Speed Limits Do Not Apply to Night Driving
Speed Limits Do Not Apply to Night Driving
So called experts would have you believe that it’s safer to drive on familiar roads, that is, roads that you know. Ka-Ka, as I call it. There is no such thing as a familiar road! It simply doesn’t exist. Conditions change day by day, hour by hour and moment by moment. Yesterday it was open, today it’s closed.
When you drive down a “familiar” city street, how do you “know” if a car is going to pull out, or if a pedestrian is about to cross or if a giant pothole developed overnight? When you drive on a highway how do you “know” if one lane is blocked due to a crash or construction? The simple answer is that you don’t, unless you pay close attention to your driving. And, that is the problem. Drivers who “think” they know the road they’re on don’t pay attention. This is why they feel they can drive distracted. They engage in activities that have nothing to do with driving, e.g., talk on a cell phone, take care of personal grooming, fiddle with entertainment controls, and a whole host of other misguided behaviors.
The simple truth is that driving requires your undivided attention, every block or mile you travel. Ask yourself, how is it possible that a driver who drives the same road to work every day, twice a day, five days a week, winds up in a collision? You would think that they would be able to navigate those roads with their eyes closed. And that’s exactly what they do! Driving distracted is like driving with your eyes closed because at that moment you see nothing that pertains to your driving.
Ever wonder why blind people can’t get driving licenses? It’s because “observation” is the name of the game. People you talk to will probably tell you “speed” is the name of the game. More Ka-Ka! Anybody can press a gas pedal and make the car go fast. That really takes no skill. The truly good driver is one who is observant, watchful and attentive.
I personally witnessed an outrageous example of what I’m writing about. If any of you are familiar with the toll lanes on the Throggs Neck Bridge you know that for a long time cash lanes were in the middle and EZ Pass lanes were on both sides. One fine day, they decided to change the pattern. EZ Pass lanes were all on the left and all cash lanes were on the right. Big, yellow signs were posted alerting drivers to the change. Well, as I was approaching the EZ Pass toll , I saw a cart traveling laterally across all the lanes. The car was going from the EZ Pass lanes to the cash lanes. Can you figure why? It should be obvious! The driver never saw the signs and was totally unaware of the change. Can you imagine the hazard that was created by this car traveling across the lanes? All because the driver “knew” the road and never saw the warning signs.
I say again, there is no such thing as a familiar road. Driving is a full time job whether it be in your neighborhood or traveling cross-country! Use your eyes, pay attention. Don’t become complacent and think you “know” the road. It’s simply not possible.
In the beginning, streets in America were public spaces. Before the advent of the automobile, city streets were vibrant places with a multitude of users and uses that included children at play and pedestrians at large.
When the automobile first showed up it was seen as an intruder and a menace. Browse through accounts in the New York Times of pedestrians dying after being struck by automobiles prior to 1930, and you’ll see that in nearly every case, the driver is charged with something like “technical manslaughter. And it wasn’t just New York. Across the country, drivers were held criminally responsible when they killed or injured people with their vehicles. Editorial cartoons regularly depicted the Grim Reaper behind the wheel and terms like “road-hog” and “speed-demon” were common. That image persisted well into the 1920s
Historically, the principles of common law applied to crashes. In the case of a collision, the larger, heavier vehicle was deemed to be at fault. The responsibility for crashes was always placed on the driver. Public opinion was on the side of the pedestrian. There was a lot of anger in the early years and a lot of resentment against cars for endangering streets.
By 1930, most streets were primarily for motor vehicles where children did not belong. From the 1910s to the 1930s, a broad anti-automobile campaign reviled motorists as “road hogs” or “speed demons” and cars as “juggernauts” or “death cars.” Police had to become “traffic cops. The transition of streets as the exclusive domain of autos wasn’t evolution; it was more a bloody and sometimes violent revolution fueled by the auto industry.
