Child Passenger Safety Week: a Reminder Car Seats are Critical to Protecting Children

If you have children, your car probably has at least one car seat buckled in at all times. But when was the last time you checked its positioning or if your child is using the right model?

A good answer is right now. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is observing Child Passenger Safety Week from Sept. 16 – 22. Sept. 22 is National Seat Check Saturday. Parents can click here and find a full list of sites throughout Massachusetts offering free car seat checks by certified and trained professionals.

The right car seat and positioning is critical because motor vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of death among children ages 3 to 14. A car accident can come suddenly without warning and a child passenger safety seat is essential to keeping young passengers safe.

Child passenger seats are generally divided into four categories: infant carrier seats, rear-facing seats, forward-facing seats and booster seats.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require child safety seats and all but two – Florida and South Dakota – require booster seats or similar devices for children who have outgrown safety seats.

The Massachusetts Child Passenger Safety Law requires all children riding in passenger motor vehicles be in a federally-approved child passenger restraint which is properly fastened and secured until they are 8 years old or over 57 inches tall. The number of children increased substantially with the passage of the Booster Seat Bill in 2008.

About Child Passenger Seats

Infant carrier seat. These are for children up to 1 year of age who weigh 20 pounds. The height limit is up to 26 pounds.

Rear-facing convertible seat. These are for children who are 6 months to 1+ year of age, who weigh under 30 pounds.

Forward-facing seat. These are for children over 1 year of age who weigh more than 20 pounds and under 40 pounds.

Booster seat.
These are for children age 4 to 8. When students turn 8 and stand taller than 4 feet 9 inches, they can transition to a back seat belt. It is recommended children travel in the backseat wearing a seatbelt up until the age of 13.


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Massachusetts Social Host Law Holds Property Owners Accountable for Underage Drinking

The Massachusetts social host law was back in the media this weekend when a mother and son were arrested following a large underage drinking party at their Cohasset home.

Police found 30 people at the Deep Run Road gathering. The mother was charged with furnishing alcohol to minors under the social host law, keeping a disorderly house and disturbing the peace. Her 18-year-old son was charged with furnishing alcohol to minors and being a minor in possession of alcohol.

The Massachusetts social host law was passed in 2000 after the 1996 death of a Marshfield teen. The teen had been drinking at a Cohasset graduation party and left with a blood alcohol limit of .19, crashing his car.

In that case, the homeowner was at the party but acquitted of providing alcohol to a minor. This was in part because underage guests helped themselves to unsupervised alcohol and were not offered drinks.

The social host law now holds Massachusetts homeowners and their teenagers more accountable. It is against the law to serve minors alcohol and allow them to consume it on any premises you control. The penalty is a fine up to $2,000, imprisonment for a year or both.

A person charged under the law can expect to face a civil lawsuit as well. If an underage guest leaves a party and causes a motor vehicle accident involving personal injury or death, both the underage guest and the party host may be liable.

When two or more parties are found civilly liable, any one of them may be required to pay the full judgment if the other party or parties cannot afford to pay.
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Big Dig Handrails Under Scrutiny After Massachusetts Drivers’ Deaths

Lawmakers and individuals are calling for change after seven deadly Big Dig crashes have been linked to handrails in the tunnels. State Senate President Therese Murphy has requested that the Department of Transportation, which overseas the tunnel system, review the handrails’ design and safety. Between 2004 and 2008, seven of the nine fatal accidents in the Big Dig were the result of vehicles hitting the handrails. Most crash victims were dismembered.  The handrails line about six miles of the Big Dig on elevated walkways and are designed to prevent workers from tumbling into traffic.

The handrails are also the subject of litigation in Suffolk Superior Court.  The widow of State Trooper Vincent Cila, who was killed after hitting a handrail post while on a motorcycle in 2005, has filed a wrongful death suit against multiple parties, including the state Turnpike Authority.  The defendants assert that the handrails meet all applicable safety standards and regulations.

Despite assertions to the handrails’ safety, relatives and friends of crash victims are calling for the handrail design to be changed.  Experts consulted by the Boston Globe said that the handrails are flawed.  The horizontal rails are spaced far apart, allowing motorists to become entangled, and the rails are only three feet above the road, at head level.  However, handrail design may not be solely to blame for the grisly crashes. Many of the drivers killed were speeding or not wearing seatbelts.

For assistance with a motor vehicle accident, truck accident, or wrongful death case, please contact the attorneys at the Boston law firm of Breakstone, White and Gluck.  The lawyers have over 80 years of experience with litigating in state and federal court, at the trial and appellate level.  To consult with an experienced attorney, call 800 379 1244 or visit the firm’s website.

