LEGISLATION POSED TO PROTECT CONSUMERS WHO OCCUPY VEHICLES IN THE STATE OF NEW YORK

The New York legislature has passed legislation that would make Supplemental Underinsured/Uninsured Motorist (SUM) coverage automatic in New York motor vehicle insurance policies. If the bill is signed by Governor Cuomo, insurance policies written after that date will provide SUM coverage in an amount equal to the bodily injury limits unless the insured signs a waiver.

SUM coverage protects drivers or passengers (and the spouse of a named insured) who are injured by the negligence of someone else who is either uninsured or underinsured. When the other driver is uninsured, SUM coverage will provide you with up to $25,000 (or more if you purchased additional coverage) for your accident-related injuries. Underinsured coverage comes into play when the value of your injuries exceeds the bodily injury policy limits of the negligent driver’s vehicle. In that case SUM coverage will permit you to recover up to the policy limits of your SUM coverage less the amount of the bodily injury policy limits of the negligent driver.

Time limits apply to making a SUM claim so if you are injured in a motor vehicle accident you should promptly contact a knowledgeable attorney such as the attorneys of Spiegel, Brown and Fichera, LLP to find out if SUM coverage may apply to you.

THE DANGERS OF DISTRACTED DRIVING AND NEW YORK’S CELL PHONE LAW

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), every day, nine people are killed because of distracted driving. Just five seconds of diverted attention at 55 miles per hour equates to driving the entire length of a football field blindfolded. Young drivers are especially vulnerable to being involved in distracted driving accidents. Between being more likely to use a phone while driving, more likely to drink and drive, and less likely to wear a seatbelt, young drivers pose a heightened risk on the road.

Distracted driving is any activity that can take your attention away from driving and can be visual, cognitive and/or manual. All pose a danger to those on the road but not all are not illegal in the state of New York. Visual distractions occur when a driver takes their eyes off the road. Cognitive distractions are essentially thoughts, or when the driver becomes distracted by those thoughts. Manual distractions occur when the driver takes their hands off the wheel. One example of manual distraction is the use of cell phones while driving. Though any form of distracted driving can be dangerous, New York’s distracted driving laws only apply when a law enforcement official sees a cell phone in a driver’s hand while the vehicle is in motion.

To reduce the use of cell phones while driving and resulting accidents, New York has enacted strict laws for the use of mobile electronic devices while driving. In the State of New York any form of use of a mobile electronic device is prohibited including talking on a cell phone, texting sending emails, taking pictures and playing games. In recent years, the New York legislature has harshened the penalties for using a mobile electronic device. One violation can result in 5 points on your license as well as fines. Because young drivers pose a heightened risk on roadways, a violation of this law while driving on a learner’s permit or junior license, results in an automatic 120-day suspension of their driver’s license.

According to a recent survey, while 90% of Americans find it “unacceptable” that drivers text while driving, 35% of the respondents surveyed admitted to doing just that. To keep the road safer, it is important to be a role model to young people while at the wheel. Keep the phone away and emphasize their responsibility to stay focused while driving. Turning the phone’s setting to “airplane mode” will prohibit calls and other notifications from coming in. This greatly decreases the chance that a phone will become a distraction.

In the unfortunate event that you are injured by a distracted driver, do not hesitate to contact the attorneys at Spiegel, Brown and Fichera, LLP for a consultation of your case free of charge.

FIREWORKS SAFETY

An all-time favorite activity associated with the Fourth of July, is watching fireworks with our friends and families. Until recently, the personal use of fireworks was prohibited in the State of New York. However, in 2014 Governor Cuomo signed a bill legalizing personal use of certain types of fireworks in certain counties outside of New York City. These counties include Dutchess, Putnam, Orange and Ulster. As a result of the bill, New York Penal Law §270.00 was amended to permit the use of “sparking devices,” fireworks that are ground-based or hand-held. Bottle rockets and fireworks that fly are prohibited. According to the United States Consumer Products Safety Commission, there are an average of 230 firework related injuries near and on the Fourth of July. The injuries are primarily burns to the head, face, hands, fingers, eyes and ears. To help protect you and your family from fireworks injuries, visit New York Homeland Security and Emergency Services’ website for safety tips in using sparklers.

UBER AND LYFT ARRIVE IN THE HUDSON VALLEY

As of June 29, 2017, Uber and Lyft, the well-known ride-sharing services, are now available in the Hudson Valley. Before you head out to the barbecues and bars this holiday weekend, make sure you download the apps on your phone so that you can avoid a DWI. In the event you find yourself in need of legal services, don’t hesitate to contact the attorneys at Spiegel, Brown and Fichera, LLP.

SELF-DRIVING CAR CRASHES AND THEIR IMPACT ON PERSONAL INJURY CASES

Recent news of self-driving cars from Uber, Google, and Tesla is both exciting and a bit unnerving. Handing over the wheel to a computer can give drivers a sense that they are not in control, and therefore more unsafe. Every so often, news of a self-driving car crash emerges. However, self-driving cars are proven to be even safer than human drivers.

Google’s fleet of self-driving cars have traveled more than 1 million miles since their launch in 2009 and have only experienced 16 accidents. Interestingly, none of the incidents were the fault of the computer system. Accidents that involve self-driving cars are usually the fault of those around them, as aggressive drivers are not accustomed to the degree to which autonomous vehicles adhere to rules of the road.

Data collected over multiple years of testing shows that self-driving cars crash less often. 90% of all car crashes are caused by human error, killing 40,000 in just 2016 alone, per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The fact of the matter is that autonomous vehicles cannot get drowsy, distracted, drunk, or become enraged at the wheel.

However, the 2016 Tesla crash proves that these cars are not perfect in discerning their surroundings. A white tractor-trailer made a turn in front of the self-driving car, blending into the overcast sky. The car essentially did not see the danger ahead, and neither did the driver, who was watching a movie at the wheel and was killed.

Hacking is another concern car makers have about these new machines. Proof-of-concept attacks have been tested on these vehicles, showing that laser pointers can force the car to swerve, slow down, and come to a complete stop.

It is important to weigh the risks associated with self-driving cars, especially until legislation can effectively regulate the advancing technology. One of the ethical gray areas of self-driving cars is that decision making is written into the computer code of the vehicle. Although it removes the element of driver error, it requires relying on a computer rather than a human to make a judgment call in the face of potential danger. As the 2016 Tesla case showed, the vehicle’s computer did not detect an impending danger in order to avoid an accident.

In the event there is a motor vehicle accident involving a self-driving vehicle and a person is injured, the avenue for seeking compensation for those injuries depends on whether the at-fault vehicle was a self-driving vehicle or one operated by a human. If the at-fault vehicle was driven by a human, compensation can be sought by filing a claim with the driver’s automobile insurance company. However, if the at-fault vehicle was a self-driving vehicle, the cause of the accident would not be driver error, but either a faulty computer or the inability to detect an impending threat prior to an accident occurring. In this case, the claim would not be made against an individual, but the manufacturer of the self-driving vehicle. This would essentially be a product liability claim. So far though, the majority of accidents reported involving self-driving vehicles were caused by error on the part of the driver of another vehicle. If this remains the case, the majority of personal injury claims resulting from motor vehicle accidents will still be made through the driver and/or vehicle owner’s insurance company. As technology evolves, it will be interesting to see how self-driving vehicles will impact the area of personal injury law.