution to decide if it meets your particular needs. There are options available online, but you should do your due diligence and research them heavily. While most of the apps are free, the devices are likely to require purchase.

One such option is TRUCE, which offers a device/system/app package that can record braking, acceleration, speed, cornering, and key driving events, showing the scores on the app for the driver – or the driver’s parents – to view. This Bluetooth technology device attaches under the rearview mirror and pairs the teen’s app with the cell phone to help curb impulses to check, chat, or text. The phone screen goes into a screen-lock mode when the car starts moving, and only 911 or designated phone numbers are accessible. This technology can also rate driving patterns and phone usage on a scoring system.

Some vehicles come with features that enable you to track driver behaviors, limit speed, and reduce the distraction of a cell phone. That’s right – the car itself may have features to encourage safer driving and reduce distractions. You may have access to a feature that could keep your teen safe and not even realize it.

And while there are apps available, your phone may include standard features that accomplish much of what you want! Features in Android and iOS already allow for device tracking, and there are some parental controls built-in (though many focus on content and not necessarily use while driving). Investigate these features, and see if they’ll do what you need them to do.

Distracted Driving Organizations and Initiatives to Raise Awareness and Change Behavior

Change comes from within, so the saying goes. Some would consider apps and devices that regulate or monitor behavior to be treating the symptom and not the cause. There are programs and initiatives designed to educate young drivers and stop bad behaviors before they start.

End Distracted Driving offers education, webinars, statistics, resources, and information to help others promote safe driving habits. Our firm has partnered with EndDD.org and the American Association for Justice (AAJ) to offer a distracted driving educational program to area high schools.

It has been exceptionally well received by more than 300,000 students in 44 states and Canada. And it is recognized by traffic safety experts, including the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Governors Highway Safety Association, as one of the most effective programs for teens.

The program results from efforts of psychologists and teen safe-driving experts to integrate behavioral science, behavior change theory, and teen-targeted persuasion principles specifically designed to avoid any potential teen backlash of feeling as though someone is trying to restrict their freedom and rights (which may happen with apps or devices).

People Against Distracted Driving aims to raise awareness and reduce distracted driving among teens. The organization is on Facebook and Twitter.

Driving Skills for Life is an initiative through Ford Motor Company that seeks to train teen drivers and asks them to take a safe driving pledge. Impact Teen Drivers is a non-profit dedicated to helping keep teens safe on the road, and also asks teens to take a safe driving pledge.

Many Organizations, One Goal: Safer Teen Drivers

There are dozens of these organizations, and all of them share the goal of safer roads for teens. It’s easy to get involved, and they have many resources that you can use to discuss safe driving habits and the dangers of distracted driving with your teen.

Almost every auto insurer has some program aimed at teens, offering resources, pledges, and even apps and devices to help parents and teens create and maintain safe driving habits. Good behaviors are often rewarded with lower insurance premiums or even rebates.

10 Tips for Families: Parents and Teens are a Safe Driving Team

  1. Start discussions early, well before teens reach driving age. A lot of teens look forward to the rite of passage that is driving. Why not get a head start on safety, skills, and frank discussion?
  2. Communicate openly with teenage drivers about expectations and responsibilities.
  3. Take a pledge with your teen, like this one from the Centers for Disease Control or the YES! I WILL family pledge and safe driving agreement from EndDD.org.
  4. Set a good example for your teen driver. Do you drive the speed limit, wear your seatbelt, and avoid dangerous behaviors (such as texting and driving)? Teens who see their parents engage in risky or reckless behavior behind the wheel may be more likely to engage in such behaviors themselves.
  5. Know what risks teens face. Joyriding, texting and driving, not wearing seatbelts, and drinking and driving are all dangerous behaviors your teen could engage in. Don’t forget speeding, which is another dangerous behavior typical to teens. Establish rules and enforce them, and don’t ignore any warning signs or opportunities. For example, during the holidays, alcohol may be more accessible, so keep an eye on your teen.
  6. Drive with your kids for longer than required. Although North Carolina, like many other states, has a graduated licensing program, it can never hurt to spend more time with your teen while he or she is learning to drive. Studies show it can take as many as 1,500 miles of driving in all conditions before a teen has enough experience to be considered a competent – and safe – driver.
  7. Monitor your teen. We’ve already discussed apps that reduce the opportunity to drive distracted and monitor teens’ behavior behind the wheel. You might also consider a device like a dashcam.
  8. Take advantage of the features already built into your devices and vehicles. Many phones already have tracking features built into their operating systems. Some vehicles have features integrated into their entertainment systems that enable you to track and monitor the car, control features, and so on. You may already have everything you need, so read the owner’s manuals and do your research.
  9. Enroll in an education course with your kids. Driver education programs exist that can be really helpful in reminding both teen drivers – and their parents – how to stay safe on North Carolina roadways. Not only can they help develop young drivers’ skills, but they could also even net you a discount on your insurance premium.
  10. Give teens the tools to become safer drivers. You can find them with a bit of searching. For example, exchange.aaa.com/safety/teen-driver-safety has tips for parents and safety resources for teen drivers.

Safer Teen Drivers, Fewer Family Tragedies

We see more than our fair share of car crash tragedies. We have to help families pick up the pieces often. Many of these tragedies are entirely preventable. We want more teens driving safely and responsibly, so we see fewer family tragedies.

We admit that as parents, we sometimes get frustrated if our kids don’t answer our calls, especially when we don’t know they are driving.  But we’d rather them get to their destination safely and then respond rather than try to answer and wreck on the way.

Talk to your teen(s). Help them develop their skills. Set a good example, and communicate openly. Driving is a privilege, after all. You can’t guarantee their safety on the road, but with a bit of help, they’ll be able to better watch out for themselves.

Eating and Drinking While Driving Can Be Dangerous Distractions

Next time you pass someone on the road who is texting while driving, don’t be so quick to judge. At least, not if you have ever eaten a burger or sipped a soda while you were driving. Because eating and drinking are driving distractions, too.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claims that 8% of fatal crashes and 15% of injury crashes in 2018 were reported as distraction-affected crashes. That equates to 2,841 people killed and an estimated additional 400,000 people injured – all from distracted driving. And eating and drinking are considered to be driving distractions by the NHTSA.

