April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month: Avoid "secondary tasks" that can cause Missouri auto accidents

sky_road.jpgApril is Distracted Driving Awareness Month! Sadly, despite numerous national campaigns and safety initiatives, distracted driving continues to be a major contributing factor in thousands of car accidents every year. When most people hear the term "distracted driving," they immediately think of cell phone use, but the fact is that other secondary tasks (eating, talking with passengers, or even listening to loud music) can also create dangerous distractions for drivers. In this post, our personal injury lawyers discuss the links between distracted drivers and serious, life-threatening accidents.

Distracted driving & car accidents: 10 reasons "secondary task" jeopardize Missouri roadway safety

1. Numerous studies have shown that certain forms of distraction (i.e. drowsiness, passenger conversations) actually cause greater impairment than alcohol use. Despite this research, more than 7 million people firmly believe that their driving is unaffected by cell phone use behind the wheel.

2. Nationwide, more than 15 people are killed and over 1,200 more are injured every single day in crashes involving a distracted driver.

3. When a driver is listening to music or conversation while behind the wheel, the amount of brain activity associated with driving decreases by nearly 40%.

4. In a Nationwide Mutual Insurance Study, 80% of respondents admitted to engaging in blatantly hazardous behaviors while driving, including changing clothes, painting fingernails and shaving.

5. Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times more likely to cause a crash serious enough to result in injuries to vehicle occupants. Contrary to popular belief, hands-free phones have not proven to be substantially safer than hand-held devices.

6. In a survey conducted by State Farm, a staggering 48% of drivers age 18 to 29 admitted to using mobile phone based internet (or "webbing") while behind the wheel.

7. Distracted driving is now the number one killer of American teenagers. The Pew Research Center reports that 40% of teens say they have been in a car with a driver who used a cell phone in a way that put his or her passengers in danger.

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Warmer temperatures ahead: Look twice for motorcyles on Springfield roads

motorcycle1.JPGThe weather has been pretty nasty in recent weeks, but local weather forecasts indicate that warmer temperatures are on the way. It won't be long before drivers can expect to see Missouri motorcyclists back on the road in increased numbers. Since there's little to no motorcycle traffic during the winter months, many drivers have forgotten all about motorcyclists by the time riding season rolls around. In this post, our Springfield personal injury lawyers discuss five key points that motorists should keep in mind when sharing the road with motorcyclists.

Risk factors & motorcycles: What other drivers should remember when traveling near riders

• Motorcyclists lack the protection of an enclosed vehicle. When accidents happen, passenger vehicle occupants are afforded a level of protection from a vehicle's outer structure and safety devices, which include air bags and seat belts. Since there's virtually nothing between a rider and the road, motorcyclists are extremely vulnerable to injury when they're involved in collisions. Accidents with minor consequences for car occupants can have extremely serious implications for motorcycle riders.

• Motorcycles are less visible than cars. All too often, motorcycle accidents occur because a driver simply didn't see the motorcycle until it was too late to avoid a collision. Because they're smaller and narrower than other vehicles, motorcycles can easily disappear into blind spots or be obscured by objects on or along the road. Always look twice for motorcycles, especially when you're turning or changing lanes - it really might save someone's life.

• Motorcyclists must make sudden adjustments for roadway conditions and hazards. Being prepared for the unexpected is a key part of defensive driving for all motorists. However, common hazards like loose gravel, wet pavement, and uneven train tracks can be extremely dangerous for riders. For this reason, motorcyclists are often required to make sudden adjustments (like slowing down or changing lane position) when they encounter these conditions. Be alert when you're following riders, and expect them to make such adjustments as needed.

• Motorcycles are less stable than passenger vehicles when performing emergency maneuvers. Because they only have two wheels, motorcycles are trickier to handle than cars and trucks when they're forced to swerve or stop suddenly. Always allow riders plenty of room, just in case an unexpected situation or obstacle presents itself.

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Discussing safe driving with your teen: Tips for Missouri parents

January 20, 2015

shadows-1396842-m.jpgResearch shows that parents can be the most important influence on a teen's driving behaviors. Our firm frequently supports Missouri safety campaigns and initiatives that target teens: they are, after all, one of the groups most at risk for auto accidents (distracted driving accidents in particular). If you're the parent of a new driver, and you're looking for a helpful safety resource, we recommend the AAA Foundation for Safety's website, Keys2Drive, which provides useful information for both teen drivers and their parents. Importantly, the website emphasizes the importance of being proactive and starting a dialogue with teens, encouraging parents to build a strong foundation by discussing defensive driving even before their children are ready to get behind the wheel.

