94 percent of car crashes are caused by human error; autonomous vehicles may be able to help

September 30, 2020 | 6:00 am


In 1980, generally considered to be the deadliest year on U.S. streets, over 50,000 people were killed on U.S. roadways. Fortunately, with safety features like airbags added to vehicles, stricter seat belt laws, and campaigns that stigmatized impaired driving, the rate of deaths went down significantly.

But over the last several years, we have seen a slight increase in traffic deaths again. Pedestrian fatalities also increased by 27 percent over the last decade. Experts believe the increase is due to Americans driving more, with overall vehicle-miles traveled reaching an all-time high in 2017.

One way to reduce the amount of crashes, experts say, is to reduce the number of humans behind the wheel. After all, 94 percent of crashes are caused by human error, according to U.S. Department of Transportation.

Self-driving or autonomous vehicles might be able to help.

This is great news for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and others on our roadways. Bakersfield-based accident and injury law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles each year represents hundreds of innocent victims of motor vehicle crashes where human error is the primary cause.

 

AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES & SAFETY

Autonomous vehicles could boost the global economy by $7 trillion, significantly reducing traffic accidents and saving more than 600,000 lives annually, according to a study by Intel. Additionally, experts say autonomous vehicles could virtually eliminate the need to use police resources to enforce traffic safety laws and more officers could concentrate on reducing the most serious criminal activity.

So how do autonomous vehicles work? In autonomous vehicles, multiple sensors like cameras, radar, and GPS are continually scanning, collecting and sending data to the main system to be analyzed. As the car moves, data is continuously updated with new inputs from the sensors as they feed the algorithms, or “brain,” of the system. Decisions are made almost instantaneously based on the data the system receives.

Before the vehicles launch, however, autonomous vehicles must first survive rigorous testing in complex driving environments, traversing billions of miles of multiple road conditions and weather scenarios.

 

DRIVER-RELATED CRASHES

First, it’s important to take a look at the causes of crashes. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reviewed and separated driver-related factors that contributed to the crashes into five categories:

  • “Sensing and perceiving” errors included things like driver distraction, impeded visibility and failing to recognize hazards before it was too late.
  • “Predicting” errors occurred when drivers misjudged a gap in traffic, incorrectly estimated how fast another vehicle was going or made an incorrect assumption about what another road user was going to do.
  • “Planning and deciding” errors included driving too fast or too slow for the road conditions, driving aggressively or leaving too little following distance from the vehicle ahead.
  • “Execution and performance” errors included inadequate or incorrect evasive maneuvers, overcompensation and other mistakes in controlling the vehicle.
  • “Incapacitation” involved impairment due to alcohol or drug use, medical problems or falling asleep at the wheel.

The researchers also determined that some crashes were unavoidable, such as those caused by a vehicle failure like a blowout or broken axle.

 

STUDIES

Safety experts say fully autonomous vehicles would have to be driven hundreds of millions of miles and sometimes hundreds of billions of miles to demonstrate their reliability in terms of fatalities and injuries, according to an Elsevier study called, “Driving to safety: How many miles of driving would it take to demonstrate autonomous vehicle reliability?”

Another study, by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, states that autonomous vehicles might prevent only around a third of all crashes if automated systems drive too much like people.

One company called Waymo logged 10 million self-driven miles, making it the leader for self-driven miles on U.S. streets. While its vehicles have been involved in dozens of crashes, none caused no serious injuries. For example, one Waymo vehicle bumped a bus while going 2 miles per hour. In accident cases with injuries, the human driver was reported to have been at fault.

In the United States anyway, people are gaining trust that self-driving vehicles will made a positive impact. Two thirds of the Americans who took part in a Hyundai Motor Group and Aptiv study believe that self-driving cars are the way of the future, according to the Motional Consumer Mobility Report.

Are you ready for them?

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

Driving while high on THC? Here’s what you should know

October 16, 2019 | 6:00 am


Marijuana today has become mainstream as voters across the United States approve ballot measures for legalization and medical use. In fact, cannabis is now legal for recreational use in 10 states (including California) and the District of Columbia, and nearly three dozen states have cleared the use of medical cannabis.

As legalization continues to expand, safety officials across the country are more concerned than ever about stoned drivers taking to the nation’s roads and freeways, potentially endangering lives. But while there’s general agreement that driving while high is bad, there is not yet a linear relationship between THC levels and degree of impairment.

Read below to learn about the current state of marijuana laws as they relate to driving, ongoing studies, and what you can do to make sure we are all safe on the roadways.

 

CALIFORNIA LAW

Under California law, marijuana use and driving is still in the works. California DMV states that “the use of any drug which impairs your ability to drive safely is illegal.” The law does not distinguish between prescription, over-the-counter, or illegal drugs.

California also does not have a legal blood concentration limit for THC, unlike for alcohol. That is, there is no stated level at which a person is presumed to be under the influence as a result of marijuana use.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed AB 127 into law, which provides funding and authorization for the California Highway Patrol, and other law enforcement agencies, to study the effects of marijuana-impaired driving.

“One of the open-ended questions (about legal, recreational cannabis), that is a legitimate question, is public safety on the roads,” Newsom said in a statement before signing the bill. ”

 

DRIVING WHILE STONED

Government agencies are now testing ways to ensure the legalization of cannabis doesn’t create new public health risks, including answering the question, “at what point is someone too high to get behind the wheel?” The answer is complicated.

