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Drivers – Secure Your Coupling Devices and Loads, and Allow for Increased Reaction Time as You Age

D’Amore Law Group, P.C. is frequently contacted following serious and tragic motor vehicle crashes. One such case that we are currently working on involves the death of our client’s husband and injuries she suffered due to a high-speed motor vehicle crash. Our client was travelling in the middle lane on a highway when a police officer stopped traffic in her direction to remove a large piece of metal debris (possibly a trailer hitch). After the officer removed the debris and departed, traffic resumed. Before she could get her vehicle moving, however, a speeding elderly driver crashed into her. It was daylight; the weather was clear and dry; and traffic was light.

According to research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, between 2011 and 2014, road debris was a factor in an estimated 50,658 police-reported crashes. The debris-related crashes caused 9,805 injuries and 125 deaths per year. Such crashes were over four times as likely as non-debris-related crashes to occur on interstate highways. Oregon requires vehicle coupling/connecting devices to be firmly attached. (ORS 818.150.) It is a Class B traffic offense to violate the state’s towing safety requirements. (ORS 818.160.) Additionally, drivers and owners of vehicles that are constructed or loaded so as to allow their contents to drop, sift, leak or otherwise escape, risk a Class B traffic violation and liability to the state, county or city for all resulting damage. (ORS 818.300, 818.410.) In Washington, if an item falls off a vehicle and causes bodily injury, the driver faces gross misdemeanor charges and penalties of up to $5,000 and/or up to a year in prison. (RCW 9A.20.021, 46.61.645, 46.61.655, 70.93.097.)

All drivers should remember to be alert for potential hazards such as road debris or stalled vehicles. Elderly drivers also need to be aware that they may need more stopping distance. A guide for older drivers published by the AAA Foundation, recommends elderly drivers keep their eyes up while driving. On the highway, they should look at the section of the road they will reach in 20 to 30 seconds. The guide observes that older minds react more slowly, and age increases the time it takes the brain to process information. “Reacting to a situation while driving involves three steps: sensing, deciding, and acting. For an older driver, each step takes longer – and possibly so long that it becomes dangerous.” The foundation recommends elderly drivers allow a greater distance between themselves and the vehicles ahead, so they will have plenty of time to stop. The foundation also offers a self-rating tool for drivers 65 and older, with facts and suggestions for safe driving. Many local communities offer driver refresher courses, which can update the older driver on changes in traffic laws, and offer safe driving tips.

The 2016-2017 Oregon Driver Manual advises it is important for all drivers to scan ahead as far as possible to take in the entire scene and look for potential hazards. On the freeway, drivers should be alert for any hint that traffic ahead is not moving at a normal pace. Drivers need to know how long it takes to stop their vehicles; also, the greater the speed, the greater the required stopping distance.

If you are driving a vehicle with a trailer hitch, perform frequent inspections, and make sure it is firmly attached before you start a trip. If you are carrying a load, make sure it is secure. If you are an elderly driver, make sure you look ahead as far as possible. Remember, reaction time slows as you age, and you need to keep plenty of space between your vehicle and the vehicles ahead, so you can avoid injury or death to yourself and others.

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