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Columbia, Missouri Personal Injury Law Blog

What should be done to make self-driving cars safe?

self-driving car.jpegSelf-driving car makers have every reason to plow full-speed ahead toward a profitable future when U.S. roads are clogged with autonomous, driverless vehicles. However, can we expect driverless vehicle makers to safely self-regulate when they have so much to profit from getting their cars on the road?

After a fatal accident in Arizona last month -- in which an autonomous vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian -- many people are are asking questions about whether the self-driving technology is ready for testing in real traffic conditions.

The dangers of daydreaming behind the wheel

The disturbing rise in distracted driving accidents in Missouri and around the country is often blamed on the popularity of portable electronic devices, but the results of a recent study from Erie Insurance suggests that being lost in thought while behind the wheel actually kills and injures far more road users each year than cell phone use. The Pennsylvania-based auto insurer came to its conclusions after analyzing data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System gathered over the last five years. The results of the study were released on April 3 to mark the beginning of Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

The researchers concede that the problem of distracted diving may be more serious than the FARS data indicates. This is because much of the information used by NHTSA is provided by police officers in the field, and motorists may be reluctant to admit to law enforcement that they were not paying attention when they crashed. However, these police reports do reveal that about 10 percent of the 172,000 road users who died in the collisions studied by Erie Insurance researchers lost their lives in accidents involving a distracted driver.

Who can file a wrongful death claim in Missouri?

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When someone dies because of a mistake, wrongful act or negligence by someone else, it leaves a massive hole in the lives of their loved ones. In addition to dealing with unexpected grief, these families have to cope with knowing that their loss was the result of the actions or choices of a person or a business.

It's common for those grieving a sudden loss to want justice for their loved one. For many people, the best path to justice after a loss is with a wrongful death lawsuit. Missouri law allows certain people to seek compensation after a death, but it's important to understand the requirements and limitations with these lawsuits.

How humans can make autonomous cars dangerous

Some safety advocates in Missouri may be eager for the future of autonomous driving technology. According to a professor from Arizona State, however, human developers could be passing down their unsafe driving habits to these self-driving vehicles. In March, an Uber test car in self-driving mode hit and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. The car likely didn't see the victim because it was too dark to detect anything.

Reports suggest that by the time the person could be seen by the vehicle, there was little or no time to stop or slow down. The professor suggests that all autonomous cars should be designed to proceed extra cautiously in unlighted areas. Furthermore, autonomous cars should travel at speeds that make it possible to stop quickly if a person or object suddenly comes into the field of vision.

Drunk driving deaths and their common causes

Drivers in Missouri should know that drunk driving deaths make up one third of all traffic-related deaths. In the U.S., it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or above. This legal limit, shared by Mexico and some other countries, is actually the highest in the world. It can impair a driver's judgment and reaction times, leading to accidents and fatalities.

Those who are at the highest risk for drunk driving deaths are drivers under 24, drivers who have been previously convicted of DUI and motorcyclists. Younger adults run a greater risk because they are relatively inexperienced drivers and because they tend to ride in groups, making them more prone to distractions.

Truckers oppose sleep apnea screening

Missouri drivers might be concerned to learn an advocacy group for independent truck drivers is seeking to prevent the federal agency in charge of trucking safety from taking steps designed to reduce the number of drowsy drivers on the nation's highways. Sleep apnea deprives its victims of quality rest and may contribute to sleep-deprived truckers. Proposed regulations would require screening for sleep apnea and potential referral for specialized treatment. Truckers are required to obtain a physical clearing them for driving at least every two years.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) proposed a change to the medical certification form in 2015 which added questions about sleep apnea and required referral to a specialist if certain high-risk criteria were apparent to the doctor performing the physical. The Owner-Operated Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) filed suit to stop the agency from implementing the changes. According to the OOIDA, the agency did not comply with legally mandated procedures for implementing new regulations. Specifically, the OOIDA claims the agency did not allow for public comments and review before implementing the changes. Ironically, the Trump administration eliminated the proposed regulation regarding sleep apnea in 2017, but the OOIDA says the process that had been in place, which included screening and costly tests, is still burdening truckers economically.

Can you defend your home in Missouri?

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You wake up in the middle of the night and hear noises downstairs. You have a legal firearm in the drawer of your bedside table. You pick it up and quietly creep out of your bedroom, convinced that someone has broken into your home. When you get downstairs, two men in ski masks are standing in the living room.

Now what? Can you defend your home? Is deadly force permissible, or are you going to jail if you shoot? Do you have a legal duty to retreat and call the police?

Report aims to help states cut car accident risks

Road safety can be a major concern for drivers in Missouri and across the United States, and a car accident can lead to serious personal injuries as well as property damage. One report aims at providing suggestions to state governors about steps that they can take to help cut down the risk of car crashes on the roads. Published by the National Governors Association, the report emphasizes the role of state governments in working to improve safety, including coordinating efforts among different agencies in order to improve their success.

There are often a number of departments and agencies in one state tasked with issues related to roadway safety. A governor with a strong commitment to highway safety can play a strong leadership role in bringing them together to work on a coordinated plan to save lives. The National Governors Association and the Governors Highway Safety Association expressed that their goal is to achieve zero fatalities due to traffic accidents.

Avoiding distractions while behind the wheel

Missouri motorists should be aware of the many distractions that can lead to traffic accidents. Most people already know about how distracting smartphones can be. Even safety features on Android devices and iPhones, such as apps that send automatic replies to incoming calls and texts, are voluntary; nothing prevents drivers from choosing to distract themselves.

A recent survey found that 52 percent of drivers with smartphones claimed to have used their devices behind the wheel to text, send emails, watch videos, play music or surf the internet. Drivers are encouraged to pair their phones with a Bluetooth device for hands-free communication. Even better, they could keep their phones out of sight so that they're not tempted. They must also follow state laws, many of which ban texting and driving.

Improperly loaded cargo puts Missouri motorists at risk

A majority of freight delivered in the United States is transported at least part of the way by truck. With over 15 million transport trucks in operation, it's no surprise that improperly loaded cargo is among the leading causes of big rig crashes. Unless truck drivers are adequately trained to inspect their loads, they might not even be aware of the dangers associated with the freight they move across America.

If a cargo trailer is loaded unevenly, freight is more likely to move when the driver executes a rapid lane change or other evasive maneuver. Shifting loads can cause trailers to rock or flip onto their sides. A tractor-trailer that flips is essentially dead weight skidding out of control and putting everything in its path in danger. Furthermore, thin trailer walls can be easily punctured. This could lead to freight spilling onto a roadway and creating hazardous conditions for surrounding motorists. Additionally, unsecured items on trailers can fall off and create treacherous driving for adjacent and following drivers.

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