AAA Keys2Drive: Tips for parents in the "Learning to Drive" process:

• Evaluate your teen's readiness. If, as a parent, you have concerns about your teen being responsible or following rules, those are issues to address before adding an automobile to the mix. It's likely that these issues will affect your teen's driving behaviors as well.

• Get informed. It's important that you're knowledgeable about the licensing process and current Missouri traffic laws, so your teen recognizes you as a voice of authority about driving. You want to make sure that your information is current: as AAA points out, it's probable that a great deal has changed since you got your driver's license. (As an added benefit, AAA offers the "Dare to Prepare" program, an online workshop, via their website.)

• Start talking. As an experienced driver, AAA encourages you to share your "road wisdom" with your teen sooner rather than later. Also, there are important issues that you'll want to make clear early on: What does it mean to be a safe driver? When exactly will your teen start driving? Will your teen be responsible for gas costs or insurance fees? What specific rules should you put in place?

• Focus on passenger safety. Make sure your teen knows that wearing a seat belt is not optional - for drivers or passengers. Also, discuss who your teen will be riding with, and what behavior is appropriate for passengers. The more teenagers in the car, the higher the risk of a crash.

• Be involved. Talk about what you're seeing or doing when you're driving. Make it a regular conversation, and when your teen starts driving, keep that conversation going. In Missouri, only 40 hours of supervised driving are required, but AAA recommends at least 100 (and they offer tips and strategies for supervised driving sessions).

• Be a good role model. Mimic the behaviors that you expect from your teen. If you frequently speed, or follow too closely, or send text messages while driving, you're sending a message to your teen that these behaviors are acceptable.

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Travel safe this holiday season: Winter weather tips for Springfield drivers

December 19, 2014

winterroad2.jpgWith the holidays just around the corner - and after our first taste of winter weather over the last few weeks - our personal injury lawyers want to remind you about the importance of safety when roadway conditions are poor. Winter weather conditions can create ideal circumstances for car accidents, simply because many drivers don't adjust their habits behind the wheel to accommodate for bad weather. Snowy or icy conditions can result in slick roads and limited visibility: when traveling in winter weather, you'll want to take certain precautions to help ensure you arrive safely at your destination.

Of course, when the weather is bad, the best choice is to avoid driving until the roads have been cleared. However, if staying home isn't an option, here are a few tips to help you travel safely in winter weather.

Before you go:

• The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) recommends that you "winterize" your vehicle before you travel. Make sure you have fresh antifreeze and a reliable battery; get your oil changed; and have your exhaust system checked.

• Prepare an emergency kit containing supplies you might need if you're involved in an accident, or if your vehicle becomes disabled. You might include the following items: a flashlight; a first-aid kit; blankets; extra winter weather clothing (hats, gloves, socks); a small sack of sand (to help you get traction under your tires); an ice scraper/snow brush; a basic toolkit; a small shovel; jumper cables; bottled water; nonperishable foods; etc.

• Check road conditions for your route. You can receive updates 24 hours a day by calling 1-888-ASK-MODOT (1-888-275-6636).

When you're on the road:

• Slow down: avoid speeding, and adjust your speed for road and traffic conditions.

• Allow plenty of extra room for yourself, just in case you need to stop. The National Safety Council advises that you allow about three times more space than usual between your vehicle and the one in front of you.

• Keep your headlights on so you're more visible to other motorists.

• Brake gently to reduce your risk of skidding on snow or ice.

• Use extra caution on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads.

• Avoid passing snowplows, and allow these large vehicles extra room.

• Always wear your seat belt.

• If you don't feel safe driving, pull over and park at the first safe opportunity.

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Failure to yield a common cause of Springfield car accidents: Who has the "right of way"?

December 3, 2014

yield-sign-1340780-m (1).jpgAs Springfield car accident lawyers, we know that certain factors commonly play a role in injury collisions here in the Queen City. One such factor is failing to yield. In fact, failing to yield has long been a common catalyst for injury and fatality accidents - here in Missouri and nationwide.

