Maryland Injury Attorney Blog

Articles Posted in Automobile Accidents

Exploding airbags. Ignition switches turning off without warning. Accelerator pedals sticking. Tires blowing out. The list of automotive safety recalls in recent years seems to go on and on. The problem with Takata airbag inflators, which has impacted millions of cars and 11 automakers, including Honda, BMW and Toyota, is just one in a series of safety recalls in the news this summer.

The Takata airbag recall has been linked to 8 deaths. However, for some, that news is falling on deaf ears. Lawmakers and auto safety advocates are concerned that some consumers are getting sick of hearing about safety recalls—tuning them out and failing to get their vehicles repaired. This poses a danger for everyone on the road, here in Maryland and elsewhere.

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With its barbecues, beach trips and fireworks, everyone welcomes July 4 as the official start of summer. If you plan to hit the road in Maryland this holiday weekend — you’re not alone. AAA Mid-Atlantic predicts some 870,000 Maryland drivers will travel 50 miles or more to celebrate the Independence Day weekend — a 2.3 percent increase over 2014. About one million of our neighbors in the Washington, DC area are also expected to take to the highways.

Good weather, lower gas prices, a rebounding economy and the fact that July 4 falls on a Saturday this year means Maryland will see a record number of holiday travelers on its roadways. But there’s a dark side to the July 4 holiday…
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The Takata air bag recall we’ve been hearing about in the news is the most massive automotive safety recall in U.S. history, affecting an estimated 34 million vehicles and some two dozen brands. That means thousands of drivers in Maryland will need to get their vehicle’s air bags replaced. Some vehicles only need one air bag replaced, while others will require more.

Automotive news reports state that a problem with the propellant and air bag inflators could cause metal shards to exploded outwards from the air bag during deployment in a crash, potentially causing serious injury or death to driver or passengers. A number of deaths and serious injuries have been linked to these malfunctioning air bags. That’s a very unsettling thought, given airbags are considered a lifesaving feature now standard in motor vehicles. What can consumers in Maryland do?
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Last month, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation enabling the state to raise the speed limit on specified highways from 65 to 70 miles per hour. That comes as good news to those eager to put the pedal to the metal … and not so good news to safety advocates concerned about speed-related motor vehicle crashes in Maryland.

According to a spokesperson for the Maryland State Highway Administration, the speed limit increase would not be mandatory and would be determined on a case-by-case basis. Roadways located in more rural areas that already have a 60- to 65-mph speed limit would be more likely to see their speed limit raised to 70 mph.

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Until recently, conventional wisdom suggested that as drivers age, their driving skills decline. Research has supported that notion. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has described car accident statistics like a letter “U,” with teenage drivers causing the most accidents at one end of the age scale and senior drivers over age 70 at the other.

However, as overall U.S. car accident injury and fatality rates have declined since 2008 (thanks to public safety campaigns, vehicle safety enhancements, improved traffic engineering and stricter law enforcement) — so have some accident injury and fatality statistics for older drivers. The AAA Foundation for Safety found the following motor vehicle accident trends for drivers of all ages between 1995 and 2010:

“While drivers of all ages experienced decreases in rates of crashes, injuries, and deaths over the study period, decreases in population-based and driver-based rates were largest for teenage drivers; decreases in mileage-based rates of crash involvement, injury, and death were largest for drivers aged 75-84.”

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General Motors has been in the news for all the wrong reasons this year, with millions of vehicles recalled for alleged safety hazards – and the company under fire from Congress and consumers over related motor vehicle accident deaths. The defect that’s received the most coverage involves an ignition switch that can allegedly turn off while the vehicle is in motion. Thirteen deaths have been linked to that reported defect, some going back many years.

Auto safety recalls cover a range of known safety hazards and potential problems in cars, trucks, vans, motorcycles and other motor vehicles, as well as tire defects. Sometimes the vehicle manufacturer initiates the recall on its own, while other times the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) orders the recall based on consumer complaints and its own investigations.