If you ask people today what a street is for, they will say cars, which is practically the opposite of what they would have said 100 years ago. The automobile industry lobbied to promote the adoption of traffic statutes to supplant common law. The statutes were designed to restrict pedestrian use of the street and give primacy to cars. The idea of “jaywalking” – a concept that had not really existed prior to 1920 – was enshrined in law. Streets were systematically and deliberately shifted by the automobile industry, as was the law itself. Collisions became accidents.*
The problem with the term “accident,” of course, is that it implies no one is at fault — that traffic injuries and deaths are just random, unpreventable occurrences and should be accepted as contributing to the loss of life.
In 198i7, I copyrighted an acronym, which is still tells it like it is: Most “accidents” are
C- Crashes that are
C- Caused by
I- Ignorance, (a lack of knowledge)
D- Drunkenness (from all types of drugs)
E- Errors (a lack of physical skills)
N- Negligence (a lack of mental skills) and/or
T- Thoughtlessness (whether it be from anger, frustration, distractions, or daydreaming)
On June 8 1997, at the opening of the Lifesavers Conference in Orlando, Florida, Ricardo Martinez, M.D., the Administrator of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) kicked off a nationwide campaign “Crashes Aren’t Accidents” to encourage removal of the word “accident” from our vocabulary. In a short time, numerous organizations representing thousands of supporters joined the Administrator and literally “signed onto” the Proclamation as well.
Today, safe street advocates such as New York’s Transportation Alternatives (of which I am a member) spend a lot of time and energy trying to get people to take pedestrian fatalities seriously. A concerted effort is being made to stop calling them accidents and start calling them crashes. Crashes have causes and contributory factors, accidents have excuses. Using ‘accident’ encourages a sense of fatalism.
In 2012, on behalf of Transportation Alternatives (TA), I testified at a NY City Council hearing, which dealt with the lack of police investigations into “accidents.” I told the Council members that “I feel irrelevant. If drivers can injure and kill people with impunity because it’s just an accident, then why should I bother teaching people how to drive safely? Moreover, if there is nothing wrong with hitting a pedestrian, why should it be grounds for immediate failure on a road test. In fact, why conduct road tests at all? Once you have a license it doesn’t seem to matter if you know how to drive or not.”
“Families for Safe Streets,” and arm of TA, is comprised of victims of traffic violence and families whose loved ones were killed or severely injured by aggressive or reckless driving and dangerous conditions on New York City’s streets. They demand an end to traffic violence. They banded together in early 2014 to turn their grief into action and were instrumental in lowering the citywide speed limit in New York City, among other critical safety initiatives.
The NYPD adopted a policy to stop using the term “accident” to describe traffic collisions. Even former NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, notorious for turning a blind eye to traffic violence, issued a statement that the term ‘accident’ has sometimes given the inaccurate impression or connotation that there is no fault or liability associated with a specific event
A majority of fatal crashes are caused by intoxicated, speeding, distracted, or careless drivers and, therefore, are not accidents. More importantly, characterizing crashes as accidents, when a driver was intoxicated or negligent, may impede the recovery of crash victims by preventing them from assigning blame.
Using the term “crash” does not presume innocence or guilt If no one was at fault in a collision, this should be proved. “Crash” suggests something unintentional, and most collisions certainly are not premeditated. But it also suggests something that was beyond control; an incident with an excuse embedded within it. The phrase “it was just an accident” serves both as a claim of innocence and as an exoneration. Use of the term ‘accident’ is inappropriate until all the facts of the case are known
*To explore this subject deeper, read ‘Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City,” by Peter Norton, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia .
In prior blogs I wrote about drivers who run red lights and drivers who abuse the right-turn-on-red law. There is another red-light situation that can kill you the railroad crossing.
Level crossing crashes make up some of the country’s worst road tragedies and they are not rare occurrences. A train hits a person or a car somewhere in our country about once every three hours,
In 2015, there were 2,059 collisions between trains and cars at street grade crossings, in which 244 people were killed and 967 people were injured, according to Federal Railroad Administration (FRA – part of the U.S. Department of Transportation). You should know that a motorist is almost 20 times more likely to die in a crash involving a train than in a collision involving another motor vehicle. The flashing red lights at railroad crossing is a signal you really should obey.
