Each year, automobile manufacturers introduce new technologies designed to help prevent serious car accidents and save lives. While many of these new technologies show promise, not all of them are as successful as manufacturers would like. According to a new study by the Highway Loss Data Institute, several new technologies do appear to offer significant safety benefits.

Researchers from the HLDI examined crash data and accident rates among cars with and without three new technologies:

· Forward collision avoidance systems with autonomous braking: cars with this technology use forward facing radar to detect when an obstacle is ahead and automatically apply the brakes when a collision is near.

· Lane departure systems: cars with these systems use cameras to detect when the vehicle has left its lane without the driver using his turn signal.

· Adaptive headlights: these headlights turn with the steering wheel to provide more light as a vehicle turns a corner.

Researchers determined that forward collision avoidance systems offered the greatest benefit to drivers. For example, property damage liability claims dropped 14 percent for owners of Mercedes Benz models with crash avoidance systems. The use of these systems also appeared to reduce injury and collision claims.

Adaptive headlights, which were first developed by manufacturers in the early 1920s, offered the second greatest benefit. The incidence of property damage claims was 10 percent lower for cars with these systems compared to those without them. This finding was particularly surprising because only seven percent of car accidents in the U.S. occur at night.

Also surprising was the ineffectiveness of lane departure systems. Property damage claims were, in fact, slightly higher for cars with these systems. The reason for this remains unclear, but researchers suggest that many drivers find the lane departure signals to be a distraction and turn them off.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has begun evaluating these technologies and lists new car models with collision avoidance systems on its website.

Of course, in many cases, the development of new safety technology is as much about selling cars as it is saving lives. Efforts to determine which technologies actually work, however, can benefit everyone and can make our roadways safer. Indeed, many safety issues – such as distracted driving – have proven difficult to address, despite legislation and public awareness campaigns. New technologies, particularly those designed to improve driver awareness, may be the key to developing an effective solution.

All people make mistakes at one time or another. Some mistakes are harmless, while others can be quite costly. In the field of medicine, a health care professional’s mistake can mean the difference between life and death. Doctors, nurses and even hospital administrators are expected to maintain a very high level of skill and follow the normal standards of care that are required by such professionals. If an individual comes to realize that the standard of care has not been met, he or she should be aware that there may be legal options available to them, such as filing a lawsuit for medical malpractice.

What must be proven?

Under Alaska law, it is the responsibility of the plaintiff, who is the injured individual, to demonstrate that the health care professional acted negligently or with willful misconduct. Specifically, the following must be shown:

•That there was a certain level of skill or knowledge that the health care provider was expected to possess, as well as a degree of care that was normally used under the circumstances at the time of the act complained of;

•That the health care professional either did not have the required skill level or knowledge, or that he or she either deviated from or failed to use the expected level of care, and;

•That there was a causal connection between the professional’s lack of knowledge/skill or failure to use the generally accepted level of care and the injuries suffered.

In medical malpractice claims, there is no presumption of negligence against the doctor or entity, so an injured person will need to go to great lengths to prove his or her claim.

The difficulty of proving malpractice

Demonstrating a health care professional’s misconduct can be a very hard task. Experts will need to be used in order to show that the professional being charged acted irresponsibly. Additionally, the medical reports that are pertinent to the case may not fully present the facts of what really happened when the negligence took place.

If patients believe that they or a loved one have experienced some form of medical negligence, it is important that they be aware of their potential remedies. Regardless of whether it was a botched surgery or a medication that was prescribed incorrectly, there are actio ns that can be taken to ensure that such errors don’t go unnoticed. Those who have been harmed by a health care professional may want to seek legal assistance because, as noted above, proving malpractice will not be easy to do. A legal professional who has familiarity with these types of cases will be able to inform injured individuals of their options and appropriate remedies.

In Alaska and across the country, distracted driving has been receiving considerable attention. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation, has been trying to address the problem of distracted driving by educating drivers about the dangers of using a cellphone or texting while operating a motor vehicle.

The agency’s efforts are certainly needed. NHTSA data shows that in 2010, 3,092 people died in car accidents where a distracted driver was involved. About 416,000 more people were injured that year in distracted driving accidents.

Distracted driving is more dangerous than most people realize. The NHTSA also points out that in the time it takes a driver to send or review a text, a car going 40 miles per hour would travel the length of a football field — essentially blindfolded. A driver who is texting is at 23 times greater risk for crashing than drivers who are not distracted.

The evolution of Alaska distracted driving laws

Alaska responded to concerns about distracted driving after an Anchorage couple died in a fatal car accident in 2002. The driver who hit them was accused of watching a movie while driving. The legislature enacted a law that went into effect in 2008, specifically prohibiting drivers from using portable computers, monitors, televisions and any video screens in a driver’s field of vision. During the first six months after the law went into effect, only three drivers were cited for violations.