In particular, "failure to yield" crashes and accidents involving right of way are prevalent at intersections that are equipped with stoplights that do not have left turn arrows to allow protected left turns. At these intersections - and there are many here in Springfield - drivers making left turns are always expected to yield.

According to findings from the National Safety Council, 14% of all fatal traffic accidents are caused by a driver's failure to yield. Sometimes, this behavior is associated with aggressive driving tendencies - deliberately careless behaviors that increase the risk of an accident. The American Automobile Association's (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that these behaviors are "typically motivated by impatience, annoyance, hostility, or all of the above." In other words, a driver is frustrated by slow moving traffic, or in a hurry to make it through an intersection, or angry about another driver's actions: and, as a result, that driver makes a rash, reckless decision. However, there are also a good number of drivers who fail to yield simply because they don't understand who has the right of way.

In these situations, you are legally required to yield:
• At yield signs
• At intersections that are "uncontrolled" (i.e. there are no lights or signs) when another vehicle is already passing through the intersection
• At "T" intersections, when another vehicle is on the through road
• To all pedestrians at intersections and crosswalks, particularly those who are sight-impaired (using a seeing eye dog or a white cane)
• To emergency vehicles, construction vehicles, and school buses (when appropriate)
• When making a left turn that is unprotected (i.e. there is no left turn arrow)
• When leaving a parking space

The "Yield to the Driver on the Right" rule
This guideline applies to situations where multiple vehicles approach an intersection simultaneously, and it is frequently misunderstood by Missouri drivers. If you arrive at a four-way stop sign at the same time as another vehicle, then the vehicle on the right should be allowed to proceed through the intersection first.

It's important to remember that traffic laws actually don't "give" the right of way to anyone. Instead, these laws identify specific situations where drivers must concede the right of way. As a responsible motorist, you are legally required to take actions to prevent an accident when possible, even if that means letting someone go in front of you. For example, if you approach an intersection and see a vehicle making an illegal left turn, you must attempt to stop. Speeding up - because you're angry that the vehicle is turning illegally, perhaps - is not a legally acceptable response. If an accident occurs, some measure of the fault can be transferred to you.

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Pedestrian accidents in Springfield: FAQs answered

October 30, 2014

crosswalk-354782-m.jpgA key part of any car accident injury claim is determining who is at fault. Each accident is unique, so our Missouri car accident attorneys have to consider several different factors in each case. When a pedestrian is part of the equation, there are additional issues that must be evaluated. In this post, we answer some frequently asked questions about car accidents involving pedestrians

Is a pedestrian accident always the driver's fault?

Every accident requires an investigation to determine liability, or who is at fault. There are instances where the pedestrian might have been reckless or negligent. Certain factors could cause a pedestrian to endanger his or her life, or to cause an accident through negligence (for example, impaired judgment due to alcohol or drug use, or a medical condition). Other accidents are caused by pedestrians who are simply distracted or careless, failing to pay attention to traffic around them. In any case, if the driver was being careful and following all traffic laws, and he or she was unable to avoid a pedestrian accident, the driver is not always legally liable. Once again, each case needs to be weighed separately.

If I am the driver and someone intentionally ran out in front of me, can I sue the pedestrian?
In a small number of cases, it can be possible to take legal action against the pedestrian, but it is extremely difficult: it is much easier to build a case against a driver. A case against a pedestrian requires witness statements and clear-cut evidence to demonstrate that the pedestrian was primarily at fault for the accident. In some situations, it may be possible to seek damages from other responsible parties, if it can be shown that they contributed to the pedestrian's actions.

As a pedestrian accident victim, when can I sue a driver?
If you can establish that the driver was at least partially at fault for your injuries in a pedestrian accident (for example, the driver was negligent, or impaired, or speeding, etc.), you are entitled to pursue a lawsuit. The amount you can recover is limited by the percentage the driver was at fault. That is one reason why it can be beneficial to consult a lawyer, whether you were the pedestrian or the driver: to determine the percentage of liability, and therefore the viability of a personal injury suit.

