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What You Should Know About Vehicle Collisions on State Highway 127

On the map, an almost perfectly straight line connects Cincinnati and Waldron, Michigan, which is just across the Ohio state line. Likewise, State Highway 127 is an almost perfectly straight line. This design efficiently moves traffic from Point A to Point B. But it also contributes to fatigued driving, which is a serious problem in Ohio. A dark sky, a sleepy body, and a straight line is a very hazardous three-way combinations. More on fatigued driving-related collisions below.

State Highway 127 is one of the oldest highways in Ohio. Its 1912 completion date predated paved roads in Ohio and also pre-dated the state highway numbering system. A rash of fatal accidents between 2011 and 2015 prompted the Ohio Department of Transportation to significantly rework the intersection of US 127 and Kruckeberg Road in Greenville Township, Darke County, along Greenville’s bypass. However, many other intersections are almost as dangerous. Despite the hazard, much of the rest of this roadway hasn’t changed much since 1912, except for pavement and a number.

These incidents usually are not accidents. The A-word implies the incident was inevitable, unavoidable, and completely unintentional. People accidentally forget to run the dishwasher. Indeed, the A-word usually does not apply to other motor vehicle collisions. Ships sink, planes crash, and trains derail.

If a tortfeasor (negligent driver) or other entity was legally responsible for a wreck, which is usually the case, a Hamilton personal injury attorney can obtain substantial compensation in court. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages may be available as well, in some extreme cases.

What Causes Car Crashes?

Defective products, like defective tires, cause a few wrecks. Extreme weather events, like wildfires and earthquakes, cause a few others. But driver error causes over 98% of vehicle collisions in Ohio.

Driver Impairment

The chain of events that leads to a car crash often begins before the tortfeasor gets behind the wheel. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are five kinds of driver impairment.

Distraction

Okay, this impairment action begins after drivers get behind the wheel. But it starts with a pre-driving attitude that it’s okay to multitask while driving.

This attitude is understandable. Most people multitask their way through their days. One of our friends once remarked that she could, at the same time, talk on the phone, make dinner, drink a glass of milk, feed her infant son, and yell at her two older kids.

Safe driving is different. This action requires concentration, as road conditions are very unpredictable. So, multitasking behind the wheel is hazardous.

Hand-held device distraction gets most of the attention, especially since smartphones can do so many things. Indeed, hand-held devices combine all three forms of distracted driving, which are:

  • Cognitive (mind off driving),
  • Manual (hand off the wheel), and
  • Visual (eyes off the road).

Hands-free devices are not any safer. These gadgets are cognitively and visually distracting. Furthermore, after people use a hands-free device, there is about a ten-second lag time before they fully re-engage with driving. A lot can happen in ten seconds.

Device distraction is only the tip of the iceberg in this area. Other bigger problems include eating while driving, drinking while driving, and talking to passengers while driving.

Ohio has one of the weakest cell phone laws in the country. In most cases, it only applies to texting. The law broadly defines “texting” to include activities like sending or viewing social media posts or emails. But it doesn’t apply to video chatting, video streaming, web surfing, or any of the jillions of other things a smartphone can do. This law also does not apply to hands-free gadgets.

As for non-device distraction, a few laws, such as the reckless driving law, could apply in these situations. But law enforcement officers don’t aggressively enforce these laws.

Why does all this stuff matter? It matters because the negligence per se doctrine does not apply to many distracted driving claims. Negligence per se is the violation of a safety law that substantially causes injury.

Therefore, most Hamilton personal injury lawyers must use the ordinary negligence doctrine to obtain compensation in distracted driving wrecks. This legal theory has four basic prongs:

  • Duty, which in most cases is a duty of reasonable care,
  • Breach, or conduct that falls short of that legal responsibility level,
  • Cause, which in Ohio is basically a substantial cause of a wreck, as opposed to a contributing cause, and
  • Damages, or a tangible injury or property loss.

These four elements apply in most ordinary negligence cases, but not all of them. For example, if a near-miss wreck or other such incident causes severe emotional distress, compensation might still be available.

These two basic principles, negligence per se and ordinary negligence, also apply in other kinds of impaired driving matters, as well as aggressive driving crashes.

Alcohol

The drunk driver crackdown, which began in the mid-1990s, has pretty much failed. Alcohol still causes about a third of the fatal vehicle collisions in Ohio.

Now, as part of this long-term crackdown, a few states may follow Utah and lower their BAC levels to .05.

Advocates point out that about 100 countries have BAC levels of .05 or lower. Although the average consumption of alcohol is the same or higher than in the United States, these countries have far fewer alcohol-related crash deaths. Opponents argue that a lower BAC limit would lead to more arrests but not to safer roads.

If emergency responders arrested the tortfeasor for DUI following an alcohol-related wreck, the negligence per se rule usually applies. Liability attaches even if the tortfeasor beats the DUI in criminal court.

Many drivers are impaired but not legally intoxicated. Impairment begins with the first drink. Circumstantial evidence of impairment usually includes physical symptoms, such as:

  • Bloodshot eyes,
  • Slurred speech,
  • Unsteady balance, and
  • The odor of alcohol.

Individually, these physical symptoms usually don’t prove impairment. But collectively, they usually do, mostly because the burden of proof in civil claims (a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not) is so low.