But … you justify it to yourself. Eating while driving is part of every soccer mom’s weekly routine, right? And doesn’t every morning rush-hour commuter and tired trucker do it? And what about family road trips – surely that’s ok?

Eating on the go has become as American as apple pie. Thanks to the drive-thru, eating in our cars has become commonplace – routine, even. It is woven into the frenzied fabric of our everyday lives so intricately that we don’t think twice about it, let alone consider it a “distraction.” Yet many of us have never stopped to consider if we may be putting others (or ourselves and our passengers) in harm’s way as we careen down the road in a minivan full of little sluggers, while we force down yet another McNugget.

How Common Is Eating Behind the Wheel?

Eating on-the-go in our cars is pervasive. The fast-food drive-thru is so ingrained in American culture there’s even a national holiday celebrating it. July 24th every year. Here are some startling facts:

  • According to the CDC, 36% of adult Americans get food each day at a fast food restaurant.
  • There are over 204,000 fast food restaurants in the U.S.
  • These fast food restaurants serve roughly 50 million Americans every day and bring in $110 billion in annual revenues.
  • A Stanford University study says that over 20% of Americans’ meals are eaten in the car.

Why Eating Behind the Wheel Is So Distracting

There are many reasons why eating while driving is so dangerous. One major reason is that, when you eat behind the wheel, you are multitasking big time. You may not know just how little it takes for us to become unfocused while multitasking. Here’s a quick multitasking exercise that can help you determine just how good you are. (Spoiler alert: you’re not as good at it as you thought you were.)

Fewer Than Two Hands on the Steering Wheel

Driver eating a large burger while driving may increase his chances of a wreck.

Eating and driving almost always leads to driving without both hands on the steering wheel. Drivers must unwrap fast food items, apply sauce packets and condiments, clean up spills and crumbs, throw away trash, and more – all while trying to steer the car.

Even if you bring your own food to eat in the car, you may be handling lunch boxes with zippers that get stuck or Tupperware with lids that won’t open. Your hands are busy. But not busy doing what they should be doing, which is driving.

Eyes Off the Road

If your hands are off the wheel when you’re eating, your eyes probably are, too. What happens when a pickle falls off your burger? Our eyes (and hands) are trying to find that pickle instead of trying to keep our car on our side of the road. And chances are your mind is not on your driving at all at this point. It is on that pickle.

With your eyes off the road, you can easily miss changes in road patterns or road conditions, road signs and warning signs, or even other drivers who may be trying to find their own pickle while driving.

Slower Reaction Times

With your hands, eyes, and mind off the road, your reaction time will naturally be much slower. This contributes to the potential for collisions as drivers cannot always react in time to make the necessary maneuvers to avoid car accidents.

One university study, entitled ‘Two Hands Better Than One,’ found that drivers’ reaction times when eating increased by 44%, compared to their non-distracted counterparts. (And by increased, we mean got slower.)

Passengers With Food

We know that having rambunctious or loud passengers can result in distractions. But we don’t often think about how passengers who are eating can affect our ability to focus. Driving-Tests.org states:

“A backseat full of friends chowing down on burgers and fries can be just as distracting as enjoying some drive-thru fare yourself. The smells and sounds of passengers eating while you are attempting to concentrate on the important task of driving, not to mention offers of fries and ‘bites,’ can tempt you to turn around and take your eyes off the road.”

Car Clutter and Food Wrappers

Every time you pick up fast-food, you are left with a pile of paper bags, napkins, empty cups, straw wrappers, and more. Oftentimes, this trash is tossed to the floorboard to be picked up “later.” “Later” typically takes a while to come around and, slowly, the food wrappers and trash on your floorboards can create a hazardous, cluttered environment. Have you ever had a water bottle roll around your car? That bottle could easily get caught between your brake pedal and the floorboard.

According to one insurance company:

  • Loose objects can fly through the air if you have to stop suddenly – creating 20x the punch they normally would and potentially causing injuries to you and your passengers.
  • Loose objects rolling around your car can be distracting all by themselves. Garbage from food or drink can pose health hazards, becoming home to nasty bacteria that generally increase in hot weather. This can lead to multiple health problems, including E.coli.

Even an odor (rotting food and trash) or sight (trash piling up and making your car an eyesore) can be distracting and take your mind and eyes off the road.

Tips to Try to Avoid Eating and Driving

Treating your vehicle like a dining room is asking for more than just a big mess. Here are some tips to avoid the mess – and the potential mess of dealing with a car crash.

Eat Before You Leave

Wake up a few minutes earlier and eat your granola bar before getting in your car and heading to work. It may be slightly less convenient, but I can guarantee you it is way more convenient than dealing with a car wreck.

Make Your Car a Snack-Free Zone

Keep snacks like granola bars or fruit snacks out of your car. Some people keep snack foods in the glove compartment or center console. But if you don’t have food there, you won’t be tempted to eat it in a non-emergency setting – like when you’re driving.

Eat in the Parking Lot or the Restaurant

Eating in a parking lot or in the restaurant – or even pulling off the road to eat a snack – could save a life (even yours) by keeping you focused on your driving.

The 10 Worst Foods to Eat Behind the Wheel

If you absolutely have to eat behind the wheel, try to make the situation less distracting by using more accessible containers, keeping your trash in check, and avoiding certain messy foods. Here’s a list of the 10 worst foods to eat while driving, as reported by Drive-safely.net.

The top 10 worst foods to eat while driving include chocolate, soda, donuts, burgers, tacos and coffee.