Can I seek damages from other parties (besides the driver who hit me) in a pedestrian accident?
Here again, it depends on the nature of the accident - but in certain cases, it's possible that another party could bear some measure of responsibility. For example, if the signal light was malfunctioning, or if the crosswalk or sidewalk were in disrepair, and these factors contributed to an accident, then the city or county responsible for maintenance could be found at least partially liable.

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Teen drivers overrepresented in Missouri car accident injury statistics

October 3, 2014

file8491302385851.jpgCar accidents are the leading cause of death for young Americans between age 16 and 20, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In 2012, 2,055 teen drivers were involved in fatal accidents nationwide, and 855 of those drivers were killed. Here in Missouri, 136 people were killed and over 12,800 were injured in crashes involving teen drivers, according to the Highway Patrol.

Experts say teens are more likely to be involved in injury accidents because of several behaviors that are common in young drivers, including inexperience combined with speed; distracted driving (involving cell phone use, passengers, etc.); inexperience combined with nighttime driving; and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

What can parents do to keep their teens safe on Missouri roads? Insisting on seat belt use is a basic - yet essential - place to start. "Nearly eight out of ten teens killed in Missouri vehicle crashes over the last three years weren't buckled up," Leanna Depue, chair of the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety's executive committee, told the Missouri Department of Transportation. Teens were also involved in almost 20 percent of fatal and serious injury crashes statewide over the last three years.

National Teen Driver Safety Week (October 19 -25) is approaching.. In that spirit, our car accident lawyers would like to share a few tips to help parents promote safe, responsible driving.

Encouraging safety: Tips for parents of teen drivers

• Be clear and firm about your expectations. Make sure your teen drivers understand what the rules are - and what consequences they face, should those rules be broken. Also, take some time to explain why those rules are in place. Many parents find a teen driving contract is a useful tool, as it gives you the opportunity to actually spell out the rules in writing. A teen driving contract can establish clear boundaries related to seat belts, cell phone use, curfew, passengers and alcohol or drug use.

• Be responsive and respectful. When you discuss safe driving with your teen, make sure he or she understand that "safe" is the operative word. Teens are more likely to honor boundaries when they understand you're trying to keep them safe, not control them. Also, remember to listen when your teens have questions. If you want them to take your concerns seriously, extend them the same courtesy.

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Child safety seats significantly reduce injury risks in Missouri car accidents

September 5, 2014

baby-feet-1439529-m.jpgAccording to the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), seven out of 10 Missourians who suffer fatal car accident injuries are not wearing their seat belts. Seat belt use is an important part of safe roadway travel for all vehicle occupants, but especially for children, who can be particularly vulnerable to injuries in the event of a crash.

The proper installation and use of child safety restraints have long been concerns for parents and safety advocates. When used correctly, car seats can reduce car accident fatalities by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers (children aged 1 to 4) when compared to seat belts. Accordingly, booster seats can reduce accident injuries by 45% for children aged 4 to 8. However, safety seats must be installed and used correctly in order to provide protection. Shockingly, according to Safe Kids USA, "the overall critical misuse for child restraints is about 73%." Infant seats and rear-facing convertible seats are the most commonly misused devices.

Here are a few guidelines aimed at keeping young passengers safe:

• Make sure you are familiar with Missouri's Child Restraint Law (RSMo 307.182), which requires safety seats for children ages 4 and under (or who weigh less than 40 pounds); and booster seats for children ages 4 to 7 (or who weigh less than 80 pounds or who are shorter than 4'9").

• When you purchase a safety seat, remember to register the product with the manufacturer so you'll receive any pertinent recall information. You can also visit www.recalls.gov.

• Purchasing safety seats secondhand (at yard sales, resale shops, etc.) is a risky endeavor. You have no way of knowing whether or not the seat has been through an accident.

Babycenter.com stresses the importance of reading both your car seat and vehicle manuals to ensure you install the seat properly. If you're not sure, call the seat manufacturer and/or the automaker. There are also several workshops that teach proper installation (see the resources at the end of this post).

• Safety advocates recommend that all children ride in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible: until they are at least 2 years-old and/or until they exceed the weight or height limits of a particular seat.

• Similarly, after age 2, children should continue using front-facing car seats until they reach the maximum height and weight limits for a particular seat: many front-facing seats place limits at 65 or 80 pounds.

