The 2021 Texas Legislature enacted 666 new laws, most taking effect today. Overshadowed by the controversial ones affecting voting, guns, and abortion is one that drastically affects the rights of people injured in a commercial truck crash.
9 people lost in 3 days in 3 deadly crashes
Tuesday's collision north of Fort WorthIn the first of the three deadly crashes, a high-speed wreck happened between two pickup trucks. They collided outside of Springtown on FM 51 (Main Street) two miles north of the intersection with State Highway 199. Tragically, there were no survivors. It is not known at this time what caused this wreck. The police report has not been released yet. If this happened at an intersection, either the silver truck failed to yield the right of way or the other truck failed to slow down and it turned. We see that young men driving oversized trucks and speeding, wrongfully passing or turning, and driving while looking down at their cell phones - or all of the above - often cause deadly crashes like this one.
Three fatal crashes in one day is insaneTexas may be fully open for business but there are less vehicles on the roads thanks to remote working, shopping, and schooling. So you would hope that at least the number of car accidents would have decreased. But looking at how many fatal crashes happened in the Fort Worth area just on Friday, it is apparent that our local highways are as dangerous as ever. This is what happened in those eight hours:
1. In Far North Fort WorthA tractor-trailer, flatbed truck and pickup were involved in a crash about 10:00 a.m. on Highway 114 at an intersection near the Texas Motor Speedway in Justin. Apparently a woman driving the flatbed truck died. Other people were injured, two of them seriously.
2. In ArlingtonA man who was driving while intoxicated took the life of a 21-year-old woman around 2:30 a.m on Interstate 20. Her car collided into an 18-wheeler that had jack-knifed and blocked all lanes of traffic after it was crashed into by the drunk man. The young woman was a college student, worked, and was loved by many. And shockingly, this was the third child that her parents had lost in a DWI collision, adding to the heart break.
3. Near DecaturAlso about 2:30 a.m., the 47-year-old assistant basketball coach at the University of North Texas died after his car hit a culvert in on U.S. 380. His vehicle flipped over and traveled through a fence. Other details were not reported. His team had finished its first NCAA tournament in the history of the school just several weeks before. These stories are devastating. Any one wrongful death from a car crash or due to any other reason is heart-breaking. There are so many ways someone can get hurt out on the roads. We send our condolences and prayers to their families and everyone impacted by these tragedies.
After the horrific February 11th chain reaction that took the lives of six people and injured scores of others, it was announced that a federal agency would investigate. Well, that was the least that could happen. We need to find out what caused Fort Worth's deadly crash and how another tragedy like this can be avoided. However, the Fort Worth Star Telegram reported that the National Transportation Safety Board will only look into whether the toll lanes had been deiced before the historic storm shut down Texas for a week - if it makes a report at all. Critics say a complete investigation and remedial action is needed. We wholeheartedly agree. This was the worst massive collision in our city's history. It could have and should have been prevented.
How Fort Worth's deadly crash scene unfoldedEarly that morning, freezing rain began falling. This added to the already iced over roads. It was dark outside. Motorists driving down a hill on Interstate 35 between 28th Street and Northside Drive had no time to react to cars and trucks that had wrecked ahead of them. They slammed on their brakes but were unable to stop, causing a whopping 133 vehicles to collide into each other. There are no shoulders on the toll lanes on the toll lanes. But they would not have been of much use with cars and trucks driving 75+ miles an hour on treacherous roads. This bad weather was predicted. We warned drivers days before to stay off the roads and gave winter driving tests since we rarely, if ever, see them. But the toll lanes remained open for business as usual, as if nothing bad could happen. There were no warning signs, barriers, lane closures, or police to reduce or slow down traffic. After the tragedy, we asked
- why the toll roads with the 75-mile-per-hour speed limits were open in the first place, and
- whether the poor design of the toll roads made this pile-up inevitable.
What will happen nextIt is not clear what will come out of the federal investigation, if anything. Usually, NTSB defers to state and other agencies and does not get involved in vehicle crashes. Further, it did not send out its own crash team as it should have done. Who will investigate and who (if anyone) will be blamed? The Texas Department of Transportation is not going to fault the North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners which owns and operates the toll lanes. That private company gets to keep all of the tolls collected for 52 years in exchange for funding and building them. It allows as many drivers as possible to make more money -- even during a crippling ice storm. TxDOT is obviously not going to held liable since it was not in charge of the toll lanes and enjoys sovereign immunity from prosecution in most cases. We may have to wait until the verdicts in the lawsuits that have and will be filed to learn what really happened. The first one was filed in South Texas against six of the 18-wheeler drivers and their companies, not against Mobility Partners. That business has denied that it is at fault for causing Fort Worth's deadly crash because it applied deicing brine on Tuesday night. This disaster happened Thursday morning. Any report that blames road crews sweeps the real blame under the rug.
Is 75 mph a safe speed?Further, the state legislature passed a law that set 75 miles per hour as the default speed limit unless a slower (or faster) limit was prescribed. However the test that determined that 75 mph was safe was conducted in perfect conditions when the weather was good and traffic was light. And we know that many drivers speed, so they may have been exceeding that limit that morning. NTSB has the power to recommend that Congress or a federal agency make or revise laws based on what its investigation reveals.
