Approximately 400,000 travelers pass through Clearwater, Florida in Pinellas County every year, and many of them drive cars to get to the stunning white sand beaches and other scenic locations on the nearby stretch of coast along the Gulf of Mexico. Add these to the city’s permanent population of more than 100,000, many of whom are motorists, and no wonder driving along the Courtney Campbell Causeway can get perilous at times.
According to Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were 24,622 motor vehicle accidents in Pinellas County in 2013. Injuries were reported in 4,502 of these accidents while 80 accidents resulted in fatalities. Here’s a look at some of the most common causes for auto accidents in Clearwater and what can be done to help avoid them.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) cites driver error as the number one cause of motor vehicle accidents. Driver error is frequently caused by distracted driving, which occurs when a motorist tries to juggle driving with some other task that requires mental concentration.
Distracted driving can lead to accidents because it lengthens the amount of time it takes the brain to respond to a perceived hazard. In a hazardous road situation, the brain has only a few seconds to process any information, which may allow that motorist to take appropriate action and avoid becoming involved in an accident.
According to the NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, approximately 12 percent of all accidents caused by distracted driving are related to cell phone use. Other causes of distracted driving include:
Florida is one of the few states in the nation in which it is legal to talk on a hand-held cell phone while you’re driving. Florida does have a law in place that bans texting while driving, however, and if you break a traffic law or cause an accident while using a cell phone in your car, you will get cited. It’s probably best to avoid the use of cell phones while driving except in cases of emergency.
The key to controlling distracted driving lies in the ability to maintain focus on the road. Keep your eyes on the streets and highways, take frequent breaks and limit activities like eating, drinking, smoking or using your phone to rest stops.
Another type of driver error involves the excessive consumption of alcohol. According to nationwide statistics compiled by the NHTSA, approximately 40 percent of all auto accident fatalities are related to alcohol use. In 2009 in Florida, there were 20,085 alcohol-related traffic accidents, which resulted in more than 14,000 drunk driver injuries and more than 1,000 deaths. As alarming as these statistics are, they represent a considerable improvement over the year 2005 when there were nearly 150,000 alcohol-related traffic accidents in Florida, which resulted in more than 230,000 injuries.
Florida has strict statutes that prohibit driving while under the influence of alcohol. A blood or breath alcohol level that’s .08 or above is considered to be an impairment under Florida law. The number of drinks it will take to reach that .08 level will vary dramatically from individual to individual. Women, for example, have less ability to metabolize alcohol than men do, so a woman may become more easily impaired than a man even if the two have consumed the same amount of alcohol. The best way to avoid auto accidents related to alcohol use is to curtail your drinking if you know you’re going to have to drive, or to travel with a designated driver.
Driving while fatigued also predisposes motorists to make errors in judgment. Sleep deprivation acts on the brain in many of the same ways that alcohol intoxication acts. In fact, a recent Australian study found that staying awake for 18 hours straight can create a cognitive impairment that’s equivalent to a blood alcohol level of .05.
Fatigue lessens a motorist’s ability to perceive the things happening on the road around him or her, and slows reaction times significantly. Occasionally, a motorist may even doze off while driving.
The only effective way to address fatigue-related auto accidents is to avoid driving while fatigued. Before embarking upon a long trip by car, make sure you get a good night’s sleep. Take regular rest stops every couple of hours, and don’t drive for more than 10 hours at a stretch.
Speeding is a common type of driver error among younger drivers, particularly among male adolescents. Speeding is a risk factor both in terms of the frequency of auto accident injuries and in the severity of those injuries. Speeding can be particularly hazardous when road conditions are less than optimal.
Motorists should check their speedometers frequently and keep in mind that “speed limits” are not a mandatory speed they need to be driving at but the maximum speed at which they can drive on a particular stretch of road.
Driver error is not the only cause of automobile accidents. The physical condition of the road you’re driving on may also have the potential to precipitate an automobile accident. Cracks and potholes can cause drivers to lose control of their vehicles. Undivided highways may lack rumble strips or signage with the result that cars frequently wander out of their proper lanes.
States, counties and municipalities are generally responsible for maintaining roads in a reasonably safe manner. The term “reasonably,” however, has some latitude: If a crack in a highway has just occurred, and the government entity responsible for maintaining the roads has not yet learned about it, that entity may not be liable for any damages that result from an auto accident caused by that crack.
The key to minimizing the potential for motor vehicle accidents under bad road conditions involves driving at a safe speed and paying close attention to your surroundings.
As a tropical state, Florida gets its fair share of storms with heavy rains and winds. Heavy rains can lead to flooding, which makes some roads impassable. Wet roads also make braking less efficient. Winds not only blow hazards into traffic that can obscure a driver’s view, sometimes they can even exert enough pressure to make vehicles drift out of their lanes.
The best way to prevent weather-related accidents is to limit your driving whenever possible when the weather is bad. Drive more slowly, leave extra space between your vehicle and the vehicles around it and keep a close eye on what other motorists are doing.
In as many as 12 percent of automobile accidents, mechanical failure may be a factor. In the majority of these cases, though, that failure is not an inherent engineering or manufacturing defect. Instead, it represents a vehicle owner who was less than vigilant about necessary preventative maintenance and service.
Don’t drive a motor vehicle that may not be operating optimally. Your brake system is one of your vehicle’s most important safety systems; make sure it’s in good shape at all times. Check your tires regularly to make certain they’re inflated to the proper pressure. It’s also important to verify that your windshield wipers function efficiently and that your brake lights and turn signals work. This will go a long way toward helping you keep safe on the roads around Clearwater.
If you or a loved one have been a victim of a car accident in Clearwater, FL, Call (727) 999-5555 to speak with Clearwater personal injury attorney, Jack Bernstein. He has represented ten of thousands of clients throughout the course of his career helping injured victims and their families receive the compensation they deserved.