The sad reality is that:
Such was the case of a driver in Valhalla NY who drove onto the tracks and then the arm came down on to the back of her car. According to witnesses, instead of driving forward she decided to inspect the damage to her car. When she got back in the car, she unhurriedly, took the time to buckle her seat belt and then got hit by an oncoming train.
Sometimes vehicles can get stuck on tracks unintentionally. They might get stuck in snow or the engine may stall and not restart.
If you are ever forced to stop on train tracks, for whatever reason, heed this information:
1- Get out of the vehicle. Do not honk your horn and expect the train to stop; a train will not be able to come to a complete stop immediately. Even if it is slowing down, it will still plow through you before it can come to a stop. However, a 150-car freight train, traveling at 50 miles per hour will take over a mile to stop! Do not attempt to play chicken with a moving train, not even commuter trains. It’s not backing down; you must. Get out of the car, and tell any passengers do to the same.
2- Do not stop to take anything with you. Do not risk your life to gather objects from the back seat (unless they are infant passengers). You may be too late. You may want to take a cell phone if it is in easy reach.
3- Run towards the direction from which the train is coming. This may sound counter-intuitive but, do not attempt to run away from the train. When the train collides with your car, the wreckage may fly through the air and hit you. Run in the opposite direction and at 45o angle (not parallel with the tracks — see image below) because trains overhang the tracks by about three feet. Also, when you run toward the train, you run away from the site of the potential collision.
At every railroad crossing, you’ll find an equipment box with the crossing location and a phone number on it. If you get stuck, call that number immediately. That lets the people in charge know exactly what crossing you’re at and they can get a hold of the train and tell the engineer what to do.
The lesson to be learned here is to drive safe and expect the unexpected at train crossings. If you need more convincing you can watch the horror of train-car collisions on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRsJ_ehDTC8
UPDATE: March 2016– Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for eliminating grade crossings on commuter rail lines, calling the street-level intersections “dangerous” and saying everybody should be “ashamed” that they still exist. “That we have allowed the grade crossings to continue as long as they have on Long Island, as dangerous as they are, we should all be ashamed,” Cuomo said. “The local elected officials should be ashamed. The safety groups should be ashamed. Parents should be ashamed. Everybody should be ashamed.”
Cuomo’s comments were specific to the LIRR rail system but the issue is common in the Hudson Valley, too: There are 17 highway-rail grade crossings on the Metro-North Railroad in Westchester and Putnam counties, as well as 28 in Dutchess County. A crash in February of 2015 at a grade crossing in Valhalla (Westchester County) left six dead and 28 injured.
“Fix the grade crossings. It’s not rocket science,” the governor said. “The road can go under the train. The road can go over the train. Whatever the local community wants, we’ll do. But the grade crossings should be safe and it shouldn’t take another terrible accident. crash”
Many years ago, when the seat belt law was fist enacted, drivers complained bitterly about getting tickets for not buckling up. Their argument was that we never had to do it before and we need time to get into a new habit. The same argument surfaced when NY City was included in stopping for school buses. Again, drivers said we never had to do it before and we need time to get into a new habit. However, when the right-turn-on-red law was passed, drivers didn’t need any time to get used to going through red lights. They were real happy to do so.
During the oil and energy crises of the 1970s, the U.S. federal government encouraged jurisdictions to allow right-turns-on-red (RTOR) as a fuel saving measure. The Federal Highway Administration estimated that right-turns-on-red would save between 1 and 4.6 seconds of idling for each driver at a red light.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) allowing RTOR is dangerous especially for pedestrians and bicyclists. Studies conducted after states first adopted RTOR laws found that allowing RTOR increased pedestrian and bicyclist collisions at intersections by 43-123 percent. An analysis of intersection crashes in four states found that RTOR crashes frequently involved pedestrians and bicyclists, and 93 percent of these crashes resulted in injuries to the pedestrians and bicyclists. While 44 percent of fatal RTOR crashes involved a pedestrian, 10 percent involved a bicyclist.