The lethal combination of higher speed limits and poor road designTo hold down the cost of the $1.4 billion reconstruction of I-35 West, shoulders and break-down lanes were eliminated. Speeds limits were increased to encourage drivers to pay large tolls to use them. The vice president of government affairs at the National Safety Council, Jane Terry, was furious about what happened here. "We need people to become outraged over this because we need to do better," she said. You have to wonder if speed limits are safe to begin with. A national group called the Governors Highway Safety Association has urged the federal government to reduce speed limits to save lives. Its director called on Congress to curtail drivers who go to fast: "Let's treat speeding the same way we treat seat belt use and drunk driving." The Biden administration is proposing that billions of dollars be added to the federal highway construction program. This is the perfect time to look into how our roads can be safer. You can bet that the speed limits on the toll lanes are not going to decrease or that the expressway will be closed down the next time we have deadly weather like we did last month. And it is a given that the roads will not be redesigned to allow more room to avoid crashes. But they should. Berenson Injury Law has successfully represented thousands of motorists over the past 40 years. We only handle car, truck, 18-wheeler, motorcycle, and pedestrian injury and death claims. We also advocate to make our roads safer so that crashes don't happen in the first place. Please contact us if you need any help with a crash that you have been involved with. Star Telegram article: Will NTSB expand its probe into deadly I35W pileup?
How to avoid a pedestrian injuryYou never think a car or truck is going to hit you as you are walking until it does. Here are some things you must do to prevent this from happening:
- Maintain constant vigilance and walk defensively;
- Wear high visible clothes, especially in the early morning and late afternoon hours when drivers are dashing to and from work;
- Don't wear headphones in both ears - or at all;
- Don't run stop signs and lights if you are cycling; and
- Don't walk and read your cell phone
Cases we are handlingOur law firm just filed a lawsuit on behalf of a man who was seriously injured when his truck was rear-ended by an extremely intoxicated driver. That caused his truck to flip over and land on a man who was working outside, tragically taking his life. We just settled a major case for a man seriously injured as he walked next to an interstate highway late at night. We are representing a young man struck as he crossed the street to catch his school bus, a woman paralyzed after she was hit by a vehicle in north Fort Worth, and several other pedestrians. We have handled pedestrian and bicyclist injury cases over the past 40 years.
Berenson Injury Law can help youMr. Berenson runs, walks, and cycles on our roads and understands the dangers involved. He strongly recommends that Fort Worth residents use the wonderful Trinity Trail network. Here is a photo where it goes by his building for the last 37 years (his firm's offices can be seen near the top).
- serving on the Road Safety committee of the Fort Worth Safe Cities Coalition,
- supporting the Fort Worth Independent School District's and Blue Zones Project's Safer Routes to School program,
- sponsoring Fort Worth's first city-wide bike rodeo last year, and
- arranging bicycles and helmets to be donated to schools.
Please stay safe out there during these difficult times.
It was a lot of fun to be at the school I adopted 15 years ago, Rufino Mendoza Elementary, the first thing this morning. I had just found about the national Bike to School Day that was only two weeks away, was surprised that no school in Tarrant County had ever participated in this event, and asked the principal if I could plan it. She and her staff enthusiastically supported the idea and I went to work. I found out about Bikes for Tykes, which graciously donated 23. The kids are excited they get their very own bicycles. I also learned that the Tarrant County Medical Society Auxiliary gave away helmets and its gift of those red helmets you see is certainly appreciated. Fort Worth requires anyone under 18 to wear one (although Texas doesn't) so I was about to buy these. All of the children said they had a good time this morning and that it was cool to begin their school day exercising. So why should we encourage children to ride a bicycle? Or exercise at all? Many studies have shown that children who do this are not only fitter, but are better students. They have a higher IQ, higher social well-being, and are happier. Not enough of our children get even one hour of physical exercise -- the minimum recommended each day. I would like for schools to encourage their students to be more physically active and eat more nutritious foods. I was lucky growing up to have the freedom I did back in the 60's. I got to ride my bike around Nashville. All of my friends did. Our parents didn't have to worry about whether we were safe. We were also lucky to live near a huge park and I loved speeding down its windy roads on a neighbor's 10-speed that I earned by cutting his grass that summer. With this early start, I have ridden a bicycle, run, and lifted weights most of my life. I want children to experience the joy and freedom that being strong, riding a bicycle, running, and just being outside and away from the television set or video game can bring. I also want to give back to the wonderful Fort Worth community where I have lived for almost 40 years after graduating from the Southern Methodist University law school in Dallas. This was my first event as an Ambassador to the Blue Zones Project and I am excited to be a part of this dynamic group. The nonprofit organization works to make communities safer, give businesses more productive work forces, and lower the ridiculously high cost of health care we all pay. Fort Worth has experienced significant improvements in public safety since becoming a Blue Zone five years ago. I want to keep working to get more people to ride a bicycle, run, or walk. If you don't have a bike, we have 46 rental stations operated by B-Cycle all over Fort Worth and you can even rent an electric one. On Sunday in honor of Mother's Day, there is a special 50% savings if you go onto its web site. What better way to get some exercise, live a healthy life, and have some fun?