A Hamilton personal injury lawyer could use similar evidence to prove third-party liability in an alcohol-related crash claim. In Ohio, commercial alcohol providers, like restaurants and bars, are vicariously liable for car crash damages if they knowingly sold alcohol to an intoxicated person who later causes a wreck.

Drugs

Stoned driving is an even bigger problem than drunk driving. Almost half of the drivers who caused fatal accidents tested positive for:

  • Marijuana, heroin, or another street drug,
  • Oxycontin, Vicodin, or another prescription painkiller, or
  • NyQuil, Sominex, or another similar over-the-counter drug.

Like alcohol, these drugs dull the senses, impair judgment ability, and slow reaction times. So, also like alcohol, even if these drugs are legal to consume, it is illegal and dangerous, to drive under the influence.

In response to the rising number of stoned drivers, many law enforcement agencies have stepped up enforcement of Ohio’s DUI drug law. But enforcement is still spotty, mostly because these cases are rather difficult to prove in criminal court.

For one thing, there is no quick chemical test for marijuana or other drug use, at least not yet. Additionally, prosecutors must prove that intoxication, as opposed to a medication side-effect, caused impairment.

So, in most cases, a Hamilton personal injury lawyer must use the ordinary negligence doctrine. Circumstantial evidence of drug use includes:

  • Erratic driving before the wreck,
  • Glassy eyes and other physical symptoms,
  • Tortfeasor’s statements about drug use,
  • Open pill containers in the vehicle, and
  • Current prescriptions for possibly impairing drugs.

The same standard of proof (a preponderance of the evidence) applies to drugged driving claims.

Fatigue

People who would never drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol often drive while they are dangerously fatigued. These individuals overlook the fact that these three bad habits have roughly the same effect on the brain and body.

Driving after 18 consecutive hours is like driving with a .05 BAC level. That is above the legal limit for commercial drivers, like truck drivers, in Ohio.

Recently, bureaucrats have relaxed some HOS (hours of service) and other fatigued truck driver safety rules. The truck driver who struck comedian Tracy Morgan in 2014 was allegedly asleep at the wheel because he had been driving for twenty-four consecutive hours.

In addition to the amount of time the tortfeasor had been behind the wheel, evidence of fatigue usually includes the time of day and the tortfeasor’s medical history.

Most people are naturally drowsy early in the morning and late at night. That is especially true if their work schedules recently changed or if they spent the night in a sleeper berth as opposed to a bed.

As for medical history, many truckers struggle with sleep apnea, generally because they sit so much. This disorder closes the primary airway during sleep. Therefore, these individuals essentially nap all night instead of getting the deep, restorative sleep they need.

The shipping, transportation, or other company that owned the truck is usually financially responsible for damages under the respondeat superior rule. This legal doctrine also applies in most other kinds of commercial driver wrecks, such as Uber and taxi driver collisions.

Medical Condition

Sleep apnea, by itself, could also be a form of driver impairment. It increases the risk of falling asleep behind the wheel and causing a dangerous, out-of-control collision. Other serious medical conditions include:

  • Epilepsy,
  • Heart disease, and
  • Diabetes

Driving with the flu or another moderate illness is hazardous as well. These conditions impair driving ability by as much as 50%.

Aggressive Driving

Excessive speed is the most common and most dangerous form of collision-causing aggressive driving. Velocity multiplies the risk of a wreck as well as the force in a collision.

A moving vehicle does not stop on a dime. Instead, the driver must see a hazard, take their foot off the gas, put their foot on the brake, and safely stop the vehicle. This process only takes about a second or two, especially since almost all vehicles have anti-lock brakes.

However, in this short time period, a vehicle traveling at 30mph continues moving forward for about six car lengths. At 60mph, the stopping distance multiplies to 18 car lengths.

A number of factors, such as environmental conditions and vehicle weight, could increase this multiplier.

Furthermore, according to Newton’s Second Law of Motion, velocity multiplies the force in a collision between two objects. A low-speed parking lot fender-bender becomes a high-speed serious injury or fatal collision.

In addition to anti-lock brakes, most cars and trucks have advanced airbags and other safety features. But the most sophisticated and expensive safety features available cannot possibly absorb all the force in a high-speed wreck on State Highway 127.

Tailgating is probably the number two cause of aggressive driving wrecks. The duty of care comes into play in these situations.

Most noncommercial drivers should maintain about a two-second cushion between themselves and the vehicles in front of them. The recommended truck driver cushion is about eight seconds.

Speeding, tailgating, and other forms of aggressive driving usually violate traffic laws. However, if an emergency responder does not cite the tortfeasor, as is often the case, that is okay. The ordinary negligence doctrine is available.

The same third-party liability theories discussed above, mostly respondeat superior, apply in aggressive driving cases. Negligent entrustment owner liability could apply as well. Owners are responsible for damages if they let incompetent drivers operate their motor vehicles and the incompetent driver causes a wreck. Evidence of incompetence includes:

  • No driver’s license,
  • Invalid driver’s license,
  • Violating license restrictions, like no freeway driving,
  • Recent at-fault collisions, and
  • Poor driving record.

U-Haul and other commercial vehicle negligent entrustment cases are a little different because of the federal Graves Amendment.

Connect With a Dedicated Butler County Lawyer

Injury victims are entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Hamilton, contact Kruger & Hodges, Attorneys at Law, by going online or calling 513-894-3333. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no insurance or money.

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