Toyota’s Headaches Continue–Massachusetts Prius Owners Should Be Aware of Defective Brakes

Toyota faced another round of bad news this week with the announcement today of a probe by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) into braking problems in the popular Prius hybrid model. NHTSA has received at least 124 complaints about momentary braking problems in the defective vehicles. As least four car crashes have been reported. The problems are apparently associated with speed bumps, potholes, and icy roads–three things Massachusetts drivers see plenty of. The investigation concerns the 2010 Prius model year.

The Prius investigation is the third in a string of product defect recalls which are tarnishing Toyota’s reputation for safety and reliability. On top of that, it seems that Toyota has been less than forthright about the problems in its cars. According to CNN (February 4, 1010), “Toyota has known about brake problems in its popular Prius cars for some time, going so far as to fix it in new production vehicles, but has kept Prius drivers in the dark about the problem until the Japanese government called for an investigation.”  And the sticking gas pedal was first blamed on floor mats, and then later extended to the mechanics of the pedal itself. The Federal government has now demanded that Toyota demonstrate that the problem isn’t more serious, and that it does not include other parts of the throttle control systems. Defects relating to the gas pedals have been linked to several wrongful deaths.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Roy LaHood set off a brief panic on February 3rd when he said owners of the defective Toyotas should “stop driving them.”  He later clarified his statement, saying instead that owners should have them repaired as quickly as possible.

NHTSA itself has been criticized for its slow response to consumer complaints about Toyota acceleration problems, some of which date back to 2003. According to Joan Claybrook, a former head of NHTSA, several investigations were opened, then closed based upon information provided by Toyota. According to NPR, she said, “I think as a result, some people have been killed and injured that wouldn’t have otherwise.” (NPR, Feb 4, 2010.)

Consumer Alert

This week Toyota finally began shipping replacement parts to dealers for the gas pedal recall. Checks with some dealers in Massachusetts revealed that free rental vehicles are available. If the dealer does not have the part, it should still provide you with a free car should you choose to leave it at the dealer for repair. Many Massachusetts consumers are rightfully fearful that their car could be involved in a motor vehicle accident.

The same courtesy should apply to the defective Prius models, and consumers should feel free to demand that the dealer provide them with a safe, alternative vehicle until their cars are fixed.

Affected Vehicles 

Models affected by the recall include:

  • 2009-2010 RAV4


  • 2009-2010 Corolla


  • 2007-2010 Camry


  • 2009-2010 Matrix


  • 2005-2010 Avalon


  • 2010 Highlander


  • 2007-2010 Tundra


  • 2008-2010 Sequoia

Please see our earlier blog on Toyota recalls for additional safety information.

More Information

Much additional information on the Toyota recall is available from the NHTSA website,

Answers to Questions About Toyota Repair Plans, NY Times, Feb 1, 2010

US Launches Probe of Prius Brakes, Reuters, Feb 4, 2010
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New Law Against Texting Intended to Reduce Distracted Driving and Truck Accidents–Rule Should Improve Safety for Massachusetts Drivers

The Federal Government is taking a firm stand against the dangers caused by texting drivers. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Tuesday that, effective immediately, commercial bus and truck drivers are prohibited from texting while driving. Texting truck and bus drivers face civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750.

The goal of the new law is to reduce truck accidents and motor vehicle accidents caused by distracted driving.  According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, drivers take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every six seconds while texting.  This means drivers who text are more than 20 times more likely to get in an accident than non-distracted drivers.

This is not the first move that the government has made to reduce the dangers of texting drivers.  Nineteen states have passed laws banning texting while driving.  President Obama has also signed an executive order requiring federal employees not to text while driving government-owned vehicles or with government-owned equipment.

The attention on texting comes after several high profile accidents caused by texting motor vehicle operators.  In September 2008, a California commuter train engineer missed a stop signal while trading text messages with a friend, leading to a train accident resulting in the wrongful death of 25 people.  In May 2009, 62 people suffered personal injury after a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority trolley driver collided with another trolley while texting.

For more information about the dangers of distracted driving, see the Transportation Department’s website

If you need assistance with a personal injury or wrongful death resulting from a car accident, truck accident, or train accident, please contact the attorneys at the Boston firm Breakstone, White and Gluck.  An experienced motor vehicle accident attorney is available for a free consultation by calling 800-379-1244. You can also contact us online.

In-car Electronics Create Distractions and Impair Driving

One of the leading causes of motor vehicle accidents for Massachusetts drivers may be the device in the driver’s pocket.  A recent Harvard University study concluded that 2,600 wrongful deaths and 570,000 personal injuries are caused each year by cell phone distractions. According to a Virginia Tech study, drivers using cell phones are more impaired than a legally drunk driver.  Despite the known dangers of in-car electronics, car makers are taking driver distractions one step further with in-car “infotainment” systems.