Scientists and pharmacologists don’t know how to measure if and to what extent marijuana causes impairment. The reason is existing blood and urine tests can detect marijuana use, but those tests can’t specify whether the use occurred in the day or month. They also don’t indicate the level at which a driver would be considered “under the influence.”

For alcohol, there is a clear, national standard. If your blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 percent or higher, you’re considered cognitively impaired at a level that is unsafe to drive. Extensive research supports this determination, and the clarity makes enforcement of drunken driving laws easier, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But setting a marijuana-related impairment level is a murkier proposition.

Eaze, an online cannabis marketplace, recently surveyed licensed Californian drivers who used cannabis within 30 days of responding, and here’s what they found:

  • Nearly half, 46%, who responded were unable to answer whether there exists a legal bloodstream concentration limit for THC, as there is for alcohol.
  • 81% were aware that it is illegal to drive under the influence of cannabis.
  • 62% also were unaware of the legal penalties that come with it. Like a DUI involving alcohol, they can include fines, jail time and license suspensions.
  • 82% stated that driving is the primary method by which most marijuana consumers buy cannabis
  • Almost half, 45%, reported driving after consuming the drug.
  • Of adults who consume and drive, 77% believe it doesn’t affect their driving, and 16% believe it improves their driving.
  • A vast majority said they would not do so if low- or no-cost ride-share options, or delivery, were available.

In the end, the study showed that “few know critical details about cannabis consumption and driving.”

 

BREATHALYZERS?

Breathalyzer tests for alcohol are a quick and non-invasive way to tell if a driver is drunk. Testing for stoned drivers isn’t as straightforward. And there is no known correlation between blood THC concentration and impairment, and testing requires a blood or saliva sample. These complications have made it a challenge to gauge whether legalization makes the roads more hazardous. Some areas have laws that define a predetermined concentration of THC in the blood as illegal whether or not the driver appears impaired.

One company, called Hound Labs, is working on a breakthrough in creating a marijuana breathalyzer.

The company says its device can accurately detect whether a person has smoked pot in the last two hours. The device also doubles as an alcohol breathalyzer, giving police an easy-to-use roadside for both intoxicants.

Other tools now on the market to determine marijuana test blood, saliva or urine can take days for a result.

For now, law enforcement agencies rely mostly on roadside sobriety tests by officers to make an initial determination on impairment. In California, every highway patrol member learns to administer “field sobriety tests” — undergoing an extra 16 hours of training to recognize the influence of different drugs, including marijuana.

 

RESEARCH

Studies do show that marijuana does, in fact, weaken a driver’s ability to maintain focus, and it slows reflexes. But more research is still needed, experts say.

Research by the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia University showed that half of young drivers, age 16 to 25, who died in car crashes were under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or both. In 2015, 43 percent of all drivers killed in vehicle crashes who were tested, tested positive for legal or illegal drugs, according to the NHTSA. In California, 19 percent of all drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes who were tested, tested positive for legal or illegal drugs. And those percentages have been increasing each year.

Drugged driving is known as “a silent epidemic,” because there is a misconception that it’s OK and is safe to drive after smoking pot, as NPR reported. And the public — especially teenage drivers — are not well aware of some of the hazards of drugs such as marijuana on driving.

A major study underway on driving impairment at University of California San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research is scheduled to wrap up next year. Other groups, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo., are working on creating standards for a marijuana DUI detection test.

 

STAYING SAFE

The advice for pot users and driving is the same for all substances that cause impairment: never drive while under the influence!

Just like drunk driving, driving under the influence of drugs is a crime – even if impairment is due to prescribed medications, illicit drugs, over-the-counter medications or marijuana – medical or recreational. The dangers and legal consequences are the same.

Here’s what you need to know about driving while under the influence of marijuana:

  • Marijuana slows your reaction time and ability to make decisions. Marijuana affects the part of the brain that controls body movement, balance and coordination and can impair judgment and memory. Studies show that driving while under the influence of marijuana negatively impacts attentiveness, perception of time and speed. Impaired memory can affect the ability to draw from past driving experiences, especially in emergency situations.
  •  The higher you are, the more risks you take while driving. Studies show that drivers with only a small amount of THC in their blood can feel the effects. They often try to be more cautious, driving slower than normal, even sometimes too slow. However, greater problems arise when increasingly larger doses of THC are present in the blood. These drivers tend to weave in and out of lanes more, react slower to traffic lights and unexpected obstacles and are less aware of their speed. Overall, higher doses of marijuana tend to cause greater impairment when it comes to driving.
  • The effect of marijuana is strongest during the first 30 minutes after consumption. People who drive immediately after using marijuana may increase their risk of getting into a crash by 25 to 35 percent. The impairing effect rises rapidly and remains for some time. These affects can be delayed if the marijuana is ingested rather than smoked.
  • Combining alcohol with marijuana or impairing medications is even more dangerous than any used alone. Alcohol is a depressant and works by slowing down the central nervous system, which means that normal brain functions are delayed. It also impairs hand-eye coordination and how you process information. When marijuana or the long list of impairing prescription medications and illicit drugs are mixed with alcohol, the combination can heighten the effects of both on the body and brain.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.