Auto Injuries & Accidents

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Attention Seattle Drivers: New, lower speed limits in effect!

sdot-lowers-arterial-speed-limitHopefully making the most out of the extra hour yesterday, transportation workers were busy at work around Seattle yesterday. Why? They were installing 145 signs announcing the new 25 mph arterial-speed limit. The policy behind lowering the arterial speed limit is to reduce traffic related injuries and fatalities.

So…. take note:

The residential speed limit of 25 mph falls to 20 mph throughout the city, including hundreds of unmarked roads — in many cases, too narrow for drivers to exceed 20 anyway.

• The default speed limit of 30 mph for arterials drops to 25 mph citywide,“unless otherwise posted,” according to new signs at the city entrances.

This last point may confuse drivers because some outlying streets that were historically 30 mph have sporadic signs, due to abuse and neglect. The City Council unanimously approved the changes Sept. 26 and is looking to extend the program next year.

Friends at Seattle Greenways were big proponents of this change. Kudos to Cathy Tuttle and Gordon Padelford!

Speed Matters: Cyclists/Pedestrians survival chance jumps to 90% if hit by vehicle traveling 20 MPH

The chance of survival for people hit by vehicle rises to 90% if the vehicle travels at 20 MPH.

The chance of survival for people hit by vehicle rises to 90% if the vehicle travels at 20 MPH.

Speed matters.

People walking and biking have a 90% chance of surviving if hit by a car driver going 20 MPH. But at 30 MPH there is only a 50-50 chance of survival.

You can help move Seattle towards safer speed limits, right now.

What’s the proposal? The city council is considering lowering speed limits on non-arterial streets from 25 MPH to 20 MPH, and in downtown on arterial streets from 30 MPH to 25 MPH (see the City’s FAQ).

Why should you care? If you have a young child, elderly family member, or if you are a pedestrian/cyclist in Seattle, this means safer streets for you and your family.

How will this proposal make a difference? This proposal makes sense. Our neighborhood streets are where we raise our families, talk to our neighbors, play in our front yards, and walk to school. Neighborhood streets should be quiet, calm, and safe places that enhance our quality of life. Downtown streets have the highest concentration of collisions between people walking or biking and people driving, and lowering the speed limit will help. Speed limit changes are only a small, but important, part of a comprehensive Vision Zero effort to eliminate serious injuries and fatalities on our streets by 2030. Learn more.

How you can help:

  • Tell the City Council why adopting safer speed limits is important to you and your community. Or if you are too nervous to speak, hold signs in support.
  • When: 2:00 (show up at 1:50 to sign up), Tuesday, September 20th
  • Where: Seattle City Hall’s main council chambers. If you are having trouble finding the chambers, simply ask anyone you see inside the building.

Please let Gordon Padelford know if you can join to support the legislation on Tuesday.

If you can’t make it: Please call your city council members and let them know you are supportive:

Tim Burgess (Citywide): 206.684.8806 | tim.burgess@seattle.gov
Lorena González (Citywide): 206.684.8802 | lorena.gonzalez@seattle.gov
Find your city council district here.
Lisa Herbold (Dist 1): 206.684.8803 | lisa.herbold@seattle.gov
Bruce Harrell (Dist 2): 206.684.8804 | bruce.harrell@seattle.gov
Kshama Sawant: (Dist 3) 206.684.8016 | kshama.sawant@seattle.gov
Rob Johnson (Dist 4): 206.684.8808 | rob.johnson@seattle.gov
Debora Juarez (Dist 5): 206.684.8805 | debora.juarez@seattle.gov
Mike O’Brien (Dist 6): 206.684.8800 | mike.obrien@seattle.gov
Sally Bagshaw (Dist 7): 206.684.8801 | sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov

Thank you for all that you do!

NOTE: Printed with minor modifications and with permission from my friends at Seattle Greenways, specifically SG Policy Director Gordon Padelford.

 

Self-Driving Cars: Why they need to be at least 2x’s better than humans.

A Tesla-S model with self-driving mode enabled was involved in a fatal crash. Photo: Bloomberg/Jasper Juinen

A Tesla-S model with self-driving mode enabled was involved in a fatal crash. Photo: Bloomberg/Jasper Juinen

True to my technophile self, I’ve embraced all the latest advances in automobile technology. I was driving a few friends back from lunch a few days ago, and they were aghast at how I didn’t even turn my head as my car backed into a tight space. So, the news of the fatal crash involving a Tesla-S in self-driving mode (aka “Autopilot”) broke my heart. I pictured the proud Tesla owner, Joshua Brown (a tech consulting firm owner) who had grown accustomed to trusting his car to drive him in stop and go traffic. That fateful day was sunny, exceptionally bright, when a tractor-trailer turned left in front of the Tesla driver.