  • Chocolate
    It may not be as bad as other foods because it isn’t something you can spill. But chocolate can leave stains and fingerprints that tempt us to clean them up, which is another major distraction when driving.
  • Soda
    Any drink can be distracting because you risk a real mess if you spill. Soda, because of its sticky nature, may be one you want to avoid, especially opening the can. We’ve all gotten sprayed with Sprite or Diet Coke, and it is not something that we want to happen in our car.
  • Donuts
    Jelly, cream-filled, or powered donuts can lead to a messy end-result. Use that willpower and resist the Krispy Kreme drive-thru on your next road trip.
  • Fried Chicken
    Fried chicken is greasy. A driver eating it is likely going to be cleaning their fingers or trying to wipe grease off the steering wheel. Consider eating your KFC inside or in the parking lot before pulling back onto the interstate.
  • Barbecue
    Like fried chicken, barbecue is extremely messy with its hot, dripping sauces. Getting it all over your hands, car, or clothing can be a major distraction.
  • Hamburgers
    Hamburgers are hard to resist on a road trip. But burgers have many parts – pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, bacon – all of which can slide out of the bun and make a mess in your car. And no one wants ketchup on their khakis.
  • Chili
    Hot chili on your clothes, hands, and car can not only be distracting, but it can be painful. Don’t let yourself get burned or distracted by eating chili. Some years ago, a driver of a Metro bus in Cincinnati hit two pedestrians because he was looking down to throw away his cup of chili. One was killed, the other was injured.
  • Tacos
    Tacos are hard enough to eat when you’re not driving. The mess will likely create an even bigger mess in your car. One driver crashed into two parked cars and flipped his own car onto its roof because he was eating a taco and brushing crumbs off his lap, thus causing the collision.
  • Soups
    Eating hot soup in your car is a bad idea. Period. It’s easy to spill, a mess to clean up, and depending on how hot it is, dangerous if you spill it on yourself.
  • Coffee
    Who doesn’t drink coffee in their car? Everyone needs a pick-me-up from Starbucks or McCafe, but hot coffee can burn your mouth or your hands, which can certainly take your focus off the road.

Keep in mind that many food-related car crashes happen in the morning during the rush to work. One driver was eating breakfast while driving 50 mph through an area already occupied by first responders. His breakfast distraction caused a second collision.

Are You Breaking the Law if You Eat and Drive?

No. In the United States, eating while driving is not prohibited by law. However, most distracted driving laws are interpretable, making it a very gray area.

One police officer put it this way: “Would I pull someone over if they have some french fries in their hands? No. But if someone is eating a sub, swerving all over the road? For sure. And I have.”

Importantly, North Carolina is a contributory negligence state, meaning you may be barred from compensation if you were in any way negligent in contributing to the accident.

For example, if you were in a car accident, and it was found that eating or drinking contributed, you could very well be considered negligent and denied potential compensation. Even worse, you could face legal action.

So, is eating and driving illegal? No, but it is certainly safer not to, and you could potentially be held liable if you contributed to an accident.

Now You Know – So What?

First, don’t be a distracted driver – of any kind. Try to find ways to avoid eating behind the wheel. It’s not as hard as you think. It could be as simple as setting your alarm five minutes earlier in the morning. It may not be convenient to you at first, but it could save your life or someone else’s.

Second, be a conscientious passenger. Help the driver keep his or her eyes on the road, even if food is involved.

And finally, encourage others not to eat or drink while driving so they can keep both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road. Distracted driving is dangerous, claiming more than 3,100 lives in 2019 in the U.S. Almost all of these tragedies are preventable.

Get a FREE Case Evaluation from NC Personal Injury Lawyers

Far too many people are injured because of distracted drivers – including those eating while driving. If you or someone you know was injured by a distracted driver, please contact us or call 1-866-900-7078 for a free case evaluation. Our car accident attorneys can help you seek the compensation you may deserve. We are here for you 24/7.

Injuries in Parking Lots – The Risk Is Real

When people think of car accidents, they think of stop lights, stop signs, or even Interstate pile-ups. If they think of slipping and falling, they think of their homes, or perhaps a workplace. There’s actually one place where all of those risks combine, including the risk of being hit by a car.

Parking lots are a part of everyday life for most, and they can be a free-for-all when it comes to safety. It’s one of the few places where motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists share the same space and are often subject to the weather. Even with pandemic restrictions in place, many grocery stores, department stores, and hospitals are open to the public.

Parking Lot Danger #1: Distracted or Careless Drivers

Believe it or not, parking lots can be just as dangerous as main roadways. Many injuries that occur in parking lot accidents are the result of negligence. Speeding and distracted driving are common in parking lots – people fiddling with their seat belts, phones, navigation systems, sunroofs, windows, or dealing with shifting groceries are just a few examples.

Crashes involving two cars can occur when drivers back out of spaces or fail to yield the right of way to other drivers. The National Safety Council conducted a public opinion poll in 2016 that found:

  • 63% of participants admitted to programming a GPS while driving in a parking lot.
  • 56% admitted to texting and driving in a parking lot.
  • 52% admitted to using social media.
  • 50% admitted to reading emails.
  • 49% admitted to taking pictures or watching videos.

How many of us are guilty of fiddling with a mask these days, as well?

Low Impact Car Accidents in Parking Lots Can Lead to Serious Injuries

There is a common misconception that if there is little car damage in a low-impact crash, then it’s unlikely that an injury occurred. The attorneys at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin often see injuries occur in low impact parking lot crashes. For example, a rear-end collision or side-impact crash that occurs in a parking lot can lead to whiplash, neck and back injuries, soft tissue injuries, and concussions.

Plus, how many people fail to buckle up until they’re moving? Some people don’t fasten their seat belts until they’re leaving the lot – and that lack of restraint could lead to injuries in low speed car accidents as well. And we’re just talking about the people in cars.

Even if you feel fine after a parking lot accident or your initial injuries seem minor, it’s important that you get medical help as soon as possible. A medical evaluation may reveal an injury that you were not aware of at the time of your accident. Some injuries can take several days to produce symptoms.

Parking Lot Danger #2: Pedestrians and Cyclists Not Paying Attention

While accidents involving two cars may result in injuries, pedestrians and cyclists are at a far greater risk. As much as it is a driver’s responsibility to watch what they are doing, pedestrians should be especially alert – they have the greatest risk of injury.