As recently unveiled at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show, car makers and internet companies are teaming up to equip cars with interactive screens on the dashboard that display maps, videos, and internet sites.  Safety advocates are concerned about the risk of car accidents and pedestrian accidents caused by distracted drivers watching the screen instead of the road.  A recent New York Times article on these new systems discusses how the danger of crashing dramatically increases when a motorist looks at a screen, even a GPS screen.

Car makers assure that safety mechanisms will be in place to minimize the risk of driver distractions, such as voice controls or blocking internet use when the car is in motion.  However, some safety advocates are questioning whether car manufacturers are placing profit concerns above safety. It only takes two seconds for the likelihood of a crash to increase exponentially.

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New Technology Prevents Pedestrian Accidents and Saves Lives In Massachusetts

Pedestrian accidents at crosswalks cause some of the most serious personal injuries, including spinal cord injury, and wrongful death.  In 2006, pedestrian accidents accounted for 14% of roadway fatalities in Massachusetts.  Public education campaigns and strict traffic laws have not prevented the death toll from climbing.  However, new technology may be the solution for preventing many pedestrian accidents.

Communities across the country, including some in Massachusetts, have started installing “in roadway warning light systems” or IRWLs, at dangerous crosswalks.  Flashing beacons are installed on the side of the road, in the crosswalk pavement, or in an overhead mast.  When a pedestrian activates the system, either by automatic detection or manually, lights flash outwards toward the approaching vehicle.  As an intentional design factor intended to prevent a feeling of false security, pedestrians cannot see the flashing lights.  Studies have shown these IRWL enhanced crosswalk systems are effective in reducing pedestrian accidents.

Pedestrians can protect themselves further by being aware of whether they or motorists have the right-of-way.  Massachusetts laws and regulations set forth the rights-of-way of pedestrians and motorists where traffic control signals are not present.  Where a pedestrian is crossing at a crosswalk where no traffic control signals are in operation, Massachusetts law requires that motorists must yield to the pedestrian.  Pedestrians crossing at a point in a road that does not have a crosswalk must yield to the right-of-way of motorists.  Further, once they being to cross, pedestrians should continue to look in the direction of on-coming or turning traffic. Pedestrians should always face the on-coming traffic when walking or running in the road.

The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center has additional information on pedestrian and bicycle safety.

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Massachusetts Drivers Should Take Precautions Against Winter Hazards on the Roads

As if plummeting temperatures and shoveling aren’t reason enough to dislike winter in Massachusetts, snowy and icy weather creates hazardous road conditions. Car accidentstruck accidents, and pedestrian accidents are more likely as slippery roads increase both the distance required to stop a vehicle and the chance of sliding.  Taking certain precautions against winter hazards can reduce drivers’ and pedestrians’ risk of personal injury or wrongful death.

First, try to avoid driving in bad winter conditions.  If driving is necessary, try to drive during daylight hours only, plan ahead to avoid rushing, and wait until snow removal crews have eased road conditions.  Check wiper blades and tires and make sure they are suited for winter driving conditions.  Also, if you are traveling far from home, equip vehicles with a winter emergency kit including blankets, food, water, matches, candles, flares, sand for traction, and jumper cables.

Seat belts can save lives but only if they are worn properly.  A properly fitting seat belt will fit tightly across the lap, snugly across the chest, and will cross at the shoulder.  A seat belt should never cross at the neck or back  Seat belts with lap restraints only are ineffective and should be avoided.  An improperly fitting belt can actually make personal injuries worse. Heavy jackets will intefere with proper seat belt operation and should be avoided or removed once the car is warmed up.

Pedestrians face special problems since sidewalks are not always plowed and it may be necessary to walk in the street. One should walk facing the traffic in order to be able to observe the approaching traffic–and to take evasive action if necessary. At night, lightly colored clothing is important. Motorists need to be especially aware of pedestrians and even bicyclists during the winter months. Massachusetts General Laws c. 89, Section 14 requires motorists to slow when approaching pedestrians or bicyclists, and to pass only when it is safe to do so.  

Finally, focus on safe and strategic driving.  Stay at least nine car lengths behind the vehicle ahead to allow plenty of room to stop.  Unless you have anti-lock brakes, If brakes begin a lock, ease off the brake.  Be aware that bridges and overpasses freeze before the road.  To regain control of a vehicle if rear wheels begin to skid, ease off the gas and steer in the direction the car should go.  If the car starts to go too far in one direction, keep steering opposite ways until the vehicle is under control.  If the front wheels are skidding, ease off the gas and let the vehicle slow down until traction is regained.  If stuck in the snow, do not hit the gas.  Try to remove snow and ice from around the wheels, and use sand for traction.  Some vehicles can also be “rocked” by alternating between drive and reverse, while gently pressing the gas.