If you’ve owned more than one vehicle in Maryland, chances are at some point you’ve received an auto safety recall notice in the mail. Did you call your dealership right away to get the defective part repaired? That’s the safe and responsible thing to do. However auto industry watchers estimate a full one-third of consumers ignore safety recall notices — at risk to themselves, their passengers, the driving public and pedestrians.

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Back in the day when families typically owned one car (usually a sedan or station wagon the size of Delaware), “distracted driving” meant fiddling with the radio, eating a messy sandwich or yelling at kids in the back seat to settle down. Those rolling activities still fall under the government’s definition of distracted driving, along with smoking, putting on makeup and other things that take the driver’s eyes off the road and hands off the wheel.

The advent of the cell phone, however, took distracted driving to a new level. These devices that keep us connected and put information at our fingertips have become indispensable. It’s disturbing to think our new generation of drivers never knew a time when they didn’t have a phone in their car. Once people could text on their cell phones, the problem of distracted driving on our roadways got worse. Some public safety experts believe texting while driving is as much of a hazard as drunk driving. Teens texting while driving is particularly troublesome.

Over the years, states like Maryland have taken measures to pass laws, educate the public, focus on teens and parents, and partner with schools, agencies and other organizations to prevent distracted driving accidents. Maryland is among the 47 states and the District of Columbia to pass specific distracted driving laws. In 2012, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) surveyed its members to see where states had made gains, and where more needs to be done.

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General Motors has recalled an estimated 7 million motor vehicles this year for safety issues in a number of cars and SUVs, model years 2003 to 2015. Problems include faulty ignition switches, power steering and side airbags in certain Chevy, Pontiac and Saturn vehicles. Maryland drivers, is one of these recalled cars in your driveway? See link to GM owners’ portal below to search for your vehicle and see if it’s been recalled. Failure to have a recalled vehicle repaired by the dealer could lead to a serious or even fatal motor vehicle accident.

One of the most serious safety issues to land GM in the headlines of late involves a faulty ignition switch, which could shut off the car unexpectedly, disabling the power steering and power brakes. Vehicles involved in the ignition switch recall include the Chevy Cobalt, Pontiac G5, Saturn Ion and others.

The faulty GM ignition switch has been blamed for a number of motor vehicle accidents and 13 deaths. Now that the problem has come to light, GM officials are under intense scrutiny, with government leaders and the public demanding to know who knew what and when. For a full list of GM vehicle makes and model years involved in the ignition switch recall, see the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) / SaferCar.gov webpage link, below.

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The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) analyzed US auto accident fatality rates for 2012.* In Maryland, 456 fatal motor vehicle crashes were recorded with 505 related deaths. That’s an increase over the 485 auto crash fatalities reported in 2011 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Maryland’s 505 crash related deaths in 2012 amounts to 8.6 deaths per 100,000 population and 0.90 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. That is less than the overall US rate of 10.7 deaths per 100,000 population. By comparison, North Dakota had the highest death rate at 24.3 deaths per 100,000, while our neighbors in District of Columbia had the lowest rate at 2.4 deaths.

The IIHS report reveals other facts about fatal Maryland traffic crashes in 2012:

— 45% were passenger car occupants — 18% were pickup truck and SUV occupants — 1% were large truck occupants — 14% were motorcyclists — 19% were pedestrians — 1% were bicyclists
In addition, 44 percent of fatal Maryland crashes were single-vehicle crashes, while 56 percent were multi-vehicle crashes. Those of us who live and work in Maryland know the dangers of our winding back roads. However, 60 percent of fatal Maryland crashes occurred in urban areas, while 39 percent occurred in rural areas.

Not surprisingly, drunk driving continues to be a deadly threat on our nation’s highways, including in Maryland. Of the 233 drivers killed in Maryland crashes in 2012 — 72 percent were found to have blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels greater than the legal limit of .08.

Maryland auto accident injury lawyers like us know the stories behind the crash fatality data. Each death recorded is a life tragically cut short — a man, woman or child who didn’t make it home that day. We see the heartbreak left in the wake of a fatal accident, as families cope with the sudden loss of a loved one. The emotional and financial toll can be overwhelming, which is why we’re here to help families who’ve lost someone in a Maryland motor vehicle accident.