Many parking lots are poorly lit and lack walking areas specifically designated for pedestrians. Many modern cars have cameras and warning sensors, but that doesn’t entirely eliminate crashes or injuries – technology is not infallible. Some drivers trust too much in the technology when a simple glance could prevent certain injuries from ever happening.

Pedestrians and cyclists also don’t have the protection of a vehicular frame if they’re hit by a car. They’re not restrained by seatbelts or protected by airbags. As a result, the injuries they sustain in parking lot accidents are more likely to be severe.

For example, pedestrians and cyclists can sustain injuries such as:

  • Broken bones
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Serious spinal injuries
  • Crushed limbs
  • Nerve pain
  • Internal injuries
  • Paralysis
  • Death

In spite of all of that, people still walk down the middle of the travel lanes, cut between cars where drivers can’t see them, sort through groceries or purchases, talk to each other, and pay more attention to their phones than the two-ton automobiles that could run them over.

Parking Lot Danger #3: Slips and Falls

How many times have you nearly fallen in a parking lot because of a curb or concrete wheel stop in a parking space? Or a pothole, or other uneven surface? Or a slick surface due to rain, ice, or oil?

Slips and falls aren’t always a product of being clumsy or inattentive. Maybe the parking lot is poorly lit and you trip on something you couldn’t see in the darkness. Maybe the pavement is in poor condition and you turn an ankle in a depression and fall. Or maybe the drainage is poor and causing water to pool. You might slip in a puddle or step in what you think is a shallow puddle only to find it much deeper, causing you to fall.

The owners of these lots are responsible for maintaining a reasonably safe environment, and for warning patrons if a dangerous condition exists. If negligent maintenance contributed to a slip and fall accident causing injury in a parking lot, you may be entitled to compensation through a personal injury case!

Parking Lot Injuries and Workers Compensation

Whether you’re in North Carolina or South Carolina, there are laws in place to protect workers. Most employers are required by the state to carry workers’ compensation insurance. As a result, if you’re injured in a parking lot while you’re carrying out work duties, you may be entitled to compensation in the form of workers’ compensation – in addition to a possible personal injury claim against the lot’s owner if the injury was caused by negligent maintenance or lack of proper warning.

There are some interesting rules about when an employee is and is not covered. It will depend on your state, your job, and why you were in the parking lot in the first place. It’s probably best to consult with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney if you have any questions about your specific circumstance.

Protecting Yourself After a Parking Lot Accident

If you were injured in a parking lot accident, your life could become a series of overwhelming challenges. You could be facing a long rehabilitation period, be out of work for months and unable to support your family. You may never be able to work again.

The negligent party who injured you may very well deny any responsibility. He or she, in fact, may blame you, adding to your worries as you try to navigate your way through the legal system. An insurance company, knowing you may be financially desperate, may make a lowball settlement offer to save itself money.

Before signing away your rights, contact the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin to protect your rights, and help you seek the maximum compensation you may deserve. We have been handling personal injury cases for decades. We know how the legal system works and how to take on large insurance companies that do not want to pay you and your family for your injuries, suffering, and financial losses.

NC Highway Ranks As a “Top 10 Most Dangerous Road”

11 Miles, 318 Curves

The Tail of the Dragon, or US 129, from an aerial view in the winter
This aerial view of the “Tail of the Dragon” offers a glimpse of its potential to cause catastrophe.

Not all high rankings are cause for celebration. North Carolina’s highway US 129 continues to find a home on recent lists of the top 10 most dangerous roads in the United States.

According to U-Pack.com, while most of the road is normal and easy to traverse, the 11 mile Tail of the Dragon is another ballgame entirely. Popular with more adventurous drivers, the windy stretch of highway is an all-too-frequent locale for motorcycle and (despite a big rig ban) truck accidents.

It’s not just U-Pack stepping on 129’s Tail. Conde Nast’s Traveler has it on its list of “extreme drives,” categorizing it as one of the scariest highways. Suspicious of the 318 curves legend, Traveler still acknowledges it’s “a darned twisty road.” But these aren’t your run-of-the-mill bends. “With monikers like Pearly Gates, Brake or Bust Bend, and Gravity Cavity, you can tell these twists are dead serious.”

MotorBiscuit calls it one of the most dangerous drives in the country. Two lanes, sharp curves, and blind corners will do that to you. Reader’s Digest covers the pros and cons of the road succinctly, calling it “one of the most exciting — and dangerous — drives in the country.”

Riding the Dragon

You finally made it to the beautiful mountains of North Carolina to ride the Tail of the Dragon. The Dragon is an amazing ride, so it’s easy to understand why it is so popular with bikers and other motorists. In addition to the grandiose scenery, there are no intersecting roads to interrupt the ride or drive. But the price of popularity is that the Dragon is more crowded and busy now than ever before. And more vehicles means more danger to bikers.

According to USA Today, the Tail of the Dragon gets about 1,200 vehicles visiting per day. With hundreds of blind curves and crests, even the most experienced drivers and riders can quickly find themselves in trouble. The speed limit for the North Carolina portion of the Tail of the Dragon was lowered to 30mph in early 2005. You can decide for yourself how effective speed limits signs are likely to be on a road for speed enthusiasts.

Deputies monitor and patrol the road frequently, trying to reduce the number of crashes. Prevention is ideal, as the remote location means emergency services take a long time to get there after a crash. Waiting for the ambulance to arrive and then waiting for transfer to a hospital or trauma center can take hours.

Unpredictable Road Conditions

Sun to snowfall and back can happen in the blink of an eye. Unpredictable and harsh weather from about November through March makes a dangerous road even more challenging. The remote road can mean encountering any or all of the following during your trip:

  • Unplowed/unsalted ice and snow
  • Wildlife in the road, like bears and boars
  • Road obstructions, like downed trees
  • Tractor-trailers in both lanes

Bustling Motorcycle Haven

Riders love taking on famed US 129, the Tail of the Dragon. Motorcycle Roads touts the ride as “legendary,” the most famous motorcycle road in the world, and the road most consistently rated as number one by motorcyclists.