For more information on winter safety, please see the following articles:

State Police Issue Winter Driving Safety Tips

Uncleared Sidewalks Imperil Pedestrians

Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency–Tips to Ensure Safe Winter Driving

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Massachusetts Elderly Drivers Involved in Motor Vehicle Accidents Ignite Debate Regarding New Licensing Requirements

A large number of motor vehicle accidents involving elderly drivers has prompted the Transportation Committee of the Massachusetts Legislature to enact a bill that would impose driving tests on people over 85 years of age. Currently, Massachusetts only mandates a vision test every ten years.  However, a group of lawmakers is trying to enact tougher regulations on the elderly.

Several recent tragedies have drawn attention to safety issues related to elderly drivers. Concerns about reaction time and vision of the elderly have arisen from the wrongful death of 4-year old Diya Patel who was allegedly killed by an 86-year-old woman in Canton earlier this month.  Similar stories this year alone accuse elderly drivers of crashing into a Wal-Mart, a group of cyclists at UMASS, and even a Vietnam Memorial in Plymouth.  Furthermore, an 84-year-old woman remains in critical condition after an 86-year-old man allegedly hit her while she was crossing the street near downtown Melrose yesterday.

According to an article in the Lawrence Eagle Tribune, Rep. Joseph Wagner (D-Chicopee) and Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton) want to enact a law similar to those in nearly 30 other states which mandate road tests alongside the vision test every five years for drivers over 85. This would override the current system, where drivers take a simple vision test every ten years after their initial licensure.

Not surprisingly, the issue is a sensitive one for many who say that regulating senior driving and treating them more like adolescents is demeaning and insulting. Even some suspects, such as 85-year-old Dominick Perry who stands accused of pinning a young boy against another car in a parking lot complain that “age discrimination” is the sole reason for the revocation of his license.  A story in The Boston Globe tells of a former race-car driver who took a long and difficult mock test similar to the road test which would be required of someone his age under the new law.  However, the anecdotal evidence from the elderly about the tedious nature of the test doesn’t outweigh the substantial evidence which links many elderly people to acts of negligent driving.

More Information

Lawmakers Hear Call for More Legislation Regarding Elderly Drivers – Boston Globe July 1, 2009.
Legislators Discuss Proposed Elderly Driving Bill Tomorrow – Lawrence Eagle Tribune – June 29, 2009.
Tested for the Road – Hospital Test Gauges Older Drivers’ Capability. – Boston Globe July 1, 2009.
Registry Revokes License of Driver, 86, in Melrose Accident. – Boston Globe June 29, 2009.
Passenger Dies in Elderly Driving Case – Boston Herald July 1, 2009.
Driver Charges Elderly Bias – Boston Herald July 2, 2009.
Malden Man Involved in Fatal Wreck Has Recent Road Woes – Boston Herald July 2, 2009.

If you’ve been injured in a motor vehicle accident<

The attorneys at Breakstone, White and Gluck have a proven record in dealing with elderly drivers envolved in cases of wrongful death and car accidents. Recently, Ronald E. Gluck  obtained a significant recovery for a 33 year old school teacher and avid sports enthusiast who was struck by an elderly woman in a parking lot.  If you or anyone you know has suffered injury  as the result of an elderly driver or any motor vehicle accident, please visit or call 617-723-7676.  Experience Matters.

Massachusetts Reaches Final Settlement in Big Dig Tunnell Ceiling Collapse

Massachusetts has reached a final settlement in the Big Dig tunnel ceiling collapse case that caused the wrongful death of Boston resident Milena Del Valle and the injury of her husband.

Gannett Fleming, the company which designed the ceiling, will pay $50,000 to the city of Boston and $1.5 million for maintaining the Big Dig tunnels. Additionally, they will forfeit $150,000 in payments from the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.

Sika Corp., which made the epoxy glue that held the ceiling in place, has agreed to pay $200,000. This money will go directly into a trust fund that has been designed to fund the upkeep of the Boston tunnel complex.

Two claims were dismissed: those against Sigma Engineering International Inc., a structural engineering company, and Conam Inc., a materials inspection company.
Both were determined to have no liability for the ceiling collapse.

After the tragic accident, resulting from the negligent design and construction of the tunnel, Massachusetts undertook a thorough examination of the tunnel system. The resulting settlements have provided funds that will assist in proper upkeep and maintenance in years ahead.

More Information

AG settles with final two firms in fatal collapse of Big Dig tunnel, Boston Globe, March 27, 2009

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