The Tesla news release explained:

Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S. Had the Model S impacted the front or rear of the trailer, even at high speed, its advanced crash safety system would likely have prevented serious injury as it has in numerous other similar incidents.

While my enthusiasm for autonomous cars remains in high gear, this tragedy highlights the fact that the engineers need to reexamine their algorithms to uncover any other possible scenarios where sensors may not react quickly enough to keep all of the passengers safe.

Tesla states:

Autopilot is getting better all the time, but it is not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert. Nonetheless, when used in conjunction with driver oversight, the data is unequivocal that Autopilot reduces driver workload and results in a statistically significant improvement in safety when compared to purely manual driving.

This begs the question: Why have an Autopilot function if an alert driver is constantly required to oversee the Autopilot? Human nature will result in drivers allowing themselves to get distracted, once putting their cars into self-driving mode. What’s the purpose of an autonomous car, if the human behind the steering wheel cannot let her mind wander for even a moment?

Driverless cars have a “driver” says NHTSA

Uber's driverless cars are doing real world testing already.

Uber’s driverless cars are doing real world testing already.

In my hometown of Pittsburgh, Uber is working with my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon, to test its driverless cars. A little over a year ago, Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center opened in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University. Since then, Uber has been revving up its autonomous car testing team. Now, you can find its Self Driving Vehicle (SDV, a.k.a fully autonomous vehicles, i.e. driverless cars) out on the roads of the Steel City to test its real world capabilities.

While driverless cars seems like a solution for Uber, legal issues remain. Sure – SDVs may omit all of the driver-related legal issues that continues to haunt Uber. Bur new and not fully resolved issues emerge. For one, NHTSA has considers the “driver” of SDVs to be the system itself. Thus, in response to Google’s own inquiry (a different project than Uber’s) NHTSA indicated that for Google’s SDVs, the system is deemed the “driver”. This leads us back to the question of who or what is the driver of an SDV.

How might this get parsed for insurance coverage? Good question. The insurance industry will get back to us on that.

According to a McKinsey & Company report suggested how they might do so:

Car insurers have always provided consumer coverage in the event of accidents caused by human error. With driverless vehicles, auto insurers might shift the core of their business model, focusing mainly on insuring car manufacturers from liabilities from technical failure of their AVs, as opposed to protecting private customers from risks associated with human error in accidents. This change could transform the insurance industry from its current focus on millions of private consumers to one that involves a few OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] and infrastructure operators, similar to insurance for cruise lines and shipping companies.

In all probability, liability arising from a car crash with a driverless system will trace back to the manufacturer. This concern may discourage a lot of potential manufacturers from leading the race to develop the best autonomous systems. But, Google, Uber and GM–among other companies–are certainly investing a lot of time and money into developing SDVs.

Remember, too, that Google’s self-driving cars have already gotten into a few minor accidents. As we all know, technology is not perfect. And when technology fails, the SDV manufacturers will be the ones burdened with huge liabilities. Time for them to start getting more insurance, while perhaps not so much for individual consumers.

We Need to Apply our Lessons Learned from Second Ave Bike Corridor

SDOT needs to look at other dangerous cyclist spots and continue to show its creativity and flexibility. (Photo from Seattle Weekly/Lindsey  Yamada)

SDOT needs to look at other dangerous cyclist spots and continue to show its creativity and flexibility. (Photo from Seattle Weekly/Lindsey Yamada)

When reading a Seattle Weekly article (“Five things we learned about Second Ave Bike Lines) earlier this week, I was struck by a few of the main points that writer Daniel Person made. I believe that the most important takeaways is that SDOT has shown that it is surprisingly flexible. Indeed, this certainly seems the case given how it has pivoted and adjusted the infamous 2nd Ave corridor after a few minor bicycle vs. car accidents. Namely, it addressed the vulnerable spots for cyclists, where cars wanted to pull into parking garages. Raising the curbs outside the parking garages slows the drivers down before they enter/cross over the bike lanes.

Also, take a look at those planters. So SDOT can be creative and nimble. Why not address the dangerous spots that compromise cyclists at the First Hill Streetcar line? If SDOT can make changes after a few minor bike/car collisions on the Second Ave bike corridor, it should take a long, hard look at that dangerous intersection where our cyclist client Daniel Ahrendt was run over by a bus.