Not surprisingly, the highway sees a lot of accidents. For the five year period ending in 2019, more than 450 crashes happened on the Tail of the Dragon. Thankfully, deaths on the Dragon don’t usually reach more than a handful per year due to the low speeds. But there are many possible consequences to a crash beyond a full-fledged fatality.

Two motorcyclists biking in the wrong lane on a narrow, winding forest road.

For riders sharing the narrow road with full-sized cars, the dangers can’t be ignored or always avoided. Even on regular roads, cops have an acronym for cars crashing into motorcycles negligently: LBFS — “looked but failed to see” accidents. If that’s the case on straight roads, imagine the danger across hundreds of cambered curves. And, remember, drivers are there for the sights, not to show their mastery of road awareness.

There is even a morbid marker to warn riders of the dangers of disrespecting the road and its many occupants. The “Tree of Shame” at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort has its own bit of fame and notoriety. The tree is covered in parts from motorcycles that have crashed and been “bitten by the Dragon” over the years.

Even at relatively low speeds, there are many injuries you can suffer from a collision on the Tail of the Dragon motorcycle ride. These include:

  • Arm injuries, such as breaks or biker’s arm
  • Road rash, such as abrasions, scrapes, and burns
  • Leg injuries, such as sprains, breaks, and amputations
  • Head injuries, such as concussions and brain damage

There is a lot more to know about motorcycle wrecks and what to do following an injury. Recruit medical and legal professionals to your side to help you try to recover as best as possible.

Trucks Trying to Traverse the Tail

This road used to be a popular shortcut for truckers when I-40 was blocked. After so many incidents involving semis, authorities completely restricted large commercial vehicles from using the road by 2015. Still, much like speed enthusiasts and their dubious dedication to observing speed limits, truckers’ dedication to saving time on their routes might cause them to disregard the letter of the law.

Curves can be a deadly factor in North Carolina truck accidents. Curves are especially dangerous for truck drivers because they can’t accelerate at a regular speed. Instead, they are generally accelerating and braking at every single curve. This makes it challenging for cars and motorcycles behind truckers on the road, because it requires constant attention and reactions. And more novice truckers may not be familiar with the kind of strategies it takes to maneuver a road like US 129.

In addition, trucks tend to drift into other lanes while negotiating sharp curves. For oncoming traffic, this is incredibly dangerous. And since the narrowness of US 129 doesn’t allow for much shoulder space to move out of the way of a drifting truck, this can lead to deadly accidents for other drivers.

Taming the Dragon

If you tackle the Tail, please be safe. Here are some planning tips from our resident experienced biker who has tamed the Dragon:

  • Never ride the Dragon alone; always have a buddy.
  • Make sure to allot enough time to finish the ride while it’s still light – especially if it’s your first time on the Dragon.
  • Don’t ride the Dragon when you’re tired. You need to be alert and focused for hours.
  • The Dragon is less crowded on weekdays, so avoid weekends if possible.
  • Avoid bad weather; a tight, curvy road with limited visibility is a lot less fun – and a lot more dangerous – when the weather is poor.

If You’ve Been “Bitten by the Dragon”

Safe driving is dependent on many factors — including those out of your control, like other drivers. When other drivers or riders take blind corners without sufficient skill, collisions resulting in serious injuries or even death will occur eventually. Trucking accidents can occur for a number of reasons, ranging from driver distraction to fatigue or driving while intoxicated (DWI). And being involved in an accident with a truck is especially dangerous because of their sheer size. Truck wrecks are not just big car wrecks.

A wreck can happen at any time no matter how carefully you navigate the road. If you need to file a truck accident claim or need help determining liability following a motorcycle accident, we’re available 24/7 to discuss your case. Contact us online or call us at 1-866-900-7078. There’s no reason to do it alone.

5 Things Your Insurance Adjuster Doesn’t Want You to Know (But We Do!)

People who have been injured will often come to us after they have tried to deal with the insurance companies themselves.

They may be frustrated with the lack of timely response from insurance adjusters. Some tell us the insurance company will not offer them enough to cover their medical expenses and other damages. Sometimes people are simply overwhelmed by the amount of phone calls, paperwork, follow-up, and bureaucracy just to try to get the insurance company to cover damages.

We know how they feel. We have many people here who play paper chase with the insurance companies every day.

There are some statements we often hear from people who call us for help. These are people who have never dealt with insurance adjusters and claims-filing entities. We work with these types every day. (Some of us used to work on the other side!) Here are five statements we hear and the accompanying things the “friendly” insurance adjuster and “good neighbor” insurance company may not want you to know.

1. The Insurance Adjuster Handling My Case Seems Very Nice and Is Even Willing to Settle as Soon as Possible. But the Settlement Amount Is So Low.

You should never rely on the adjuster or the insurance company as your friends. Most insurance companies are in business to make money. The less money the adjuster offers you to pay your damages, the more money insurance companies keep for themselves. Fact is, it is part of an insurance adjuster’s job description to offer you as little as possible. Adjusters may seem pleasant and sympathetic to your circumstances. Perhaps they are. But the bottom line is you are not signing their paychecks.

Adjusters go through intensive training programs to learn the art of negotiation. They can get very detailed, even covering the psychological aspects of negotiating in many instances.

Most insurance companies have auditing systems that show how much their adjusters paid out to claimants, based on the medical reports and what they can mitigate in their claimants’ files. Sometimes the adjuster’s pay can be tied to whether or not they meet the criteria the company has devised as “best practices” for payouts.

2. My Adjuster Said a Lawyer Won’t Do Anything More for Me Other Than Drag My Case On and On.

An insurance company may say that because they do not want you to hire a lawyer. If you hire a lawyer, they know they may potentially have to pay you more money. They know we know information that can help you. Insurance companies may sometimes call us ambulance chasers, sharks, greedy, and all kinds of names to try to prevent you from getting legal advice.

And they are unlikely to want to go to court to try your case in front of a jury. Insurance companies do not like uncertainty. And juries are by their very nature an uncertainty. We will go to court in a heartbeat if we think it will help you get the compensation you may deserve. Is that something the insurance companies want to hear?

3. My Pre-Existing Shoulder Condition Prohibits Them From Paying Me for the Full Extent of My Shoulder, Neck, and Back Injuries.

