It’s almost the new year and time to plan ahead and reflect on 2017. All in all, it’s been a good year for Texas drivers.
Here’s a recap of the most significant traffic safety laws enacted this year that will make our roads safer in the future.
Finally, after six years of trying by the Texas legislature, texting while driving is illegal as of September 1st. We were almost the last state in the U.S. to restrict this dangerous practice. Could the bill have been stronger? Sure. A $25 citation and other restrictions watered the deterrent value down, but the new law making texting while driving a misdemeanor is a good start.
And more good news: another proposed statute that would have blocked municipalities from imposing their own stricter texting while driving regulations was not passed. One item on my 2018 wish list is that Fort Worth and Dallas join the 100 other cities with local ordinances that are tougher.
Why? Government statistics reveal that 20 percent of car accidents involve a distracted driver. In my experience, the number is higher since distracted drivers rarely admit to the police that they were texting, surfing the net, or dialing numbers while driving after a car wreck.
There’s no better time than the present to further limit driving distractions and make our roads safer.
Second chance for first-time DWI offenders
More than two million drunk drivers have been convicted three or more times before. That’s crazy, right? Clearly a DWI conviction cannot stop some determined drunk drivers — but an ignition interlock device can. If the driver has alcohol in his system, the device is installed and the driver is the person blowing into the machine, the vehicle won’t start.
DWIs are a big problem here. Texas leads the country year after year in the number of fatalities caused by drunk driving. Last year over 4,000 collisions were caused by intoxicated drivers in Tarrant and Dallas Counties and 139 people tragically died as a result.
According to MADD Texas, interlocks prevented more than 244,000 attempts to drive drunk in our state over the past 10 years. So Mothers Against Drunk Driving listed these little machines as a sentencing priority and lobbied hard in Austin and the Texas legislature agreed with them.
The Second Chances bill gives first-time offenders the opportunity to have their DWI record wiped if they successfully complete a probation period that includes installation of an ignition interlock device. To qualify, the defendant can have no prior DWI convictions, cannot have caused an accident or injuries and cannot have driven with a blood alcohol content over .14 percent. This will encourage the use of the devices.
At my first executive board meeting at North Texas MADD in November, we had an excellent presentation about how these interlock devices work and how effective they are.
This win-win law gives problem drinkers a second chance while keeping drunk drivers off the road.
Electronic logging devices in tractor-trailers
Hours of services rules are intended to keep exhausted truck drivers off the road. However the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found that 13 percent of truck crashes involved tired commercial drivers. Again I think these government statistics are grossly underreported. Hours of service (HOS) rules don’t work if regulators can’t catch fatigued drivers before they wreck.
In the past, truck drivers used a number of tricks to cover up their HOS violations of the law and we personal injury attorneys sometimes discovered doctored log books or two sets that were being kept.
As of December 18th, hiding HOS violations just got much harder. Truck companies are now required to install electronic logging devices in all trucks in their fleet. They record attempts to alter the data which makes tampering with the logs nearly impossible. However the trucking lobby delayed the actual enforcement of the new rule until April 1, 2018. More information is here.Reducing medical bills
I have witnessed this frustrating scenario time and time again in my injury law practice. The crash victim is billed in full or for the remaining balance after his health insurance payments and his copayments and deductibles for his emergency treatment. When the patient can’t pay these often outrageous costs, the bills are forwarded to aggressive collection agencies that harassed them and filed lawsuits. Although I was often able to negotiate large reductions in these bills, my clients faced unnecessary stress and financial hardship in the meantime. The Texas Department of Insurance expanded its mediation program to help more patients obtain relief from medical debt after a car crash. Bravo.
In addition, a new telemedicine bill can cut medical bills after an accident. Patients can refill pain medications without having to pay for an expensive orthopedic or other specialist they don’t otherwise need to see.
2017 had these exciting legal victories for traffic safety and auto accident victim’s rights. I look forward to more victories in the coming years.
I’m glad my Longhorns won their bowl game last night. Go Frogs in your big game tonight. I hope your favorite team wins in the coming weeks.
Happy New Year to everyone! We’ll be closed tomorrow.