• Booster seats are the next step, and should be used until a regular seatbelt fits properly. Before getting rid of the booster seat, be sure to check that fit: Safekids USA says "the adult lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs and the shoulder belt must lie snugly across the shoulders and chest (usually when a child is approximately 4'9" and between 8 and 12 years of age)."

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Springfield car accidents can cause both physical and emotional injuries

August 12, 2014

file0002062790027.jpgFor most of us, getting behind the wheel is the riskiest thing we do all day. As Missouri personal injury lawyers, we know auto accidents are one of the leading causes of death in the United States. However, the general public doesn't always recognize how dangerous driving can be. Because crashes are scattered throughout the country, many of us lose sight of how many accidents occur on a daily basis: nationwide, an average of 18,000 car crashes happen throughout the U.S. every single day.

If you've ever been involved in a serious accident, you know the experience can be nightmarish. What's more, in addition to the physical consequences that accompany car crash injuries, research has shown that motorists may experience mental consequences as well. Traumatic accidents can cause symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Although PTSD is most often associated with the horrors of combat, millions of Americans suffer from this mental disease, which can be brought on by a number of different causes: many Americans report PTSD symptoms after living through auto accidents, house fires and natural disasters.

Of course, it's natural to feel nervous, afraid and upset after an accident. In fact, most people do. It's good to have a healthy fear of the road, but too much fear can actually put a driver in danger. To help overcome feelings of anxiety about driving, start slow. Start by just sitting in the driver's seat and simply starting the engine. Then, step by step, try to work your way up to taking a short drive. As you become more comfortable behind the wheel, extend the length of your driving time. Remember to push yourself, but not too far. Take small steps. Over time, driving will become easier, and fear and panic will subside.

However, there's an important distinction between normal feelings of uneasiness and fear and PTSD symptoms. Familydoctor.org reports that "strong feelings that stay with a person for a long time and start to get in the way of everyday life are signs of [PTSD]." For most car accident victims, the symptoms subside as time passes, but those afflicted with PTSD experience fear and panic that seems overwhelming and never-ending.

Here are some common indications of PTSD following an auto accident:

1) An ongoing feeling of general uneasiness, especially when driving or riding in a vehicle
2) Irritability, excessive worry and/or anger
3) Persistent nightmares or sleeping problems
4) Persistent memories from the accident that you can't control
5) Fainting, or feelings of dizziness and nausea
6) Chest pains
7) Excessive sweating
8) Inability to breathe and/or the feeling of a dry, closed throat
9) The lack of clear vision or hearing

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"Secondary tasks" divide drivers' focus, contribute to Missouri car accidents

_MG_2986.jpgAs Springfield personal injury lawyers, we know that distractedness is a common contributor to car accidents in Missouri and throughout the United States. Distracted driving is often connected to cell phone use, but there are several other "secondary tasks" that can divide a driver's focus and impair driving performance. In this post, we share five of the most common driver distractions.

Eyes off the road: Five dangerous driving distractions

1. Using cell phones and other handheld electronic devices. By now, most people know that talking or texting while driving reduces a driver's ability to assess roadway situations and respond to them safely. Texting drivers are 23 times more likely to cause a crash than non-texting drivers, and using a cell phone (whether handheld or hands free) impairs a driver as much as having a blood alcohol content of 0.08%. The bottom line? Put your phone away when you're behind the wheel, and appoint a passenger to answer any texts or calls that require an immediate response.

2. Reaching for objects inside the vehicle. While many drivers don't immediately associate this task with the problem of distracted driving, it is an extremely common form of driver distraction. You take your eyes off the road (just for a moment!) to reach for a cell phone, a sandwich, or an object that's fallen into the floorboard. However, that "moment" of attention can be vital: at 55 miles an hour, a vehicle can travel half a football field in a matter of four seconds. It's extremely dangerous to take your eyes off the road, even momentarily, and especially when traffic is congested.

3. Looking at something outside the vehicle. External distractions - such as auto accidents, billboards, and even the scenery - can draw a driver's full attention away from the road. In particular, it's very common for a Missouri driver to cause a crash because he or she is looking at the aftermath of an earlier wreck. Resist the temptation to shift your focus to a non-driving related object or event.

