Why Texas School Buses Won’t Be Adding Seat Belts

snap8In the aftermath of a tragic school bus accident on September 16, 2015, on Interstate Highway 610 in Houston, many parents are questioning why seat belts are not standard issue on Texas school buses. In fact, most school buses throughout the U.S. are not equipped with seat belts. Federal law mandates the installation and use of seat belts in buses that weigh less than five tons; however, this represents only a small fraction of the number of buses on the road every day. Understanding the reasons why seat belts have not been implemented on buses can help ease the worries of parents. For victims of school bus accidents, however, consulting with a Houston personal injury attorney remains the best way to achieve a fair settlement for damages sustained in these serious incidents.

School Bus Statistics

In the U.S., roughly 440,000 school buses transport children to and from school on an average day. This adds up to 24 million students who ride these large vehicles every school day. The accident rate for school buses, however, is much lower than the average for all types of motor vehicles:

  • On average, six students die each year in school bus accidents.
  • By way of comparison, 800 students die each year while traveling to school using other methods.
  • Transportation experts estimate that school buses travel over 4.3 billion miles each year, making the low rate of injuries and fatalities even more impressive.

These statistics indicate that today’s school buses must be doing something right in protecting the lives and welfare of students.

The Intuitive Design of the Modern School Bus

School buses typically sit much higher than most of the vehicles sharing the road with them. This reduces the ability of other vehicles to impact the seating areas of buses; instead, they typically collide with the underpinnings or bumpers. Rather than using seat belts to restrain children, school bus seats are designed to surround students with an insulating barrier that protects them in a collision. This thick foam layer and the close placement of seats ensure that students are confined to a small area. In this way, the foam-covered seats restrict motion in much the same way that seat belts do, making these restraint systems less necessary. Testing performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also showed that students were unlikely to use seat belts properly without supervision. Improperly worn seat belts could actually do more harm than good during a sudden stop or collision. By relying on passive compartmentalization, school buses can minimize risks while ensuring optimal protection for children on the way to and from school.

Economic Pressures Also a Factor

To accommodate seat belts, existing school buses would have to be retooled completely. Extra space would be required between seats to allow for the installation of these safety restraint devices. Most states are already struggling to provide adequate funding for schools, and Texas is no exception to this rule. Sticking with equipment that works rather than upgrading to an unproven system makes good economic sense for most school districts and state legislatures.

If you have been injured due to the negligence of another driver, seeking the assistance of a Houston accident lawyer can provide added help in achieving a fair settlement. Whether you have sustained injuries in a school bus accident, a collision with a large commercial truck or an encounter with a drunk driver, a qualified Houston car wreck lawyer can provide you with the support and guidance you need to pursue your claims both in and out of court. These dedicated professionals can provide you with the assertive representation necessary to hold drivers, insurers and transportation companies accountable for their actions and to obtain the largest possible settlement on your behalf.

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Smart Cars and Smart Highways, the Key to Safer Streets

auto-trafficNew technologies may soon revolutionize the way drivers manage their daily commutes. Smart freeway systems and cars that can communicate with each other will soon be in place in the Detroit area. While these early traffic systems will have limited capabilities at first, they are expected to reduce accidents and to improve the flow of traffic in highly congested areas. A September 2014 article published in scholarly journal IEEE Spectrum estimated that self-driving smart cars could save as much as 420 million barrels of oil over a ten-year period. Until these advanced technologies are implemented everywhere, however, retaining the services of an experienced Houston auto wreck lawyer may be your best option after a serious accident.

How Smart Freeways Work

The installation of sensors and cameras along key stretches of Interstates 96 and 696 in Michigan will allow real-time data collection on average speeds, driving habits and locations of cars connected to these systems. This information is analyzed and interpreted in a centralized computer system before being relayed back to vehicles on the road. Relevant data may include lane closures, construction projects, the status of traffic lights and accidents ahead. Cars equipped with the right communications systems will be able to access this information to provide braking assistance and speed control during the daily driving routine.

Some Technologies Already in Place

A number of luxury car manufacturers have already installed adaptive cruise control and automatic braking systems on their passenger vehicles. This advanced safety equipment relies on an interconnected system of sensors and cameras that constantly scan the perimeter of the vehicle. When obstacles appear, the adaptive cruise control system automatically slows the car or truck to reduce the risk of collisions. With the addition of interconnected communications equipment, these vehicles can interact with smart freeway devices to provide even greater protections for drivers. The first passenger car to implement these communications systems is the 2017 model of the Cadillac CTS, which is due for initial release sometime late next year.

Major Benefits of Smart Cars and Smart Freeways

Implementing these new communication systems will not be cheap. The Detroit smart freeway project is possible through a combination of state and federal funding sources. However, the benefits associated with these smart car, smart highway systems are considerable:

  • With less time spent behind the wheel, drivers can enjoy added free time during their regular commutes.
  • Significantly fewer accidents are expected when driver error is removed from the equation.
  • Improved control over the flow of traffic can reduce fuel consumption and eliminate congestion in heavily traveled areas.
  • Parking issues can also be mitigated thanks to the ability of these cars to find parking spots on their own.