Maryland has taken measures in recent years to cut down on motor vehicle crashes, injuries and fatalities. This includes adding further restrictions to laws regulating cell phone and seat belt use, installing more speed cameras at dangerous intersections and in school zones, and mounting public awareness campaigns. Still, any death on Maryland’s roadways is one death too many. Recent statistics show we still have much work to do to achieve zero traffic accident deaths.

* Data gathered by the US Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

Related Maryland Injury Attorney Articles:

New Maryland Traffic Safety Laws Target Cell Phone and Seat Belt Use (Jan. 2014)

Deterring Baltimore County Traffic Accidents: Speed Camera Laws Go Into Effect (Oct. 2009)

Sources:

Fatal Crash Totals in 2012
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute
Collected online Feb. 2014
Traffic Safety Facts 2011 (PDF)
US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Last fall, Maryland lawmakers added teeth to two key state traffic laws — those governing the use of cell phones and seat belts. Baltimore County car accident lawyers are familiar with Maryland traffic safety laws, which are often broken during the course of a motor vehicle crash. Let’s take a look at changes to our Maryland state cell phone and seat belt laws.

Most likely you’ve witnessed a scene like this: Another driver speeds past you on the Baltimore Beltway with a cell phone in one hand — talking a mile a minute — seemingly oblivious to the traffic around them. If you’ve witnessed this scene recently on any Maryland roadway, it’s now a primary traffic offense.

As of October 1, 2013, Maryland’s Cell Phone Use Ban (TR 21–1124.2) now treats hand-held cell phone use while driving as a primary offense. (It used to be a secondary offense, meaning police would need to stop the driver for another traffic violation to cite the hand-held cellphone use). Now, Maryland police officers may pull a driver over if they observe them talking on a hand-held cell phone, with no other traffic violation taking place. The ticket for a first offense is $83, with fines increasing for subsequent violations.

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration estimates that more than 30,000 people in Maryland are injured every year due to distracted driving crashes. Texting while driving in Maryland has been illegal for some years now, so banning the use of hand-held cell phones is a natural progression in public safety law.

Maryland is one of 12 states plus Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands to make its hand-held cell phone law a primary offense. Drivers are allowed to talk using hands-free cell phone devices, such as headset and Bluetooth systems. No states ban all uses of cellphones while driving.

Buckling up the seat belts comes as second nature for smart drivers and their passengers in Maryland. Most newer cars have a warning beep that goes off if you don’t buckle your seat belt. Unfortunately, there are still too many people — including young, novice drivers and their passengers — who fail to use their seat belts.

As of October 2013, failure to wear a seat belt in Maryland is now a primary offense for drivers and front seat passengers, and a secondary offense for back seat passengers. The newly restrictive Maryland Seat Belt Law (TR 22–412.3) comes with an $83 fine per person caught not wearing their seat belt. Drivers may receive additional fines if they are caught with passengers in the vehicle under age 16 who are not buckled up.

Maryland is one of 33 states and the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands with a primary offense seat belt law for drivers on their books.

Maryland car accident lawyers like us know that traffic safety laws, when combined with law enforcement and education, help save lives. There will still be drivers who disregard the laws, putting themselves, their passengers and other motorists at risk if an accident occurs. Tougher laws may, however, serve as a deterrent to some Maryland drivers, who would rather put down their cell phones and buckle their seat belts than face a hefty fine.

Related Maryland Car Accident Attorney articles:

More Drivers Admit to Web Surfing While Behind the Wheel (Nov. 2013)

Maryland Seeks to Add More Teeth to Distracted Driver Laws (May 2012)

Sources:

Maryland’s New Cell Phone and Seat Belt Laws (PDF)
Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration Oct. 2013
Maryland Highway Safety Laws
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Jan. 2014
Distracted Driving Laws
Seat Belt Laws
Governors Highway Safety Administration Jan. 2014