Several years ago, my former law partner’s husband was killed on his bicycle by a 16 year old who was attempting to reach for a soda bottle on the floor of his pick-up truck. Recently we’ve read about people in cars, on the sidewalk, and even in their own homes, being killed or seriously injured by individuals that turn their vehicles into weapons by driving recklessly. The stories are too similar and occur too often.
As a practicing trial attorney I have represented many victims of serious injuries and deaths, caused by reckless drivers. I see first hand the pain and devastation that reckless driving can cause to both parties. I say it is time that we make a concerted effort to send a message that goes beyond “don’t drink and drive”. We need to encourage safer driving habits while severely punishing reckless drivers who cause injuries or deaths.
Sadly, the death and destruction caused by careless drivers can easily be avoided by the use of common sense, prudence and defensive driving techniques. Although drunk driving certainly causes a substantial amount of harm, surprisingly, most death and serious injury related accidents are caused without alcohol involvement. Driving safely will save lives. On a daily basis we see drivers not willing to stop at red lights and speeding through yellow lights rather than slowing down and stopping. We also frequently see individuals on our highways crossing several lanes of traffic to try to make it to the exit without regard for the drivers that they are cutting in front of along the way.
Other troubling traffic incidents include persons applying make-up in the car, dialing hand-held cellular phones, even reading the newspaper while driving. The results are often severe and devastating. We have all felt the pain of losing a family member or good friend as a result of drivers’ acts or omissions on the road. There is nothing sadder than to get a call or visit from the police explaining that someone you love has been killed or seriously hurt in a car crash. This is every parent and spouse’s nightmare. Unfortunately, this bad dream is too often a bitter reality for many in Miami-Dade County.
The answer is very simple: we need to educate our drivers beyond the licensing exam. We need to publicize “safe driving” through television advertisements, print advertisements, traffic signs throughout the road reminding drivers to drive safely and bill boards that remind us of the carnage that can be caused by failing to drive reasonably. We need to enforce existing laws and create new ones that will “drive” home the message that unsafe driving will not be tolerated. We need to make the traffic penal code stricter by requiring tougher sentencing guidelines for those convicted of driving with a suspended driver’s license, reckless driving, drunk driving, and vehicular manslaughter.
With the increase of SUV’s on the road, traffic accidents have become even more dangerous and deadly. An NBC 6 news segment that aired on February 16, 2001, reported that national statistics prove that an accident between an SUV and a car would prove devastating to the passengers in the car. This is because the bumpers on SUV’s are much higher than those on cars and the weight of an SUV is substantially greater than that of a car. Accordingly, the drivers in SUV’s must be especially careful when driving so as to prevent any impact with automobiles on the roadway. According to the NBC 6 report, a crash involving an SUV results in a four-time greater likelihood for serious injury or death to the occupants of the car.
Accidents don’t just happen. They are caused by indifference, lack of attention, carelessness or recklessness. We can all help save lives by promoting careful and responsible driving habits as well as by demanding tougher sentencing against those who violate our traffic laws. Let us encourage “safe driving” among our co-workers, through the legislature, the courts and our community groups. By working together and making “safe driving” an important priority, countless injuries will be prevented and lives saved. How can we make our roads safer? One person at a time. I encourage everyone to make a difference and begin by driving safely. As the old cliché goes: the life you save may be your own.