It will soon be that time of year when many of us anxiously make Spring Break plans. Some will enjoy their break at home; others will fly to a faraway destination; some may even cruise tropical seas. However, most of us will load up our vehicles with friends, snacks and beachwear and drive to our Spring Break destinations. An annual migratory rite of passage: The Road Trip.
There are many obvious items to check off your Spring Break Road Trip Check List:
- Swim Wear
- Gas Money
However, many of us forget to check critical safety items before hitting the road. A simple check of these items could mean the difference between a Spring Break that is memorable due to fun or one memorable for tragedy.
Many Spring Break road-trippers set off in the evening, planning to drive through the night and arrive at their destination in morning. However, the riskiest time for accidents is between the hours of midnight and six a.m. and night driving has a special set of risks. Two of the most obvious risks are darkness and fatigue.
Ninety percent of a driver’s reaction depends on vision; and vision is severely limited at night. Depth perception, color recognition and peripheral vision are also worse at night. Fatigue and drowsiness pose substantial risks as concentration and reaction time are impaired. In a worse-case scenario, drivers may even fall asleep and lose control of their vehicle.
Avoid driving at night if possible. If you must drive at night, do the following:
- Drive with a group of friends. Take frequent turns driving and talk with each other to reduce fatigue and drowsiness.
- Slow down and keep a larger following distance. Reaction time slows at night and it is more difficult to judge speed and distance after dark.
- Make frequent stops. Get out of your vehicle and walk or jog to increase blood flow and circulation and reduce drowsiness.
- Avoid smoking. Nicotine and carbon monoxide decrease night vision.
- If you are sleepy or drowsy, quit driving and get some rest.
Wear Your Seat Belt
Seat belts save lives, but only when they fit properly and are worn properly. Some vehicles on the road still use two-point “lap-belt only” seat belts in the rear center position. If your vehicle has a lap-belt only restraint, avoid sitting in that position unless absolutely necessary. You do not want to be caught in the middle wearing only a two-point lap belt.
Three-point “lap-shoulder belt” restraints are far more effective at preventing injury than lap-belts alone. In fact, lap-belt only systems provide almost no restraint in a frontal collision and, in some cases, can cause worse injuries than if a seat belt was not used at all.
When driving long distances, it is often tempting to adjust your seat belt for comfort by incorporating some slack in the belt or even positioning the shoulder belt behind your back. However, these adjustments can make your seat belt completely ineffective and can cause severe injury in a collision.
The lap portion of your three-point belt should fit snugly across the bony structures of your hips and pelvis. The shoulder portion should be snug and cross your body at your sternum (breast bone) and shoulder. Make sure to adjust your belt so that it fits properly. Never let the seat belt cross over your neck and never tuck the shoulder belt behind you.
Do Not Recline Your Seat
Many of us are tempted to stretch out and lie back during a long road trip. But did you know that if your car seat is reclined, a three-point belt becomes essentially useless because the shoulder belt moves away from your body? Most passengers simply do not understand the dangers of reclined seats while traveling.
Many passengers simply assume that they will be safe if they are buckled in. Few understand that more space between the seat belt and your body increases the risk of death or serious injury caused during a collision when your body either slams against the seat belt or “submarines” and slides underneath the seat belt.
Car makers have known of this danger for at least forty-five years, but have done little to warn motorists. Warnings for this danger may be listed in a several hundred page owner’s manual, but are often difficult to find. Manufacturers could incorporate a simple light or bell reminding passengers to stay upright (much like a seat belt warning light or chime), but so far no manufacturer has chosen to incorporate this important safety feature.
Check Your Tires
Tires are one of the most important – and most overlooked – safety components on your vehicle. There are many factors that can sabotage tire safety, including tire age, poor tread wear and depth, and improper inflation.
Older or “aged” tires are a hidden danger because they can fail even if the tread depth is proper and even if they have never been used before. Aged tires can look perfectly fine on the outside, but fail at any time. Tires have a safe useful life of no more than six years. Tire makers and car companies have known of the “aged” tire danger for decades, but have done little to warn motorists. Tires do not contain an expiration date and it is nearly impossible for an ordinary person (and even some tire specialists) to determine the actual age of a tire because of the archaic codes used.
