Motorists nationwide, having acquired a taste for speed during the coronavirus pandemic, need to get that pedal off the metal — or the consequences can be legally dear, shockingly costly, and deadly. And that includes car owners who let computers navigate their vehicles.
Look out, drivers, because the alarms have grown so much for traffic safety experts that they and road authorities say they will beef up enforcement, including with more camera systems and tickets, lower speed limits in problem areas, and campaigns with the public to please slow down.
As the pandemic seems to be ebbing and warmer weather also is encouraging more of us to get out and about, the great road haste that gripped the country for months isn’t letting up and is a cause for unnecessary carnage, officials told the Wall Street Journal:
“Drivers floored it early in the coronavirus pandemic and haven’t let up, officials say. Increased speeding was a key factor in a recent rise in crash fatalities, law-enforcement officials say. About 42,000 people died in car crashes in the U.S. last year, up 8% from 2019, the nonprofit National Safety Council estimates, citing preliminary figures. Law-enforcement officials in several cities and states said an uptick in excessive speeding—such as driving over 100 mph on highways—is particularly worrisome, especially as many Americans gear up for road trips. Nationwide, people are now driving more miles than before the pandemic, said transportation analytics firm Inrix. But the total number of vehicle trips remains just below early 2020 levels.”
The newspaper found concerning reports from coast to coast about drivers flying down roads at unsafe speed. In Colorado, a trooper said he pulled over a BMW driver racing at 115 mph — 40 mph over the limit. With all seriousness, the motorist claimed that he was just trying to burn off excess oil in his car’s engine. He got two citations (speeding and reckless driving) with potentially hefty fines and penalties.
The speeding bug has bitten drivers in the nation’s capital, too, the Wall Street Journal found:
“Washington, D.C., recorded 12 crash fatalities through mid-April, the most by that date in five years, and last year the city had a 37% one-year increase in deaths, despite a 30% drop in total crashes, said Linda Bailey, director of D.C.’s Vision Zero traffic safety program. ‘Speed is really a major culprit,’ she said, adding that she hopes a rise in congestion will force drivers to slow down. D.C.’s speed cameras this year have detected speeders going 54 mph on average, up from 50 mph in 2019, figures provided by the district show. More than 6% of 2021 speeders went at least 20 mph over the limit, which ranges from 25 mph to 50 mph, the camera data show. One vehicle was clocked this year hitting 132 mph.”
A $700,000 car wreck
Kaiser Health News detailed the dire consequences that vehicle wrecks can have on motorists’ health and finances. This is especially true if they don’t triple check the coordination of coverage between their auto and health care policies and they get stuck with whopping medical bills. That happened to Mark Gottlieb, 59, a New Jersey marketing consultant hit with $700,000 in medical expenses.
Gottlieb required extensive treatment after a car slammed into his, “damaging four vertebrae in his upper spine and smashing six teeth,” KHN reported. He tried various types of care, including extensive dental work, before surgeons told him the only way to deal with his persistent, excruciating pain was to have a “complex type of fusion surgery on the herniated discs in his cervical spine.”
The news service provided this summary of his staggering bills and the nightmares he would encounter dealing with his surgeon, a for-profit hospital, his auto insurer (Geico), his referring doctors at a pain clinic, and eventually his health insurer (Aetna):
“Taken together, the hospital and surgeon billed Gottlieb more than $700,000. The hospital billed $445,995 for the surgery, an amount reduced to $133,778 by Geico, which ultimately paid $103,354. Bergen Pain Management billed an additional $264,444 for the main surgeon. Based on a review, Geico reduced that to $141,548. It paid $52,365 toward that before Gottlieb’s medical coverage in his auto policy was exhausted. Then it was up to his health insurer or Gottlieb to deal with the rest.”
To shorten Gottlieb’s complex story — which is worth reading if you’ve ever lost sleep over what insurance will or won’t pay for — he thought his ample auto coverage ($250k+) would handle any expenses he might incur in a wreck. It did not. He learned too late that he needed, too, to talk in advance with his health insurer about what it might cover, if his auto insurer did not.
He is stuck in limbo now. KHN reported that experts who have examined his medical expenses say they are high, and, with his auto insurer having paid hefty sums to many of his providers, maybe they will leave him alone. But he has roughly $90,000 in unpaid medical bills, and he is unsure how long they will hang over his head.
Not good. In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage that can be inflicted on them and their loved ones by motorcycle, auto, and truck wrecks. We had made big progress in recent decades reducing the nation’s road carnage. But this has been rolled back not only by the pandemic but more crucially by drivers who are impaired (drugged, drunk, sleepy) or distracted (texting, loud music, noisy passengers).
Now, we need to add speeding to the street menaces. This is grim and unacceptable news, because we can deal with these challenges and, with a minimum of thought and care, protect and save lives — drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists.
Tech advances take their own toll, too
The urgency for action may be further fueled by the increasing changes in our very vehicles. The SUV, one of the most popular among models, keeps getting bigger and posher — making it, critics say, harder to see people and objects on the road. At the same time, these and many other vehicles are getting jammed with technology, both purportedly to aid in navigation and driving but adding to distraction.
The gizmos, futurists say, soon may take over key road matters, including driving itself. Which is why safety experts and law enforcement are scrutinizing a Texas wreck involving a Tesla traveling at high speed. Two men aboard that car were killed. Neither apparently was driving, with one on the passenger side and the other in a back seat. Investigations are under way as to whether a much-promoted feature of this model — assisted or even autonomous — driving was available and in use.
It also is worth noting another significant concern in this wreck: the bonfire that engulfed the vehicle after its crash and proved challenging for firefighters to extinguish. They warned that electrical batteries, especially when involved in high-speed wrecks, can mix extremely flammable materials, and burn at high temperatures and persistent fashion.
Folks, please pay attention when you’re behind the wheel, and slow down. If you have the misfortune of getting involved in a bad vehicle crash, you and your loved ones may wish not only to call in your vehicle insurer early but also experienced and expert lawyers to deal with the extensive legal issues that may ensue. Your auto agent represents the insurer, remember, and these individuals, kindly and conscientious as they may seem, may not be trained to deal with complex legal and medical issues. We have lots of work to do to keep ourselves and our roads as safe as possible.