Ah! The pre-existing condition. That’s an oldie goldie. Some of our employees used to be insurance adjusters. Here’s what one of them had to say about this tactic:

“As a former insurance adjuster, our job was to gather the evidence and point out all the potential negatives to try to reduce the payout. If a claimant had a prior neck problem, and the wreck caused an injury to their neck, we would argue that they may have caused aggravation to the neck so we would not offer 100%. Same with degenerative issues. We would focus on that to reduce payout.”

The reality is a pre-existing condition may have no bearing on your new injury at all.

4. My Adjuster Told Me That After I Pay an Attorney’s Fee, I Would Probably Get Less Than Their Offer.

An insurance adjuster might try to get you to buy into all kinds of assumptions. They are highly trained professional negotiators. They might challenge you to take them to court. “You just wait and see,” they might say, acting like they welcome the chance. They might play the “take it or leave it” or “that’s my final offer” card. They might try to confuse you with all kinds of data and analyses and algorithms their statisticians have determined are “reasonable and fair” based on your medical bills and circumstances.

The list of deny and delay tactics is long. Yet it is effective in many instances! We don’t scare. (And we understand their algorithms.) If it’s in your best interest, we don’t back down.

5. The Insurance Company Said To Go Ahead and Take Them To Court. Facts Are Facts, and in My Case, the Facts Are Against Me.

Court is expensive. That is among the main reasons insurance companies typically want to settle your case quickly. Yet they may not let on that they would rather settle than go to court in most cases. Even so, they may still discount the amount they potentially owe you for damages. They may be assuming that you have no idea what you are potentially owed. They may try to make you believe they can only compensate you for medical expenses and not other damages, which may include the following:

  • mileage to and from your medical appointments
  • lost time from work
  • prescriptions
  • loss of the use of your vehicle
  • and sometimes pain and suffering

You aren’t likely to hear those options voluntarily from the adjuster. But you will from us. And then some.

Insurance Companies Keep Millions by Limiting Payouts

The bottom line is that many insurance companies are all about their bottom line. They hold millions, and in some cases billions, of dollars in reserves and earn interest and dividends on these assets. Many also have shareholders to answer to – large major shareholders like investment banks and mutual fund firms. Shareholders like to keep investing in profitable companies.

Sadly, it boils down to this. The insurance company is taking care of the shareholder and investor. The adjuster is taking care of the insurance company who gives them a consistent paycheck. Who is taking care of you?

You need to take care of you. We can help. Make sure you take care of your interests by consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney who knows how to deal with these issues.

Why Choose James Scott Farrin for Personal Injury, Workers’ Comp, or Social Security Disability Claims?

It starts with great people. We have over 50 accomplished attorneys, many of whom have won awards for their service and advocacy inside and outside the courtroom, including Best Lawyers “Best Lawyers in America,” 2021 list,3 “Lawyer of the Year” from Best Lawyers for 2017,“Super Lawyer” 20215 list by Super Lawyers, and Business North Carolina’s “Legal Elite” list for 2021.6

They’ve authored books, spoken at seminars for other attorneys, and some are sought by the media for their legal expertise. All are advocates dedicated to fighting tooth and nail for each and every client.

We’ve gone to great lengths to help make sure we know how the “other side” operates by hiring attorneys who’ve represented insurance companies and large major corporations.

We also have attorneys who are bilingual (as are many of our paralegals and staff).

Experienced Accident Attorneys Evaluate Your Case FREE

If you’re getting the run-around from your insurance adjuster or feel your best interests are not being considered, contact us or call 1-866-900-7078.

 

Related Resource:

What Should You Not Say to An Insurance Adjuster

3, 4 For more information about rules for inclusion visit www.bestlawyers.com

5 For more information about rules for inclusion visit www.superlawyers.com

6 For more information about rules for inclusion visit businessnc.com

Did Government COVID Response Result in More Traffic Deaths?

We’re all too familiar with the narrative of 2020. A global pandemic, lockdown orders, and social distancing. And yet, in a time when a great many people were working remotely – if at all – the roads were arguably more dangerous, despite fewer vehicles being on the road. The National Safety Council (NSC) reported in March that traffic deaths in 2020 totaled 42,060 people, an 8% increase from 2019 and the first rise in the rate in four years.

How can that happen? We saw the numbers for North Carolina, and it made us wonder what could possibly be contributing to this phenomenon. What are the numbers, and what drove the sky-high fatality rates on roads that were far less congested than they had been in years? The numbers tell a story, but the story behind them may be even more shocking.

Part 1: Less Traffic, More Fatalities
North Carolina Crashes
North Carolina Injuries
North Carolina Fatalities
Part 2: Government Response
Law Enforcement
Licensing Agencies
Trucking Regulations
Part 3: Human Nature
Driver Psychology
Open Roads
Seat Belt Use
Driving Under the Influence
Part 4: Conclusions

Open Roads: Less Traffic, More Fatalities?

When stay-at-home orders came into effect in March 2020, the amount of traffic on roads worldwide dropped significantly. In a report from the North Carolina Department of Transportation, observed traffic for the period from March 2020 to October 2020 was down significantly from pre-COVID projections.

There was a significant difference in the forecast and actual vehicle miles traveled in 2020.

The graph shows a steady decline in overall traffic (actual miles traveled in red) versus what was projected (projected miles traveled in blue). In March, there were 19% fewer vehicle miles traveled than projected in North Carolina. In April, the deficit was 42%.

There were simply fewer cars on the road, and the trend wasn’t limited to North Carolina. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) compiles monthly reports of traffic volume on the roads that it regulates. For March and April of 2020, volume was down 18.6% in March and 39.8% in April versus the same time period in 2019.

So, traffic was down. Fewer cars were on the road. Logically, fewer cars on the road meant fewer car crashes. But, even with dramatically reduced traffic, traffic fatalities generally rose. While the NCDOT’s annual compilation of crash statistics for each year is published in the subsequent November, some statistics are already available, including the crash and injury totals.