Check your tire pressure before starting your trip and before driving. Proper inflation pressures can be found in your vehicle’s owner’s manual, on the inside of the driver’s door, or sometimes on the inside of the fuel door. Adjust to the proper inflation pressure. Over-inflated tires can lose grip or burst. Under-inflated tires create more rolling resistance, leading to lower gas-mileage and creating excess heat that can lead to catestrophic tire failure, including a blow out or tread separation.
It is easy to become complacent or distracted during a long road trip. Many states have enacted laws prohibiting talking on telephones or texting when driving. You should check to ensure that you do violate any driving laws while crossing states with which you may not be familiar. Even if a state has not outlawed cell phone use or texting while driving, you should avoid this activity. Studies have shown an increase in collisions and accidents while using these devices.
Be Courteous To Other Drivers and Tractor-Trailers
You should be courteous to other drivers and, especially, tractor-trailers. You should always utilize turn signals to warn other motorists of your intention to change lanes. You should also leave plenty of room between your vehicle and those ahead of you. A good rule of thumb is to allow at least two seconds of distance between you and the vehicle in front of you.
Use extra caution when driving near semi trucks. Studies have shown that semi trucks account for a disproportionate share of highway collisions and deaths. Tractor trailers make up only 3% of vehicles, but account for between 11% — 15% of traffic deaths. Semi trucks can weigh more than 80,000 pounds and are not as agile as your passenger vehicle. It can be difficult for large commercial trucks to stop or swerve in order to avoid a collision.
Do not “tailgate” behind a big rig. Remember, if you cannot see the mirrors on the tractor’s cab, then the truck driver cannot see you. You also need to give yourself plenty of room to stop your own vehicle if there is an emergency ahead.
Do not “cut off” a tractor trailer. Aggressive driving may distract or catch a truck driver off guard. Such driving also reduces the available stopping distance for the tractor trailer in the event of an emergency.
What To Do If You Are Involved In A Collision
Sometimes even safe drivers are involved in a collision. There are many factors that are out of a driver’s control – such as defects in the vehicle, other distracted motorists or truck drivers, or even adverse weather conditions. If you are involved in an accident or collision, it is important to keep the following in mind:
- Take care of any emergency medical and situational needs first. Assess your own condition and the situation of others in your vehicle. If able, make sure you and your vehicle are clear of dangers such as on-coming traffic, debris or leaking fuel. However, you should avoid moving injured passengers unless absolutely necessary in order to avoid making their injuries worse.
- If you and your passengers are safe, assess the condition of other people or vehicles involved in the collision.
- Call for help. In most states, you are required to report a collision, especially if injuries are involved. Call 911 if there are injuries or medical emergencies. If only a minor collision, you can call local law enforcement using non-emergency contact numbers.
- Work with emergency personnel and law enforcement to ensure that all critical information is documented accurately.
- Contact your insurance agent immediately in order to pass along all relevant information and preserve coverage for the collision.
- Do not provide a statement to other drivers or individuals involved in the collision without first speaking to your insurance agent or an attorney. Information you provide may later be misinterpreted (or outright manipulated) by a defendant and used against you.
- If injured, follow up with medical providers to ensure proper treatment and care of your injuries.
If seriously injured, you should contact an experienced attorney to ensure that your rights are protected and the defendant driver is held accountable for your injuries. A proper team of attorneys and investigators can ensure that all facts are uncovered.
Your attorney should retain an accident reconstructionist in order to determine how the accident happened. The reconstructionist will calculate the speeds of the vehicles and determine the dynamics of how the vehicles moved during the collision.
A biomechanics expert or forensic pathologist can determine how your body moved during the collision to cause injury. These experts will analyze and determine whether the vehicle properly protected you during the collision.
An engineer or design expert can determine if a vehicle defect caused your injury or made it worse. Sometimes, car makers cut corners on design and safety. These cost-cutting measures can have devastating effects during a collision.
Make sure your legal team analyzes all of the facts to ensure that those responsible are held accountable for your injuries.
Brett Emison is currently a partner at Langdon & Emison, a firm dedicated to helping injured victims across the country from their primary office near Kansas City. Mainly focusing on catastrophic injury and death cases as well as complex mass tort and dangerous drug cases, Mr. Emison often deals with automotive defects, automobile crashes, railroad crossing accidents (train accidents), trucking accidents, dangerous and defective drugs, defective medical devices.