4. Reading. Whether it's a text message, a map, or a newspaper, reading while driving can have catastrophic consequences. At a minimum, reading takes your eyes off the road and your mind off the task of safe driving - and depending on what you're reading, your hands may also be off the wheel. If you're behind the wheel and you need to read something immediately, find a safe place to pull over.

5. Grooming/putting on makeup. Applying makeup is another disturbingly common form of driver distraction. According to a study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), touching up your makeup while driving makes your crash risk about three times higher.

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Why car accidents happen in Springfield: 15 common contributing factors

steering-wheel-111147-m.jpgOur Springfield, Missouri car accident attorneys know from experience that the vast majority of crashes are preventable: they don't have to happen. To help Springfield drivers avoid being involved in car accidents, we've put together this list of 15 common causes.

1.Distracted Driving. We never cease to be amazed at the number of accidents that happen simply because drivers aren't paying attention to the road. These accidents are among the easiest to prevent: just put away your cell phone, your make up kit, and your lunch. Don't fiddle with the radio, or turn around to talk to backseat passengers. When you drive, just drive.

2.Speeding. When an accident involves a speeding driver, the impact of the collision is increased - and it follows that resulting damages and injuries will be considerably more severe.

3. Drunk Driving. It's old news that drinking and driving are a deadly combination, but Missourians are still arrested for DWI every single day. So, we'll say it again: don't drink and drive, ever. And remember, buzzed driving is drunk driving.

4. Reckless Driving. Don't speed, tailgate, or change lanes too quickly. There are a number of driver excuses for this behavior ("I was running late"; or "She was going 25 in a 45"; or "There was only a small gap and I had to change lanes"): none of them are worth having an accident over.

5. Rain, Snow & Ice. If roads are hazardous, slow down. You will need extra time to stop, and to turn safely, and to change lane, and, frankly, to perform nearly all driving maneuvers. If you can't see - or if you don't feel safe - find a good place to pull over.

6. Running Red Lights & Stop Signs. If the light is yellow and you haven't reached the "point of no return," stop. (Even if you have the green light, it never hurts to keep your eyes open.)

7. Teenage Drivers. Teens are inexperienced and easily distracted. Share this list with your teenage drivers, and remind them how important it is to drive responsibly.

8. Night Driving. Slow down at night. Don't overdrive your headlights.

9. Design Defects. Be sure you keep track of safety recall information for your family's vehicles. You can use www.recalls.gov as a resource.

10. Unsafe Lane Changes. Take your time and wait until you have sufficient space. Plan ahead, but if you miss a turn or exit, continue forth and turn around in a safe place.

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Safe driving in severe weather: Tips for Springfield, Missouri drivers

file000290552615_tornado.jpgSummer weather is moving in here in the Ozarks, causing drastic changes in air temperatures and creating the ideal atmosphere to produce tornadoes. Our Springfield personal injury lawyers want to offer area drivers a few helpful safety tips, just in case you find yourself faced with one of these unexpected natural disasters.

Tornadoes are unpredictable storms that can produce extremely dangerous conditions in a matter of moments. Because severe storms can develop quickly, it's important to act with safety and caution whenever tornadic conditions occur while you're on the road. Of course, it's always best to avoid driving when severe storm warnings have been issued, but it's essential to follow certain safety protocol if you happen to be on the road while a storm or tornado hits.

First, always be on the lookout for signs of dangerous weather approaching. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), motorists should immediately seek shelter whenever there is a dark or green-colored sky; a large, dark, or low-lying cloud; large hail; and/or a loud roar similar to a train. All of these conditions suggest a tornado or large storm may be developing. When these conditions are present, immediately tune in to a local radio station or news outlet to check for warnings and watches in your area.

Again, if possible, stay off the road when there are signs of severe weather nearby. However, if you're already on the road when severe weather develops, don't try and outrun the storm or tornado. Strong winds can push or pick up a moving car, which can cause life-threatening injuries to motor vehicle occupants. Depending on the specific circumstances, there are several actions you can take to protect yourself, including the following:

Try and seek shelter in a sturdy building nearby. The best place to be is on the lowest level of the building, away from any windows.