 

Washington State Pedestrian Deaths Increase by 28%

 

Pedestrians are more likely to get killed  when not at an intersection.

Pedestrians are more likely to get killed when not at an intersection. They are also far more likely to get killed when walking during the dark hours of the night/early morning.

Pedestrian Deaths Light Levels

Over the past year, our firm has experienced a surge in calls from pedestrian-related accidents. So when I read read the most recent annual GHSA Spotlight on Highway Safety Report (released Mar. 8, 2016), I wasn’t surprised to see that pedestrian fatalities were up by 28% in Washington State. A recent Seattle Times article also cited the GHSA report, which pointed out that pedestrian deaths increased from 32 in the first six months of 2014 to 41 during the same period last year, a 28-percent increase.

A couple takeaways that I find especially valuable: 1) pedestrian deaths are much higher at non-intersection related accidents (e.g., not waiting to cross at an intersection) and 2) walking at night is far more likely to lead to a fatality than walking at dawn or dusk.

WA Supreme Court decision is unanimous: Government has a duty to provide safe roads

Overgrown blackberry bushes (see left side of photo) obstructed drivers' view of oncoming traffic.

Overgrown blackberry bushes (see left side of photo) obstructed drivers’ view of oncoming traffic.

Often my heart swells with pride for the work that my firm does because the results from our cases truly make our state safer for everyone. Today is one of those days: In a unanimous decision in Wuthrich v. King County, the Washington State Supreme Court held that a municipality has a duty to take reasonable steps to address overgrown roadside vegetation that makes the roadway unsafe for drivers approaching an intersection.

Today’s decision advances roadway safety for anyone who travels the roads in Washington State. As our state’s highest court maintains: A municipality has the overarching duty to provide reasonably safe roads and must be held to the same standards as that applied to private parties.

Our state’s supreme court now explicitly rejects old law that held that a municipality’s duty is limited to mere compliance with applicable law. Moreover, an “inherently dangerous condition” does not exclusively depend on a condition that “exists in the roadway itself.” A hazard may exist as a situation along a highway, such as overgrown bushes that obstruct drivers’ view of oncoming traffic.

The decision today stems from a June 2011 lawsuit that Guy Wuthrich filed against Christa Gilland and King County. Guy was riding a motorcycle on Avondale Road NE in King County, approaching an intersection with NE 159th Street on June 20, 2008 at about 5:15 PM. Drivers on 159th St. have a stop sign at the intersection, but drivers on Avondale Road do not. Christa Gilland was driver a car on 159th Street. When she reached the intersection with Avondale Rd., she stopped to wait for passing traffic. She did not see Guy approaching from her left. She turned left onto Avondale Road and collided into Guy’s motorcycle, resulting in serious injuries to Guy. The lawsuit alleged that the County was liable for Guy’s injuries because the wall of overgrown blackberry bushes on County property obstructed Ms. Gilland’s view of traffic at the intersection. The trial court dismissed the action against the County on summary judgment. The Court of Appeals affirmed in a split decision.

Some of you may have already seen our Ray Kahler argue before the Supreme Court. But, in case you missed it and want to hear some stellar arguments, click here.  Kudos to the entire team, including Ray, Keith Kessler, Garth Jones and Brad J. Moore.

Ride the Ducks returns to the streets

While some, like Ride the Ducks of Seattle’s CEO Brian Tracey, are thrilled to see the Ducks back on the roads, others aren’t. The Stritmatter Kessler firm is representing several of the catastrophically injured from last year’s tragic crash on Aurora Bridge.

(NOTE: On a recent Q13 Fox story about the RTD’s return to the roads, one of our attorney’s is quoted, but her name is incorrectly spelled. It is Karen Koehler.)

Two new Ducks victims file lawsuits today


The deadly Ride The Ducks crash that claimed six lives on Sept. 24th on the Aurora Bridge. Today the Ducks attempts to turn the corner. It is is the first day since that crash that some of the Ducks amphibious vehicles will be out back on the roads in limited numbers in Seattle.

Frustration and surprise were among some of the reactions from SKW clients Yuta Masumoto and Mazda Hutapea, international students at North Seattle Community College, who were on the bus and who sustained serious injuries as a result of the crash. These two young students, excited to study abroad, are now faced with long recovery times to deal with broken bones, torn ligaments, and bodies that resemble those who have lived four times longer than each of them.

Their lawsuits were filed today and to hold the Ducks company accountable for vehicles that were apparently fraught with mechanical issues.

*Doug Phillips is co-counsel.

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