Then, law enforcement agencies attempted a campaign to educate drivers about the risks of texting. At that point, lawmakers were not willing to go further and place any outright bans on using cellphones while driving, largely out of a fear that such a proposal would be very unpopular with Alaska voters.

The 2009 and 2010 legislatures considered banning teenage drivers from using cellphones, but no law resulted. Legislators debated whether cellphone use should be a primary offense, giving a reason by itself for police to pull a driver over and issue a ticket, or a secondary offense requiring that the police stop the driver for some other reason.

In the 2011 and 2012 legislative session, several cellphone bills were considered, including the teen cellphone use ban, but none have been enacted. What the legislature did do in that recent session was to clarify the 2008 law, after a judge noted that the law did not specifically rule out the use of a cellphone to send and receive texts. The bill to revise the law to forbid texting cleared the legislature and has been signed into law by the governor.

Whether or not Alaska law forbids cell phone use, a driver who operates a vehicle negligently and injures someone should be held liable for their actions. An experienced personal injury attorney can pursue a claim to recover medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering damages for someone who is hurt by a negligent driver.

Winter is upon us in Alaska, and that means cold weather and treacherous driving conditions are going to be facts of life for many months. Slippery roads, limited visibility and other winter hazards make it easier to get into a car accident during this time of year, but that doesn’t mean that drivers have any less of a responsibility when it comes to preventing crashes or taking responsibility when they happen.

Alaska car accident victims have the same rights in the winter as they do during the rest of the year. Anyone who is injured in an accident caused by another driver’s negligence can seek financial compensation in a personal injury lawsuit.

Of course, it is much better to prevent accidents from occurring in the first place. Since it is not practical to simply stay inside for the duration of the winter, all Alaska drivers can benefit from keeping the following winter weather driving tips in mind:

  • Stay back: It takes longer to stop on slippery roads, so you need to give yourself more space. At a minimum, you want at least two car lengths of following distance for every 10 mph of speed.
  • Watch your speed: Don’t feel pressured to drive the speed limit when conditions are rough. Instead, drive at a speed that is reasonable given traffic flow and road conditions.
  • Brake carefully: In winter conditions, sudden braking can cause you to lose control. Apply the brakes only when you are driving in a straight line. Always brake gradually, especially if you are driving an older vehicle that does not have anti-lock brakes.
  • Look out for ice: This is especially true for black ice, which isn’t easy to see. Be especially vigilant on bridges, underpasses, intersections or particularly shady sections of road. When driving on icy hills, stay aware of your momentum and use a low gear – not the brakes – to slow down.
  • Skid safely: If you lose control of your vehicle, take your foot of the gas and gently turn the steering wheel in the same direction as the skid. Never slam on the brakes, but instead apply them gently once you start to regain control of the vehicle. It is a good idea to practice skidding in an empty parking lot until you feel comfortable.

If you get in an accident, you need to take immediate steps to protect yourself, especially if you are in a remote area. Always carry a shovel and sand or cat litter in case your car gets stuck in the snow. If you become stranded, stay with your vehicle. Run the engine periodically to stay warm, but crack a window so you do not get carbon monoxide poisoning.

If you are injured in a car accident caused by another person’s negligence, it is important to take steps to protect your rights. An experienced Anchorage personal injury attorney can evaluate your case and help you obtain fair compensation.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued new regulations that ban commercial motor vehicle drivers from using handheld cell phones. The regulations became effective on January 1, 2012.

The regulations have forced many trucking companies to revise their communication policies with their drivers. Cell phones provide a quick and convenient method for companies and their dispatchers to remain in contact with their driver and shipments.

If a crash occurs when a driver is talking or texting on a cell phone there is a strong inference that the phone conversation distracted them from safely operating their commercial motor vehicle.

The regulations define a commercial vehicle as any vehicle over 10,000 lbs that crosses state lines and any vehicle over 26,000 lbs. Additionally, any vehicle used for a work purpose, could be found to be a commercial vehicle and the driver and company subject the regulations.

Necessary Distracted Driving Policies

With the increased risk of liability, trucking companies and any business that uses motor vehicles for their business need to examine procedures and make sure they complies with FMCSA regulations.

Companies have created different approaches, some prohibiting any hand-held electronic devices from being used while driving a vehicle. To contact a dispatcher, they are required to stop their vehicle.

One company describe their new policy as a way of keeping their employees focused on their job, to help limit the distractions all workers can face.

The impact of these rules will be felt industry wide, from massive interstate trucking companies, employing thousands of drivers, to local business, using one or two drivers to deliver pizza or flowers.

Not only could accident affect the business by creating liability with a motor vehicle accident, but for a small business, the crash could mean the loss of 50 percent of its delivery capability, and a consequent loss of revenue.

