The Verdict - The Lombardi Law Firm Blog
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Can we start with an assumption: That interstate highways are a dangerous place due to cars and semi trucks driving at higher speeds; due also to wrong-way drivers, drunks and inexperienced drivers. Now let's talk this morning about youthful inexperience, distracted driving and cheating the law that is intended to save youthful lives. After we look at this morning’s news item from the Des Moines Register I'm going to end with a warning to the parents who cheat by asking the wrong question and focusing their children's attention on the lawyers rather than youthful inexperience.
A 15-year-old driver rolled a white minivan as she neared the Iowa River on Interstate-380 in Johnson County. In the van were two 16-year-old passengers. One was reported to have died and the other taken to University Hospitals in Iowa City.
LET'S ANALYZE THE LAW AND THE FACTS:
All were apparently high school students who’d just finished a volleyball game and were heading out to get a bite to eat. The 15-year-old driver was Rachel Stewart of North Liberty. Her two passengers were Alyssa Benedict and Rachel Petersen. Young Ms. Benedict is listed as the fatality.
“Clear Creek Amana Principal Tom McDonald said Benedict and two friends were apparently going to get something to eat after attending a volleyball game at the school in Tiffin.”
- What was the reason the van lost control and rolled over?
- What was the reason the van ended up off the road and onto the median?
- Were there distractions inside the van that caused this inexperienced driver to lose control?
- Does the law even allow a special license permittee to be taxiing passengers on a food run?
- Was this errand going to allow them to get home before the permit curfew?
In Iowa a 15-year-old can drive with a learner’s permit and a school permit. Those permits allow them to drive directly to and from school-related functions, like volleyball. The permissible hours are 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. This accident is reported to have happened at 8:45 p.m. Passengers are allowed to ride along but I’m not sure the law allows the driver to veer from the most direct route between home and school or the extracurricular activity. Reports indicate that Benedict and Petersen were not wearing seat belts. Another report has the van entering the median area before rolling over. But let’s get back to the time sequence to decide if this trip was a good idea for teens, so that teens can learn from the mistakes made in this case and to stay out of future trouble.
Reports show they were at a school event at Clear Creek Amana in Tiffin. The driver lived in North Liberty, the two passengers in Tiffin, Iowa. At the time of the collision they were driving south on I-380, a four lane divided highway. The collision occurred at the 8 mile marker. It should be clear that if you’re at a school in Tiffin and the two passengers live in Tiffin then there’s no reason to be on I-380 taxiing passengers; no matter how hungry they may be. Tiffin is west of I-380 and North Liberty is northwest of Tiffin. Using MapQuest shows there are 8.31 miles between the two towns that takes a mere 13 minutes to drive and doesn’t include any travel being necessary on I-380. In other words I-380 isn’t a direct route. So why were they even on I-380?
The MapQuest directions include E 3rd Street toward Main Street, then right onto Main Street, turn right onto E. Marengo Road/U.S. 6 East, then left onto Coral Ridge Ave., turn right on E. Penn Street, then right on N. Dubuque Street to North Liberty.
Google Maps shows the direct route.
The question remains to be answered whether the law allowed this special minor driver to even be on I-380 and then whether it was possible to get something to eat and get everyone home by the permitted curfew of 10 p.m.
Of course there is also the question of whether these teens could legally make this food run.
“The reason Stewart lost control of the van has not been made public by the Iowa State Patrol. McDonald said he received an unconfirmed report that a rear tire had blown.”
State law allows young drivers with learner’s permits and a school permit to drive to and from school for school-related activities. The Code section is 321.194 Special minors’ licenses. Here is what is written. The drive must take the most direct or accessible route and can only drive between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. over the most direct and accessible route between the licensee’s residence and schools of enrollment or the closets school bus stop or public transportation service and between schools or enrollment, for the purpose of attending classes or extracurricular activities within the school district. That’s a mouthful and these code sections aren’t easily understood. Generally they are allowed to have passengers but they can’t have more passengers than there are seat belts, a requirement that implies seat belts must be worn.
So let’s recap the mistakes that were made:
1. Not wearing seatbelts.
2. Driving on an Interstate.
3. Driving a route that is not a direct or permissible route.
4. Taxiing passengers for a food run.
5. Trying to squeeze in too many stops in two short a period of time.
6. Disobeying the law that requires teens not to drive except to and from school events. Last I checked McDonald’s isn’t a school event and they don’t have classes.
7. Were there distractions in the van that caused the driver to lose control? We may never know.
Does the law allow the driver to taxi passengers for the convenience of parents? I’m not sure I would agree that it does. Was all of this avoidable? Absolutely. One of the lessons to learn is for parents to stop distracting teens with asking the wrong questions; stupid questions such as why are there so many lawsuits? Hate the lawyers all you want but start asking the right question; the one that will reduce the number of accidents and in turn the number of lawsuits.
What were the distractions in the van?
Why were these kids thinking they could cheat the law intended to keep them safe?
Why was the youthful driver being a taxi driver?
Why were they even on I-380?
If adults knew they were going on a food run, why didn't someone step up and say, "No." you're not allowed to do that. Do it and I'm calling your parents.
Why wasn't everyone wearing their seatbelts?
If there were cell phones in the van, why? What purpose did they serve?
If there was texting going on why? Why is it necessary to pay attention not to texting but to driving?
And the most important question is...
Why are there so many accidents and injuries?
See Radio Iowa, Teenage girl killed, two others injured in eastern Iowa wreck
I send my condolences to the families and rest my case.