Most of these benefits will require years for full implementation. The smart freeway project in Detroit, however, is a step in the right direction. This initiative will likely spur added research and development in surrounding areas in the near future.

On the Road to Progress

Until the arrival of these new high-tech safety devices, however, drivers must still contend with auto accidents and insurance claims. Working with a Houston personal injury attorney can often provide real help in navigating the complexities of legal liability, negligence and settlement negotiations. An experienced Houston car crash attorney can put the odds in your favor when dealing with adjusters and lawyers employed by the insurance companies and can represent your case effectively both in and out of court.

If you or someone you love has been injured in an automobile accident, it is essential that you seek the assistance of a qualified personal injury attorney to protect your legal rights. Until self-driving cars become a practical reality, these dedicated legal professionals may represent your best line of defense against the financial losses and ongoing stress associated with these serious automotive accidents.

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The Future Is Almost Here: Fewer Accidents Predicted with Self-Driving Cars

auto-trafficNew technologies could eventually reduce auto accidents by as much as 90 percent in the U.S. and could save an estimated $190 billion in damages each year. Self-driving vehicles have not been approved for general use on U.S. roadways, but many of the same technologies are available on high-end passenger cars. For example, adaptive cruise control allows drivers to set a maximum speed and a preferred distance between the vehicle and other cars ahead on the road. Automatic braking systems slow the car and adjust to traffic speeds in the vicinity. These new systems may reduce the workload of the average Friendswood auto wreck lawyer and may save thousands of lives that would otherwise be lost to traffic accidents every year.

Current Projects Underway

A number of companies are currently working on self-driving cars intended for personal transportation. Some of the most advanced projects include the following:

  • Google’s self-driving car safety advantages have already been tested on the track and has been approved for testing in Mountain View, California, and in Austin, Texas. The prototypes have racked up more than a million miles. Google is considered a frontrunner in the self-driving vehicle industry.
  • Audi has a research car on the road in California and Nevada that completed a run from San Francisco to Las Vegas without incident. The company has tested another self-driving prototype on German racetracks that can achieve speeds of 140 miles an hour in controlled conditions.
  • Mercedes-Benz has already implemented adaptive cruise control, sensors and alert systems into many of its top-end passenger vehicles. This year, however, it unveiled a self-driving prototype that promises to take the autonomous technology revolution to the next level for those who can afford it. Parent company Daimler has also entered the fray with the Freightliner Inspiration, a self-driving tractor-trailer truck that has been tested in Nevada with good results.

As more and more automakers enter the fray, the competition to deliver these options to the consumer marketplace is expected to heat up. A research study performed by McKinsey & Co. and reported in The Wall Street Journal indicated that widespread use of self-driving cars and trucks is likely within the next 15 years.

Approaching Critical Mass

Most automotive experts believe that the most important positive effects of self-driving cars will not occur until most drivers adopt this new technology. When enough self-driving cars are present on U.S. roadways, these interconnected vehicles can establish consistent rates of speed and improved traffic regulation, allowing passengers to arrive on time and with minimal risk of accidents during their commutes. State regulations regarding these autonomous vehicles and high production costs are likely to present obstacles to widespread adoption of self-driving vehicles. Rather than opting for full-scale deployment of these autonomous systems, it is likely that most automakers will engage in tiered rollout for various features. Adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, blind spot alerts and proximity sensors are already on the market and can provide drivers with added protection behind the wheel. As these features become more common on newer vehicles, the gap between computerized driver assistance and self-driving cars and trucks becomes increasingly slim.

While autonomous vehicles offer hope for a brighter future, drivers in the Houston area still face significant risks on Texas roads. If you have been injured due to the negligence of another driver south of Houston, contacting a Friendswood or Pearland car crash attorney immediately can help you make sure that your rights are protected in the legal arena. An experienced Houston or League City car accident lawyer can provide you with expert representation to ensure the highest possible settlement for you and your family. By working with these dedicated professionals, you can achieve fair compensation for your injuries and damages both in and out of court.

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Entire Family Lost Due to DWI Accident in Conroe, Texas

auto-accidentOn September 20, 2015, a tragic accident claimed the lives of an entire Texas family of four. The driver responsible for the crash, Ronald Cooper, is now facing serious charges that could land him in jail for an extended period. Three vehicles were involved in the crash that killed Roland and Melinda Sedlmeier and their two children, Sofie and Harley. Two teens in another vehicle were seriously injured. Cooper was taken to the hospital as well and was arrested on two counts of intoxication assault and four counts of intoxication manslaughter. For the families of those injured or killed in accidents like these, working with a Houston car wreck lawyer can ensure that those responsible are held legally accountable for their actions.

A Growing Problem in Texas

In 2013, the state of Texas ranked first in the number of deaths caused by drunk driving with 1,337 fatalities attributable to alcohol use. More than 15,500 injuries resulted from alcohol-related accidents during that same year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 40 percent of traffic fatalities in Texas were directly related to alcohol use on the part of one or more drivers. Texas law enforcement agencies are doing their part and made 99,195 DUI arrests during 2013; unfortunately, the number of crashes attributable at least in part to drunk driving amounted to 25,479. In Conroe, where the Sedlmeier family lost their lives, local residents report that drunk driving is an ongoing threat to public safety.