If there is nowhere to seek shelter indoors, stop your vehicle and leave it running, if possible. Keep your seatbelt on and lower your head below the windows of your car. Then, cover your head with your hands or a blanket. Once the storm has passed, the Red Cross recommends that you collect yourself and evaluate your surroundings. If there is no debris flying around, check yourself and your passengers for injuries, and call for emergency assistance if needed.

Leave your car if you can get lower than the roadway. Most Missouri drivers are familiar with this familiar tornado safety tip: leave your vehicle and lie in a ditch with your hands over your head. However, in recent years, the Red Cross has changed its recommendation in response to new research, which "found that a relatively small percentage of vehicles are overturned, tossed, and demolished in tornadoes." However, if you feel more comfortable following the long-time safety rule, the Red Cross suggests getting far enough from the car that it will not potentially tumble onto you. Also, it is very important to cover your head to protect from as much debris as possible. (To learn more about both sides of the "Cars vs. Ditches" argument, click here.)

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Memorial Day weekend and Missouri car accident risks: Facts and tips for Springfield drivers

urban-traffic-768180-m.jpgMemorial Day weekend is fast approaching, and our Springfield car accident lawyers want to remind you to make roadway safety a priority during the busy holiday. According to a recent report from AAA, 36.1 million Americans are expected to travel at least 50 miles over the three-day weekend, with 31.8 million traveling by car. It stands to reason that auto accidents are more likely when there are more vehicles on the road - and this is especially true during holiday weekends, when alcohol-impaired drivers are also more common.

Here in Missouri, Memorial Day tends to be one of the heaviest traveled holidays, and the Highway Patrol is taking steps to help prevent auto accidents this year. During the 2014 Memorial Day weekend (May 23 - May 26), the Highway Patrol will participate in Operation C.A.R.E. (Combined Accident Reduction Effort). During the operation, troopers will be assigned to 20-mile intervals on Interstates 29, 44, 55, and 70, and U.S. Highways 60 and 63. These troopers will be on the lookout for all traffic offenses, especially those involving aggressive driving, seat belt use, child safety seat use, driving under the influence and speeding. The Patrol says every available officer will be on the road over the three-day weekend.

"I encourage every driver--of a vehicle or a vessel--to be courteous and pay attention," said Colonel Ron Replogle, Highway Patrol Superintendent, in a recent news release. "Please, DON'T drink and drive. We want all of you to have a safe, enjoyable holiday weekend."

Facts about Memorial Day weekend and Missouri car accidents

• Nationwide, an average of 161 people are killed per day over the three-day holiday weekend each year. Approximately 40% of those fatalities are a result of drunk driving.

• During Memorial Day weekend 2013, six people were killed and 389 suffered injuries in 951 auto accidents throughout Missouri. 129 people were also arrested for driving under the influence.

Memorial Day weekend safety tips for Springfield drivers

Buckle up. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), one in five Americans fail to wear seat belts regularly when driving or riding in motor vehicles - and men between the ages of 18 and 34 are less likely to buckle up than other age groups. Between May 19 and June 1, NHTSA will conduct its "Click it or Ticket" campaign nationwide: click here to learn more about why seat belt use is so important.

Don't drink and drive. If your Memorial Day celebration includes alcohol, make plans in advance: designate a sober driver, hire a car service, or arrange to stay where you are. Never get behind the wheel after consuming any amount of alcohol.

Avoid risky driving behaviors. In addition to driver impairment, the Highway Patrol says speed and inattention are common contributing factors in accidents statewide. Obey all traffic laws, be courteous to other motorists, and don't engage in any activities that divert your attention away from the primary task of driving.

Call the Highway Patrol if you need help. If you are in need of assistance or you wish to report a crime, call the Patrol's Emergency Assistance number: 1-800-525-5555, or *55 from your cell phone.

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Avoiding common bicycle accident scenarios: Tips for Springfield cyclists

963955_rollin.jpgRecent research suggests that more and more Americans are using bicycles as their regular method of transportation, citing factors like economic benefits, health advantages and the impact on the environment. Spring is here, and our Springfield personal injury lawyers want to encourage all motorists to share the road safely with bicyclists. We also recommend that cyclists take certain precautions to avoid auto accidents.