North Carolina Had Significantly Fewer Crashes in 2020

In North Carolina, the number of vehicle crashes for 2020 was 272,310, down more than 14% from 318,444 in 2019.

Total statewide crashes in NC from over 20 years, with a decrease in 2020.
SOURCE: NCDOT Safety Rates, https://www.ncdot.gov/about-us/our-mission/Performance/Pages/safety-rates.aspx

North Carolina Crashes With Injuries Decreased in 2020

Meanwhile, injuries resulting from crashes dropped dramatically to 104,967, down more than 16% from 125,434 in 2019. So far, so good.

Total statewide injuries in NC from over 20 years, with a decrease in 2020.
SOURCE: NCDOT Safety Rates, https://www.ncdot.gov/about-us/our-mission/Performance/Pages/safety-rates.aspx

North Carolina Crash Fatalities in 2020 Highest in More Than a Decade

Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends. While accidents and injuries were down year-over-year, fatalities sharply increased to 1,650 in 2020, an increase of more than 11% over 2019’s total of 1,479.

Total statewide crashes in NC from over 20 years, with a notable increase in 2020.
SOURCE: NCDOT Safety Rates, https://www.ncdot.gov/about-us/our-mission/Performance/Pages/safety-rates.aspx

The statistic that may be most jarring of all is the rate of fatalities compared to vehicle miles traveled, which is usually expressed in millions. In North Carolina, the rate for 2020 was 1.52 fatalities per 100 million VMT. In 2019, that rate was 1.21. That means fatalities per 100 million VMT increased more than 25% in 2020.

That revelation led us to question what the national trend might be. Was North Carolina an outlier? Or was it indicative of a much broader crisis? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) compiles these stats by quarter, and gives a more complete view of the effect along with the context of when things really changed. With stay-at-home orders largely beginning in March – late Q1 – the change between COVID and non-COVID time is even more pronounced.

Fatality Rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2019 and 2020.

So, even though there were fewer cars on the road and fewer crashes overall, the rate at which people were being killed in those crashes increased profoundly. Why?

As is usually the case with such a widespread and dramatic statistical change – one that looks like an anomaly at a glance – there are many contributing factors. While some are speculative, the circumstantial evidence is convincing.

COVID Response Measures By Government Agencies

Hidden behind the stay-at-home orders, essential workers, and stimulus checks, the wheels of government were turning. A special report compiled by the NHTSA noted some decisions that likely played a significant role in the carnage to come.

Law Enforcement Agencies Deliberately Reduced Traffic Enforcement

According to the NHTSA’s analysis, through September of 2020, 65% of the first responders who died as a result of COVID were in law enforcement. In response to the risks posed to officers, law enforcement agencies responded with procedural changes.

“According to a survey released by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (Lum et al., 2020), more than half of the more than 1,000 responding agencies established policies explicitly reducing proactive enforcement including traffic enforcement, in both March and May 2020 when the survey was fielded, and nearly three-quarters had policies mandating the reduction in physical arrests for minor offenses.” –NHTSA Special Report: Examination of the Traffic Safety Environment During the Second Quarter of 2020

Meanwhile, NHTSA Regional Administrators were being informed by state law enforcement agencies about reduced enforcement of seat belt, impaired driving, and speeding laws. State entities were also investigating fewer crashes than normal. As noted previously, state data suggested that while the number of crashes investigated had dropped, the number of fatalities had increased in some places.

The key takeaway here is that the police were relaxing their criteria for traffic stops in order to reduce their contact with the public as a safety measure for both themselves and the communities they served. Offenses and risky driving behaviors that would normally result in someone being pulled over went unpunished.

Licensing Agencies Relaxed Rules and Suspended Testing Requirements

At the same time, many state agencies in charge of drivers’ licenses closed or drastically reduced their hours, and put emergency measures in place. According the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, some of these measures included extending commercial licenses that were due to expire, reducing or eliminating road tests for new license applicants, and allowing novice drivers to receive full licenses without the requirement of a road test.

Drivers who may have needed to re-test, had their license limitations altered, or who simply had no quantifiable on-road experience were being set loose on roads with reduced enforcement measures in place.

Federal Trucking Regulations Were Relaxed

As the country began to lock down and supply shortages hit hospitals and supermarkets alike, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued an emergency declaration suspending many long-haul trucking regulations governing hours of service. Those regulations have been in place since the 1930s, and were aimed at keeping fatigued truckers off America’s roads.

The change was likely intended to enable the logistical networks and distributors across the country to operate at increased capacity when shortages were becoming alarmingly common. According to data published by the American Trucking Association in 2019, 71.4% of all freight travels over the road. Opening the taps, so to speak, by lifting regulation makes sense from that point of view.

While not every rule governing work hours for commercial truckers was rescinded by the declaration, it did eliminate a weekly hours rule and a mandate for 30-minute breaks, which allowed for continuing operation without rest. Fatigue was already noted as a factor in 13% of trucking crashes before the rules were suspended. It is also worth noting that, in France, deaths in the category of “professional drivers” did not decrease during the pandemic despite fewer road users.

And even if truckers on U.S. roads wanted to rest, they would have reduced opportunities to do so. Many rest areas, truck stops, and restaurants were closed due to COVID mandates. Combine these issues with apparently reduced enforcement and you have a recipe for dangerous roads.

Human Nature: Give Them an Inch…

There are certain behavioral trends that are easily predictable. The old saying, “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile,” is a commentary on how people are prone to push boundaries. When existing rules are relaxed, people will push the envelope to find out how much they can get away with.

The NHTSA offers a theory regarding the psychology here, specifically about risk aversion. More risk-averse people are more likely to have reduced their driving and stayed home. Less risk-averse people were more likely to continue their routines and not reduce their trips. Less risk-averse people are, logically, more inclined to engage in risky behaviors like speeding or driving without a seat belt.

“In short, the stay-at-home orders may have led the population of drivers during the height of the health crisis to have been smaller but more willing to take risks.” –NHTSA Special Report: Examination of the Traffic Safety Environment During the Second Quarter of 2020

Driver Psychology

Psychologists have found that many drivers normalize low-level speeding. Drivers are also prone to be biased toward their own driving skills. Research gives us a great deal of warning as to what behaviors we can expect and from whom. Male and younger drivers are particularly prone to “optimism bias” toward their own driving skills, and younger drivers are more likely to speed.