Penalties

An additional reason a business operating commercial vehicles have a strong motivation to stay in compliance with the new rules is to avoid the significant penalties.

A commercial vehicle driver can be fined $2,750 for each violation and lose their commercial driver’s license (CDL) for multiple violations. Their employer can also be fined up to $11,000 for permitting drivers to use hand-held cell phones.

The regulations are designed to help reduce the incident of distracted driving truck crashes caused by hand-held cellphone use. Statistics show that distracted driving accidents are increasing as more and more drivers use electronic devices while in their vehicles.

Texting has emerged as a particularly dangerous activity, with one study showing an average text is like driving with your eyes closed for the length of one and a half football fields.

The Department of Transportation has even created a website specifically to highlight the danger of distracted driving, Distracted.gov, and the problem is seen as one that will probably get worse, as more capabilities are packed into hand-held devices like smart phones and tablets.

Greater Complexity of Truck Accident Cases

Crashes involving commercial motor vehicles and drivers are much more complex than an ordinary personal injury lawsuit. If you are hit by a distracted truck driver, talking or texting on a cellphone, your process to recover compensation for your injuries is more complex than if you had been hit by another driver of a passenger vehicle.

A Question of Parties and Responsibility

A large part of the complexity of a commercial vehicle accident stems from the number of potentially responsible parties and the level of responsibility they may have. The driver is typically a party, as he or she had direct control over the truck or commercial vehicle.

The owner of the truck may also be responsible, but responsibility could extend to the company that maintained the vehicle, and they may be different from the owner, as the maintenance could be done by the leasing company that owns the vehicle or it could outsource that work.

Further responsibility could reside with the shipper who loaded the truck, if it can be shown that some aspect of the load or how it was loaded contributed to the accident.

Brokers?

Liability in these situations is often determined by whether the driver is an employee or an independent contractor. Many of the trucks on the roads are not hired by the company shipping the item, but instead by a third party broker, and the liability of those brokers often unclear.

Respondeat Superior

In law a principal (the employer or person who hires another) is liable for the tort of his agent (the person hired) under the doctrine of “respondeat superior” when the tort is committed within the scope of the agent’s agency. In other words if you hire someone and they injure another person while carrying out the job, you can be held liable for those injuries.

Another difficulty with truck accident cases is the presence of independent contractors. Many truck drivers are independent contractors, meaning they are not the employee of the person or company whose products they are shipping.

In determining whether a person is an agent or an independent contractor, the court looks the right to control the manner of work performance, regardless of whether that right was actually exercised.

This can be a complex question, and attorneys involved with truck accident cases work to show the control that was exercised by a broker or shipper. Some shippers may hire an independent contractor to insulate themselves from liability, but then attempt to exert control over the truck driver.

Texting while driving increases the likelihood of a car accident or crash. The Alaska legislature passed a law in 2008 that it thought made texting and driving a crime, but the ambiguous language has raised questions from judges across the state.

A bill has been introduced to clarify the language and make it clear that texting while driving is prohibited in Alaska.

The problem with the law is how it described texting. It currently states:

“A person commits the crime of driving with a screen device operating if the person is driving a motor vehicle, a the vehicle has a television, video monitor, portable computer, or any other similar means capable of providing a visual display that is in full view of a driver in a normal driving position while the vehicle is in motion, and the monitor or visual display is operating while the person is driving.”

Does That Mean Texting?

It didn’t use the term “texting” and it seem to imply that something like unlocking a cell phone or using a GPS function on a smart phone could be read as a violation of the statute and a crime.

Late last year, Magistrate Jennifer Wells in Kenai, issued a dismissal in a texting-while-driving case. She stated, “If the Alaska legislature wanted to prohibit texting, then it should have, and could have, clearly said so.”

The revised HB 255 is designed to fix this issue, by adding language that states, “…while texting, while communicating on a computer, or while a screen device is operating…” to make clear texting, email or similar activity is prohibited.

The legislature also added “or…the person is reading or typing a text message or other nonvoice message or communication on a cellular telephone, persona data assistant, computer or any other similar means…”

Staying Ahead of the Curve

One problem in attempting to regulate this type of issues is the pace of technological change. Smart Phones did not exist ten years ago, and texting is similarly recent. The 2008 language attempted to be broad and all encompassing, but turned out to be too vague.

In order to regulate a behavior, the statute must describe an activity well enough that people understand what the law is prohibiting.

Driver Distraction and Highway Deaths

The temptation to use smart phones to surf the internet and send text messages in a vehicle is strong and growing stronger. As the urge to glance at the phone becomes irresistible, consider the National Transportation Highway Safety Administration reported in “2009, 5,474 people were killed in crashes involving driver distraction, and an estimated 448,000 were injured.”