We've been covering Interstate travel safety for the past two-weeks on the Injuryboard and a few of my fellow members have jawed about it nonstop. I know that Wayne Parsons, my friend Devon Glass from Michigan, Mike Bryant from Minnesota, Pierce Egerton from North Carolina and Rick Shapiro from Virginia will all join in with my sentiments about being frustrated. Parents frustrate us when they talk all about tort reform and then turn a blind eye to what their children do. Tort reform isn't about the other guy, it's about us and the decisions we make. Tort reform is actually a distraction from the root cause of injuries and accidents. Taking away the rights of people to receive compensation isn't going to stop the accidents that cause injury and death. All tort reform will do is make those injured or the families of those killed miserable. So stop distracting everyone with taking away the right to receive compensation and ignoring the root causes of injury and death on the highways of America. If you have questions about what we’ve written call or write to each of us. We don’t ask that you agree, but we do ask that you think and discuss the issues.
You can follow our discussion by reading these articles.
UPDATE FOR CONSIDERATION: A recent Des Moines Register article takes a look at the police investigation in another case involving Alyssa Jo Vdnerhoff, a 15-year-old who lost her life when the truck she was driving went out of control and rolled. They wondered if she was text messaging, either reading or sending at the time when she lost control. Vanderhoff was from Marathon and was Iowa's only female bull rider.
I think this series on interstate highway safety is concluding with this post. Here is the series we ran. Our next series will start in a few days. Being busy lawyers it's not always easy to jump right into a new subject and have copy ready for print.
Are Double-Bottomed Semis More or Less Dangerous to You? - Devon Glass from Church Wyble, P.C. (Michigan), August 26, 2009
Who wins and loses when a Ford Focus and a fully-loaded semi-truck crash? - Steve Lombardi from The Lombardi Law Firm (Iowa), August 25, 2009
Hawaii Freeway Chronicles #1: What Are The Danger Points On H-1, H-2 and H-3?, by Wayne Parsons of Wayne Parsons Law Offices. (Hawaii), August 27, 2009
The Interstate Highway Graveyard, “Speed Kills”, Lombardi, August 28, 2009
Why Speeders on the Highway Cause More Serious Accidents, Glass, August 28, 2009
Death and Injury On Interstate Highways Increase With Higher Speed Limits, Wayne Parsons, August 29, 2009 2:31 AM
Drunk Drivers Caused 40% of Traffic Fatalities In Hawaii In 2006, Wayne Parsons, August 31, 2009 12:16 AM
Interstate Highways Are No Place For Drunk Drivers Over The Labor Day Weekend, Wayne Parsons | September 01, 2009 4:36 PM
Uninsured Motorist Car Insurance: It’s Your Most Important Car Insurance and Here Is Why, Rick Shapiro, September 01, 2009 10:30 AM
Risky Drivers Don't Just Drive Drunk and Speed - They Often Don't have Insurance , Wayne Parsons, September 02, 2009 4:09PM
The National Uninsured: Why You Need Uninsured Motorist Coverage In Minnesota, Mike Bryant, September 04, 2009 3:24 PM
Uninsured Drivers On The Highways: Cause of Higher Rates of Injuries & Deaths?
Rick Shapiro | September 07, 2009 1:15 PM
Highway Cowards - Running From Decency & Responsibility
Pierce Egerton | September 08, 2009 8:08 PM
Deteriorated Interstate Highways And Roadways In Every State Add To Fatalities, Wayne Parsons, September 10, 2009
In this case a single vehicle collision caused by what the Iowa State Patrol says was a loss of control killed the two adults but sparing the 1 year old child. Later reports indicate the child did die. The car is said to have rolled into a ditch that was partially filled with water. The report makes no mention as the cause of death but one can assume the standing water in the ditch had some effect. The accident happened near Parkersburg, Iowa.
KWWL provided the additional information. They also have photographs on the KWWL website.
I represented the estate of a woman who drowned from this same type of single-vehicle collision. The driver had been drinking, crashed the car, it overturned in the ditch filled with water, and then he simply left the accident scene and the passenger to die. The police found him later that day at home.
When there is water in the ditch you need to take it slower. The water in the ditch is an indication that less speed is better in the event of an accident to avoid drowning. The water in the ditch probably tells you something about how soggy the road gravel is. Rural roads in Iowa are covered by crushed limestone. That helps travel but doesn’t make it completely safe for higher speeds that would ordinarily be safe. It would be interesting to know what speeds the data recorders show just prior to the driver’s losing control.
These are a few accidental drowning caused by a car accident and a loss of control that takes the car into some water. On the first video you'll get the idea from the first few seconds. It's long but is one of the only video's that shows a good picture of a deep ditch with enough water to drown.
A similar incident in Texas took the lives of five children when the car in which they were passengers drove into a rain-swollen ditch in Houston. None of the children were wearing seat belts and the driver was charged with OWI, even though the driver’s two breath tests were 0.079 and 0.082 %. The legal limit was 0.08 percent. The male driver was charged with intoxicated manslaughter.
A single-vehicle crash in North Carolina caused a married couple to drown after their car veered off of I-95 and into a water-filled ditch. They both drowned.
A 9-1-1 call captured the last pleas of a drowning woman on May 19, 2009. The Associated Press covered the story. Follow the link to read the AP story.
“The 49-year-old Oklahoma woman told operators she had her nose against the car’s roof. “Please hurry, because I'm running out of air and if I climb out of this car I'm going to go down,” she said.
“I need to get out now. I'm drowning,” she said soon after that during the May 2 call. “
In another incident the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reports on a man drowning after his car strikes a deer. The man was 19-years-of-age. This man’s death was determined to be from being ejected out of the car, then landing in the ditch filled with water and drowning.