Now, to compound, research also shows that drivers may determine how fast to drive by cues from the road or surroundings. For example, if general traffic is going 70mph in a 60mph zone, drivers may adjust their speeds to match their peers. In this way, speeding becomes, itself, epidemic.

“Our country has a speeding problem that has only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
— Jonathan Adkins, Executive Director, Governors Highway Safety Association

Open Roads and the Need for Speed

As we noted in a blog from May 2020, enforcement agencies were already seeing a marked increase in speeding, sometimes to levels bordering on ridiculous. A few highlighted stories from those early days of the lockdown foreshadow the fatality statistics from the year:

  • The Colorado State Patrol issued more citations for 20+ mph over and 40+ mph over the speed limit through March 2020 than it did in March 2019, despite reduced traffic volume.
  • For the one-month period starting on March 19 when California’s stay-at-home order was put in place, the California Highway Patrol reports it issued 87% more citations for drivers exceeding 100mph than it did for the same period a year ago – 2,493 statewide versus 1,335 a year ago – despite a 35% reduction in traffic volume (or perhaps because of it).
  • In New York, automated speed cameras issued 24,765 speeding tickets on March 27, almost twice as many as the daily average a month before despite there being fewer cars on the road.

The trend of speed continued through 2020, and the end-of-year accounting of traffic enforcement and statistical data bore fruit.

  • In Minnesota, the number of drivers ticketed for going more than 100mph doubled in 2020. Traffic deaths increased 9% in 2020 – again, despite fewer miles being traveled.
  • According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, 2020 fatalities involving reckless driving behaviors were at their highest levels during the lockdown (through the period they observed). Eight other Midwest states also reported increases in traffic fatalities through October 29th, 2020.
  • Even after the initial lockdown, data indicates that increases in collisions between August and October 2020 outpaced the growth in travel in the top 25 metro areas in the U.S. That means that as more people rejoined the roads, accidents were happening at an even greater rate.

The NHTSA report summarizes what the data shows: “Reductions in roadway volumes and associated congestion result in higher average travel speeds and greater speed variability.”

Add to that, a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) showed that even a nominal increase in speed reduces the ability of even modern cars to protect occupants. Crash tests are typically carried out at lower speeds than most U.S. Interstates allow.

Drivers Unbuckled – More Crashes Resulting in Ejections

According to data from the NHTSA, and supporting its theory regarding less risk-averse drivers, there were increases in the instances of unbelted drivers being killed in accidents. For the period from January 1 – May 21, 2020, the state of Virginia recorded a 15.4% increase in the number of fatalities involving unrestrained motorists versus the same period in 2019. Minnesota also recorded an increase.

As a surrogate for disparate data from each state, the NHTSA uses ejection rate as a measure of unrestrained drivers and passengers in motor vehicles, as they are by far the most likely to suffer an ejection during a crash. Expressed in “ejections per 100 crashes,” the weeks following the lockdown saw significant increases over previous years.

Ejections per 100 EMS response crash activations in 2019 and 2020, with an increase during the pandemic.

More Drivers Were Likely Under the Influence

Continuing to support the NHTSA’s theory of the roads being populated with drivers who were less risk-averse, the data suggests that alcohol consumption overall increased during the lockdown. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus to be a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. By March 27, more than half of the U.S. population was subject to a stay-at-home order. Between the weeks of March 22 and March 29, 2020, alcohol sales skyrocketed.

According to a study by Mercato, for those weeks, online orders of liquor rose 204%, wine rose 200%, and beer rose 159%. The further into the lockdown we went, the more sales increased. For the week of May 17, 2020, liquor sales increased 1,244%. Beer sales grew by 636%.

Those numbers are surprising, but when put into the context, they paint a more dire picture. Less risk-averse drivers are more likely to engage in risky behaviors on the road, including driving under the influence. The NHTSA cites a study on drug prevalence among road users conducted September 2019 through July 2020, using March 17 as the fulcrum between pre- and post-COVID measures being in place. The study measured severely or fatally injured road users from five trauma centers.

A larger percentage of drivers drove under the influence during the pandemic than before.

While these statistics apply primarily to Q2 2020, they’re a significant insight into the kinds of drivers that tended to take to US roads during the pandemic, and the data correlates to the NHSTA’s theory of there being more drivers on the road who were less risk-averse.

Conclusions and What We Can Learn

The NHTSA has gathered and analyzed massive amounts of data – and the report we cited did not even cover the entirety of 2020. The agency was not, however, alone in its analysis. Other studies were performed. Data continues to be compiled, but the more we see, the clearer the picture becomes.

It was a perfect storm, in a manner of speaking. It’s plausible that the general anxiety over the pandemic distracted the more risk-averse people from more immediate threats, including those on the road. People who were less risk-averse, and did not appreciably alter their behaviors, were more likely to be on those roads more often and were more likely to engage in behaviors including impaired driving and not wearing their seat belts.

That’s a very plausible recipe for the increase in fatalities and fatality rates, and the circumstantial evidence is incredibly strong.

Hindsight, and How Planning Ahead Saves Lives

The lesson here could very well be that the world simply was not prepared for a pandemic. Governments across the globe, including the U.S., simply could not cope with the scope and speed of the virus. There were so many alterations in how different entities and agencies operated and responded through the crisis that it’s difficult to tell which dominoes fell when, and how many followed.

Overall, the failure to see past the immediate effects of response measures – which appeared in many cases to be reactionary rather than planned – almost certainly played a significant role. Reducing regulation and enforcement allowed for certain behaviors with the omission of consequence.

This experience has taught us all many things, about ourselves and how we interact with others. While data is still flowing on the real effects of the virus on traffic fatalities, it’s already clear that fatalities were unusually high for the low volume of traffic and accidents. We can only hope that we can apply what we’ve learned in response to future crises, and avoid triggering a similarly tragic year on the road.