There were 1,041 people killed in 2014 traffic accidents in Texas where a driver was under the influence of alcohol. More alcohol related vehicle crashes were reported from 2:00 am to 2:59 am than any other time period of the day.

Repeat Offenders a Serious Issue

According to the advocacy organization Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), nearly one out of three traffic deaths nationwide involve drivers under the influence of alcohol. One-third of those caught driving while intoxicated are repeat offenders who have previously been cited or have been involved in an accident involving the use of alcohol. MADD is a leading proponent for widespread use of ignition interlocks for DUI and DWI offenders. The driver in the September 20 crash, Ronald Cooper, had been arrested in 2008 for DWI; it is possible that implementation of a breath test device in his private automobile might have saved the lives of the Sedlmeier family.

Legal Recourse for Victims

In most cases, injured parties and families of those lost to DWI accidents can achieve some closure by pursuing their legal claims both in and out of court. By holding drunk drivers responsible for their actions, families and loved ones can ensure that these individuals pay for their negligence. Fair compensation can also cover medical bills, lost wages and other expenses incurred as a result of serious accidents. A professional Houston car wreck attorney can investigate the accident and determine all the parties at fault, which may include some or all of the following:

  • Individuals who operate motor vehicles under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • The bars or establishments that over-served the individual
  • Insurance companies representing the negligent driver
  • Any individuals who knew that the driver was too intoxicated to operate a motor vehicle but allowed them to do so anyway

By pursuing financial claims against these responsible parties, victims of DWI accidents can increase their odds of achieving a fair settlement for their losses both in and out of the courtroom setting.

While no legal action can bring back loved ones lost in drunk driving accidents, making sure that those responsible pay for their actions is a key step toward reducing the number of deaths caused by these incidents. Retaining the services of an experienced and knowledgeable Houston car crash lawyer can be the first step toward a fair settlement for your injuries or losses. These dedicated professionals can even the playing field in the legal arena and can help you achieve the highest compensation for damages sustained in Texas drunk driving accidents.

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Refusing a Breath or Blood Test: Understanding Texas Law Regarding DWI

auto-accidentUnder Texas law, drivers cannot be forced to take a breath or blood test to prove their sobriety without a signed warrant. Drivers are also entitled to refuse the field sobriety tests requested by police officers. In most cases, refusing to take these tests will be considered a violation of the implied consent provisions in the Texas State Transportation Code (TSTC) and may result in the suspension of driving privileges for a prolonged period. Retaining the professional services of a Houston auto accident attorney can provide added help for those injured in accidents caused by drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

By the Book

In Texas, drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher are considered to be legally intoxicated and can be charged with DWI. Failure to submit to a breath or blood test automatically results in a 180-day suspension of driving privileges unless a hearing is requested to contest this suspension. Conviction on DWI charges, however, carries even steeper penalties:

  • For the first offense, drivers may face fines up to $2,000, the loss of their driving privileges for as long as a year, jail time and sizable annual fees associated with the retention of their driver’s license.
  • Second offenses can carry penalties that include jail time, fines up to $4,000, annual fees to retain the right to drive in Texas and the loss of driving privileges for up to two years.
  • For third-time offenders, a $10,000 fine is imposed, annual fees may be assessed and drivers may lose their licenses for two years. Some may even serve prison time. Drivers who rack up more than two DWI convictions within five years must install an ignition interlock device to test BAC levels before allowing the individual to drive.

Refusing to take a BAC test does not prevent conviction for DWI charges. It may reduce the amount of evidence available to prosecutors and to police officers, however, making it more difficult for these public officials to gain a conviction in court.

Certain Exceptions Apply

Drivers who are suspected of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol may be required to take a blood or breath test without a warrant if any of the following conditions apply:

  • A fatality accident has occurred
  • An accident involving the DWI suspect resulted in serious bodily harm to another individual requiring immediate attention at a hospital or clinic
  • Children under the age of 15 were present in the car when the alleged DWI incident occurred
  • The driver has previously been convicted of two or more DWI offenses

In most other cases, however, a blood search warrant is typically required before a driver can be compelled to submit to a blood test during a DWI investigation.

The Principle of Implied Consent

The provisions of Section 724.011 of the TSTC indicate that drivers have provided implied consent to alcohol and drug tests as a condition of operating their vehicles on Texas streets and highways. Drivers who refuse to be tested under the principle of implied consent may be subject to harsher penalties and longer suspensions of their driving privileges than those who cooperate. As a result, most drivers do agree to undergo a breathalyzer test or a blood test as requested by police during traffic stops.

For families and individuals who have been involved in an accident with an impaired driver, seeking the help of a qualified Houston car crash lawyer can provide added support in achieving a fair settlement for damages and injuries. An experienced Houston personal injury attorney can investigate the circumstances surrounding your collision to ensure that all evidence is brought to light in the courtroom and that you receive the compensation you deserve for these serious and preventable auto accidents.

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