33 percent of fatal RTOR crashes involved two vehicles, so the risk for drivers is also increased. A survey by walkinginfo.org. found that at locations where RTOR is allowed, 56.9 percent of drivers do not come to a complete stop before turning on red. That’s no surprise since many drivers treat RTOR as the same as making a right turn from a stop sign. However, there is a big difference. Do you know the elements that are necessary to be able to make a RTOR? Here they are and keep in mind we’re talking about State Law:
Element #4 is the big difference. At stop signs, you’re allowed to make the right turn even if traffic is approaching, if you feel you have enough time to make the turn safely. Not so with the RTOR. If you see traffic and think you can turn safely, YOU MAY NOT MAKE THE TURN. The reasoning for such a rule is understandable; a stop sign will never turn green for you so you do have to make a judgment call – but the traffic light will turn green so there is no pressure to make the turn while it’s red.
Another element of State Law is that making a RTOR is OPTIONAL, not mandatory. All the elements may be in place, but if you want to wait for the green you may do so…even if the ignorant horn blowers behind you are telling you to go. They are ignorant because they don’t know the law. But, now you do.
NHTSA says there are a relatively small number of deaths and injuries each year caused by turn-on-red crashes. These represent a very small percentage of all crashes, deaths, and injuries. The problem with percentages is that if you’re the one involved in a crash, for you it represent 100 percent.
Insufficient data exist to analyze the left turn on red (LTOR). Oh, you didn’t know you could make a LTOR? Well, you can, if both streets, the one you’re on and the one you’re turning into are ONE-WAY STREETS. Of course, all the other elements cited above need to be in place.
This blog prompted some questions:
Question 1- Where is it legal to make a left-turn-on-red?
Question 2- Where is it illegal to make a left-turn-on-red?
Question 3- Is it ever legal to make a left-turn-on-red from a two-way street?
Answer 1– 44 states and Puerto Rico allow left turns on red only if both the origin and destination streets are one way
Answer 2– Six states and Washington D.C. ban left turns on red: South Dakota* Connecticut Maine Missouri New Hampshire North Carolina
*South Dakota does permit local municipalities to allow left turns on red.
NOTE: New York City prohibits both right and left turns on red, unless a sign indicates otherwise.
Answer 3– Yes! Four states do allow left turns on red onto a one-way street even from a two-way street. Those states are: Idaho Michigan Oregon Washington state
Do you take Fido along with you wherever you drive? Some furry passengers just love to ride! But traveling with pets in automobiles can be extremely dangerous for you, your family, and your family companion. While pets are by far the most lovable driving distraction, they can still present a challenge on a par with smartphones and snacks.
Loose pets inside of vehicles can become a deadly distraction for drivers. A 2011 survey by AAA produced some startling statistics on dogs, driver distraction, and the dangers involved:
29 percent of respondents admit to being distracted by their dog while driving:
52 percent have pet their dog while driving
17 percent allowed their dog to sit in their lap
13 percent of drivers gave food or treats to their dog
4 percent acknowledged playing with their dog
All these behaviors can distract the driver and increase the risk of a crash.
Not only are pets natural-born distracters, they can be seriously injured — and can seriously injure you — if not properly restrained. Pet restraints can seem so restraining. But they are the easiest and best method for limiting distraction and protecting you and your pals if a crash occurs. Without proper restraint, a simple joyride with your four-legged friend could result in harsh consequences for everyone.
An overwhelming 84 percent of survey respondents in the AAA survey, stated that they have driven with their pets on a variety of car trips. However, only 16 percent use any form of pet restraint system when driving with their dog. You need to keep your pets from becoming projectiles:
A 10-pound dog that’s not restrained can generate 500 pounds of force in a 50-mph crash.
A 60-pound dog can turn into a 2,700 pound projectile at 35 mph.
An 80-pound dog can generate 2,400 pounds of force in a 30 mph crash.
