Excessive speed, alcohol, and operator distraction were the primary factors in New Years Eve 2022 car crashes that killed fifteen people in the Peachtree State.
Shortly after the 78-hour New Years holiday began, a motorist struck and killed a bicyclist in Smyrna. Officials said that slick roads may have contributed to that crash. Roughly seventy-two hours later, on New Year’s Day morning, a fireball wreck on Interstate 85 killed a man in a Toyota Scion.
Police in DeKalb County and the city of Albany also investigated deadly crashes, according to authorities. State troopers from the following posts also investigated fatal crashes: Marietta, Villa Rica, Athens, Thomaston, Thomasville, and Brunswick.
Vehicle Collisions and Excessive Speed
For around twenty years, excessive speed has been one of the leading factors in vehicle collisions. The pandemic has made this situation worse.
In 2020, coronavirus lockdowns significantly decreased the amount of vehicle traffic. Yet the number of roadway fatalities hit a ten-year high. Observers believe that excessive speed is the culprit. For example, in California, authorities issued twice as many super speeder tickets (more than 100mph) during pandemic lockdowns than they did the previous year during the same period. “There’s no person who’s never sped,” one driver remarked. During the lockdowns, “I just sped faster and longer,” he added.
That’s only part of it. Many observers believe that the bad habits drivers developed during 2020, including the need for speed, are permanent.
Speed is doubly dangerous when it comes to vehicle collisions in Georgia. Excessive velocity increases the risk of a collision and the force in a wreck.
Velocity multiplies stopping distance. That’s the ground a vehicle covers between the time the driver sees a hazard and the moment the vehicle safely stops. At 30mph, stopping distance is about six car lengths. At 60mph, stopping distance multiplies to eighteen car lengths. Certain factors, such as environmental conditions and vehicle weight, could substantially increase stopping distance.
Additionally, speed multiplies the force in a vehicle collision, according to Isaac Newton’s Second Law of Motion.
An urban legend states that a penny dropped from the top of the Empire State Building picks up so much speed that the impact is fatal to a pedestrian on the ground. This tale is false, mostly because a flat penny flutters to the ground instead of dropping to the ground. Furthermore, a penny is just so tiny.
However, there is some truth in this myth. The further a penny falls, the more speed it accumulates, and the stronger the impact is. For car wreck purposes, speed essentially transforms a “fender bender” wreck that only causes property damage into a serious injury or fatal collision. Advanced safety systems, like air bags, cannot possibly absorb all the force in such crashes.
Authorities determined to crack down on drunk drivers in the 1980s. All these years later, alcohol still causes about a third of the fatal car wrecks in Georgia. This substance clouds judgement and adversely affects motor skills. People who are under the influence of alcohol often misjudge things like the distance between themselves and another vehicle or the timing of a red light. Additionally, they are less able to control their vehicles and adapt to changing situations.
If an emergency responder issues a citation for DUI or a related offense, the negligence per se shortcut could apply. Tortfeasors (negligent drivers) could be liable for damages as a matter of law if:
- They violate a safety law, and
- That violation substantially causes injury.
Authorities normally issue DUI tickets if the driver was intoxicated. Most people are intoxicated after they have three or four drinks. Alcohol impairment is different. Dangerous impairment, which includes the aforementioned effects, usually begins with the first drink. Evidence of impairment includes:
- Physical driver symptoms, like bloodshot eyes,
- Erratic driving prior to the wreck,
- Tortfeasor’s statements about alcohol use, and
- Previous likely alcohol consumption.
If the tortfeasor recently visited a bar, restaurant, or other commercial establishment that served alcohol, it’s more likely than not that s/he had at least one drink there. More likely than not (a preponderance of the evidence) is the burden of proof in civil court.
The aforementioned evidence, especially physical symptoms, could also be admissible to prove vicarious liability. Commercial alcohol providers could be financially responsible for car crash damages if they illegally sell alcohol to patrons who cause vehicle collisions. Examples of illegal sales include:
- Underage patron,
- After-hours or before-hours sale,
- Unlicensed sales, and
- Sales to intoxicated individuals.
Additionally, a car crash must be foreseeable to the provider. Foreseeability is often difficult, but not impossible, for a Marietta personal injury attorney to prove in packaged alcohol transactions. However, it’s usually foreseeable (possible) that a person will open a beer and drink it on the way home.
Vicarious liability theories, like dram shop alcohol provider liability, are especially important in catastrophic injury and wrongful death claims. Frequently, individuals don’t have enough insurance coverage to provide fair compensation in these cases. Georgia has one of the lowest auto insurance minimum requirements in the country.
Vehicle Collisions and Distracted Drivers
In much the same way, both the negligence per se rule and the ordinary negligence doctrines are available in distracted driver claims.
The Hands-Free Georgia Act, which took effect in 2018, usually prohibits drivers from holding or using devices while they are behind the wheel. This ban is one of the broadest ones in the country. Surprisingly, however, it has little effect on car crash liability. Despite all the fanfare that device distraction receives, hand-held cell phone use is only a factor in about 10 percent of the fatal distracted driving wrecks in Georgia. So, this law doesn’t apply in many car crash claims.
Georgia has some other distracted driving laws on the books. The reckless driving law is a good illustration. However, these laws are quite vague. So, many emergency responders only issue tickets in limited situations. For example, police officers usually only issue reckless driving citations if the tortfeasor commits multiple traffic violations at once (e.g. zipping in and out of traffic at a high speed).
Therefore, many distracted driving claims hinge on the ordinary negligence doctrine. Evidence in these claims includes hands-free device use logs, erratic driving before the wreck, and the tortfeasor’s statements about distracted driving.
Accident victims are normally entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters.