It is no secret that the times that we are living in are changing drastically with the ongoing spread of the coronavirus. As a community we have had to change and adapt to fit these new circumstances. On March 24, 2020, Governor Baker’s emergency order went into effect, closing all nonessential businesses to its employees, customers, and the public. For essential businesses, such as law offices, we have been encouraged to shelter in place, and practice social distancing. In compliance with these recommendations, many on the work force have now had to make the transition from working in the office to working remotely.
The summer months in the Northeast bring out the bicyclists in full force on trails and city streets. Unfortunately, it also means tragic accidents when motorists and bicyclists share the roadways. One such fatal accident occurred in Chicopee this July when a woman in her 70s was struck and killed on Fuller Road near St. Patrick’s Cemetery during the morning commute. The only details of the accident released by police were that the cyclist and a car collided, and that the decedent was not wearing a helmet.
Earlier this summer, an 11-year old Peabody girl was the tragic victim of a head-on collision by a motorist who had been fleeing police. The accident occurred at the intersection of Winthrop and Andover Street in Lawrence.
The girl was with her sister, mother, cousin and mother’s boyfriend who all suffered serious injuries from the accident. The suspect was speeding away from police following a routine traffic stop for a lane violation. The suspect presumably fled in his 2009 Infiniti G37 since he was later found to be driving on a suspended license. Charges against the suspect include vehicular homicide, manslaughter, fleeing a police officer, reckless driving, speeding, and assault with a deadly weapon. The officers who had stopped the suspect had not given chase.
A 17-year old Great Barrington youth was charged with DUI and causing serious bodily injury when his vehicle struck a young woman on the side of the road. The woman had pulled over to the roadside shoulder after striking a guardrail. The accident occurred on Stockbridge Road near Fountain Pond in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The woman was outside her vehicle and was being assisted by another motorist when they noticed the car approaching them. She told police that she tried to avoid being hit but was struck, nonetheless. She reportedly sustained serious injuries and was taken to Berkshire Medical Center.
An astonishing lack of oversight of out-of-state license violations that have sat for over a year or more has led the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) to implement an en masse suspension of drivers’ licenses. Massachusetts Governor Baker, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, and Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack had gathered to announce the action earlier this summer once the backlog was discovered. An external audit of the department was also announced and that all Massachusetts driver licenses will be checked against a national driver registry for other out-of-state violations that could lead to additional suspensions.
In late March of this year, a woman driving a 2010 Honda at a high rate of speed in Watertown near Pleasant and Bridge Street lost her life in a horrific accident. According to police investigators who surveyed the debris strewn scene, the woman was traveling at an excessive speed when she ran into a car in front of her that caused her car to flip on its side and into the opposite lane of traffic where the car had a head-on collision with another vehicle. The four occupants of the car that had been hit head-on were taken to a nearby hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Massachusetts drivers over the past decade and likely before then have consistently ranked among the worst users of seat belts in the nation. All states with the exception of New Hampshire that only requires seat belt use if under 18 oblige all drivers and occupants to wear a seat belt. The states with the highest usage rates are California and Georgia at 98%.
Distracted driving is now as prominent a safety issue as drunk or impaired driving. While intense public awareness campaigns, stricter penalties, and more attention by law enforcement has made a dent in drunk driving accidents and fatalities, the same cannot yet be said for distracted driving. In a minor incident on the Mass. Turnpike in early April, a state trooper was rear-ended by a motorist who was apparently distracted by his GPS device. Fortunately, the officer only suffered minor injuries. This mishap only underscores the risk that distracted driving poses. If a police officer can be the victim of distracted driving, then anyone else certainly can.
In early March 2019, a 62-year old Worcester man was struck and killed while crossing the street at St. Nicholas Avenue around 6:00 am. The driver was a 26-year old male from Webster who was proceeding south on St. Nicholas and hit the man who was crossing from the driver’s left.
Traffic deaths reached 40,000 for the third year in a row in 2018 according to the National Safety Council, reversing a downward trend that saw fatalities dip below that number for several years in prior years. There was an all-time low in 2014 when 32,744 people lost their lives on the roadways. The highest recorded total was in 1972 when 55,600 were killed in car accidents. Serious injuries sustained in car accidents remained high at 4.5 million last year.
In past years when traffic fatalities were substantially high, safety advocates and groups like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers lobbied hard for stricter penalties and enforcement of traffic laws. For a time following the oil crisis in the mid-1970s when speed limits were lowered, highway deaths dipped a bit before creeping up again when too many complaints about the slower limits forced lawmakers to raise speeds.