The use of a pet restraint system can aid in limiting distractions and help protect your pet:
Restraint systems that limit a pet’s ability to distract the driver, restrict pet movement in a crash, and mitigate crash forces are best to use. You can choose from 3 common options:
All of this is to say that driving with pets can be dangerous for both you and your number-one pal. Finally, keep in mind that if you are in a crash after your pet distracts you, you could be held liable for the damages.
A recent spate of hit-and-run crashes around the city, in which pedestrians in all five boroughs have been killed has focused the spotlight on traffic laws that protect drunk drivers when they flee the scene. Be aware that when you’re a pedestrian you’re in danger from drunk drivers, even if you’re on the sidewalk.
The way laws are currently written, leaving the scene before police arrive could actually prevent drunk drivers from being charged with serious criminal charges, if death or injury occurs.
Motorist who fail to remain on the scene of an incident in which they’ve hit and seriously injured someone face a class “E” felony charge and a sentence of up to 15 months to four years behind bars if convicted. If death occurs the charge increases to a Class “D” felony, with a potential maximum sentence upon conviction of 28 months to seven years in prison.
If the driver is found to be drunk when the crash occurred then Class C or Class B felonies would be imposed. Class C felonies carry a maximum of 15 years in prison and the top sentence for a Class B felony is a maximum of 25 years in prison.
The disparity in sentences creates an incentive to leave the scene because it’s hard for prosecutors to prove drunk-driving if the driver waits hours or days to report the incident when the alcohol is no longer in his/her system. It then becomes impossible to determine the alcohol content of the person at the time of the crash. Furthermore, testing a driver for alcohol after the fact wouldn’t necessarily prove whether the hit-and-run suspect had imbibed before or after the incident.
And did you know there are circumstances where leaving the scene is legal? A driver who hits a pedestrian crossing a crowded highway might reasonably fear he could put his own life in jeopardy by stopping in traffic. Or, a driver who struck somebody on a street might fear remaining in the area if a crowd of seemingly hostile people approached his or her vehicle. In such instances, the driver can leave, but must immediately report the incident to law enforcement once they are out of danger.
Drunk-driving is still fairly common so be on guard and make sure you carry insurance for uninsured motorists who leave the scene.
Your flashers are supposed to warn drivers that you’re in trouble, and you hope they’ll keep their distance and not crash into you. Well, just the reverse could be true. You could be inviting them to hit you.
The only time to use your flashers is when you’re stopped in a traffic lane for whatever reason, most likely car trouble. You should NOT use them if your car is off the road, in a parking lane or on the shoulder of a highway.
Have you ever heard of the “moth effect?” Probably not. But just as moths are attracted to light, drivers seem to be attracted to flashing lights. So, what’s the problem, right? Well, maybe you also don’t know that where you look is where you steer – without even knowing it.
So, if you’re on the shoulder of a highway with your flashers on, you are attracting other drivers to, yes, steer into you. Don’t believe it? Have you heard of the “Move Over Law/”
Every state has enacted such a law except Hawaii. In 2010, New York was perhaps the last state to pass such a law. It is called the Ambrose-Searles Law in memory of two police officers who were killed while standing alongside a vehicle on the shoulder and were struck by a car that steered into them.
So, now the law says that when you approach an emergency vehicle you must not drive in the lane adjacent to the emergency vehicles. You must change lanes, i.e. move over into the middle or left lane. If it’s not safe to do so, then you must reduce your speed by 15 mph below the speed limit. The fine is $275 and 3 points on your license.
Originally the law classified emergency vehicles as police or ambulance. But in 2012, the law was amended to include vehicles that flash yellow lights as well, e.g. tow trucks, snow plows and other vehicles performing road maintenance, construction or repair. The penalty was not changed, however.
Experts, like those at AAA, advise to use the flashers. Be aware that even bona-fide experts quite often spread Ka-Ka. The moth effect is real; a tow truck operator was struck and killed near Syracuse while tending to a disabled vehicle on the New York State Thruway.