Avoiding Missouri bicycle accidents: Common scenarios in collisions involving bicycles and motor vehicles

Scenario 1: A driver pulls out of a side street or driveway on the right and either (1) strikes an oncoming cyclist or (2) pulls out in front of the cyclist, forcing the bicycle to strike the vehicle.
Avoiding this accident: It can be difficult for drivers to see bicycles coming straight towards them, so this kind of collision is fairly common. Be sure to ride with traffic rather than against it - after all, drivers won't be looking for traffic coming from the wrong direction. Also, using a headlight - even during the day - can help make cyclists more visible. If you're afraid a driver doesn't see you, consider waving your arm from side to side as you approach the vehicle - the side-to-side motion is easier for drivers to detect. And if all else fails, slow down enough so that you can stop if needed. It might be an annoyance, but it's far better to be annoyed than to be involved in an auto accident.

Scenario 2: A bicyclist moves slightly to the left to avoid a roadway obstruction and is rear-ended by a motor vehicle approaching from the behind.
Avoiding this accident: Don't shift into the traffic lane without checking for vehicles approaching behind you. Many cyclists use mirrors (attached to their handlebars, helmets or glasses) so they don't have to physically turn to check. Always signal before you move left, even if the movement is slight - some drivers don't allow extra space for cyclists, so shifting even an inch or two can put you at risk of being rear-ended.

Scenario 3: The driver of a parked vehicle opens his or her door right in front of an oncoming bicyclist.
Avoiding this accident: Unfortunately, this kind of collision happens frequently in metropolitan areas, where bike lanes tend to be placed as far to the right as possible. Cyclists use the term "door zone" to refer to the three to five-foot space in which a bicycle is in danger of being struck by a vehicle's door. To protect yourself, ride far enough to the left so that you won't be struck by a suddenly-opened door. It may mean that you have to ride in the traffic lane briefly, but you're less likely to be involved in an accident. Again, be mindful of other vehicles as you shift to the left.

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Eight "danger zones" create make teen drivers more likely to crash, pediatrician says

78225_driving.jpgEach year, car accidents account for one out of every three teen fatalities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that novice drivers (from age 16 to 19) are four times more likely to crash than older drivers. Pediatrician Dr. Rima Himelstein examined the key factors that contribute to teen crashes, and found several common denominators - what she termed the "eight danger zones of teen driving."

1. Driver inexperience

Simple lack of experience is a contributing factor in numerous accidents involving teen drivers. Because they've spent less time behind the wheel, teens are less prepared to deal with the numerous unexpected situations that can present themselves on the road. Since crash risks are especially high during a teen's first year of driving, safety advocates recommend that teen drivers receive extensive supervised practice during that time. Teens need to gain experience driving at different times of day, in different kinds of weather, on different kinds of roads.

2. Driving with teen passengers

Research has shown that passengers can be an particularly dangerous distraction for teen drivers, especially when those passengers are also teens. A study conducted by AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the risk of a fatal crash increases by 44% when a 16 or 17 year-old has just one teen passenger. With two teen passengers, the risk is doubled; with three or more, the risk is quadrupled. Missouri's graduated driver license (GDL) law places restrictions on the amount of passengers a teen driver can carry, but safety advocates urge parents to establish rules that reinforce those restrictions.

3. Driving after dark

Nighttime driving comes with its own set of challenges. In 2009, 61% of teen traffic fatalities occurred between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. Furthermore, a 2010 study from the Texas Transportation Institute found that "it is the nighttime risk that ranks at the top of the list for the youngest motorists on the road, primarily due to a combination of the visibility challenges caused by dark conditions, slower response time brought about by fatigue, and a lack of experience driving under such conditions." Here again, GDL laws restrict nighttime driving in novice drivers, but parents will want to monitor their teens and ensure they receive ample supervised practice.

4. Driving without seatbelts

While teen seatbelt use has increased significantly in recent years, teens are still much less likely to buckle up than older drivers are. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), "in 2009 the majority (56%) of young people 16 to 20 years old involved in fatal crashes were unbuckled."

5. Driving while distracted

In today's world, distracted driving is the number one killer of American teenagers. In the CDC's 2011 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 1 out of 3 teen drivers admitted to sending a text or email while driving within the past month. Missouri law prohibits texting in drivers 21 and younger, but parents should establish a zero tolerance policy at home. In addition, parents are urged to set an example for their teens and refrain from using their phones while driving.

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