If you need to stop on the shoulder, hang a brightly colored handkerchief or scarf on the antennae or door handle or hold it in place by closing a window on it. Raise the hood, also. Do not use your flashers…and need I say, don’t sit in the car. Stay far away in case someone does run into it.
If you’re car becomes disabled and cannot be driven off the road, by all means turn on the flashers. It would also be a good idea to carry flares and warning signs. Do not try to push the car off the road. Do not stay in the car. These activities are extremely dangerous since we have so many drivers these days who drive distracted and don’t pay attention to what’s up ahead.
Waving someone to go is dangerous. Many people think it’s an act of courtesy to wave somebody on, for instance, the driver going straight may wave the left-turner to go first; a driver may wave pedestrians to cross after stopping for a stop sign. These are just two examples of an activity that can get you and other people killed .
Let’s analyze the first example. The left-turner, by law, is supposed to yield t the driver going straight, but the driver going straight is not in a hurry and as a courteous gesture tells the left-turner to go first. Anytime you break the law there is a possibility of a crash. The driver who stops for a left-turner may very well be rear-ended by the car behind who never expected him/her to stop in that situation. Drivers who know the law expect other drivers to obey the law so they can predict what other drivers will do.
There was a court case some years ago, where a trucker who was going straight (in the left lane) waved a left-turner to go first. The left-turner listened and went first and was then hit by a car going straight in the right lane. The trucker was held liable for the crash and charged with impersonating a police officer. It’s not your job to direct traffic. You should never tell other people what to do since you can’t control the entire situation. Maybe the left-turner couldn’t see the car coming in the right lane since the truck may have blocked his vision. And, more than likely, the trucker didn’t check traffic in the right lane before he told the left-turner to go.
“Courtesy” never supersedes right-of-way laws. If you’re given the right-of-way, take it. Doing otherwise can create hazardous situations for others.
The second example has a similar explanation. Maybe the pedestrians aren’t crossing because they see something that you don’t see. You’ve stopped for the sign and you wave the pedestrians to go. But they see an 18-wheeler coming on your left side, which has no intention of stopping for the stop sign and that’s why they’re not crossing. Just imagine what would happen if they did listen to you. You would have caused their death.
Understand something: the law says you must yield the right-of-way – it does not say you must force anyone to take it. If you yield and they go, fine. But if you yield and they don’t go, so be it. You did your part, you yielded and that’s all that’s expected of you.
One more thing. Your license is an individual license, not a team license. You need to make your own decisions without being “coached” by other drivers. Likewise, you shouldn’t coach other drivers (or pedestrians); let them make their own decisions.
There’s an old joke that you may have heard. A driver rolls through a stop sign and a cop pulls him over to ticket him. The driver complains saying that he did slow down. The cop tells him to step out of the car and starts beating him with his night-stick. Then the cop asks, “Would you like me to slow down or stop?”
There is no such thing as a “rolling” stop. Either you’re stopped or you’re not stopped. Unfortunately, too many drivers treat stop signs as they do yield signs. You are allowed to roll through yield signs if the way is clear, but you must be prepared to stop if it’s not. So, drivers treat stop signs the same way.
The law says you must come to a complete stop even with the stop sign or before the crosswalk. Some drivers complain that if they stop at the sign, they won’t be able to see if traffic is coming. News Flash: you’re not supposed to see traffic from the stop sign. The reason for stopping at the sign is to allow room for pedestrians to cross. When it’s all clear of pedestrians then you’re allowed to roll up and check traffic. And if there is traffic coming you must stop again. Just because you stopped at the sign doesn’t mean the cross traffic must yield to you. You still have to yield to the cross traffic.
Something to consider. If you don’t stop at the sign and you put go too far into the intersection, you might hit by an oncoming car And then there’s something else to think about. Even if you plan on stopping beyond the stop sign you might still scare the other driver if he thinks you’re not going to stop. You might even kill him/her by giving them a heart attack. Do it right, obey the law, stop at the sign. Pedestrians matter.
In another blog, I well answer the question as to whether you should wave pedestrians to go when you do stop for them.