Accident scenes are often terrifying to behold, particularly when one or more vehicles has landed unnaturally and is lying on its side or even its roof. Our Panama City rollover accident lawyer understands the danger and complexity of these crashes. We have previously discussed the use of electronic stability control to help prevent these crashes. In this post, we look at protecting occupants when rollover accidents do occur, tools that can make the difference between that accident on the side of the road being fatal or survivable.
WJHG is following as details emerge about a rollover accident that occurred in Walton County on Sunday. Devin Macdonald, age 21 of Freeport, was driving his Toyota Tacoma east on S.R. 20 just prior to 3:00 P.M. Troopers believe Macdonald lost control while navigating a curve. The vehicle collided with a guardrail and spun out of control, eventually overturning. When the pickup came to rest, it was sitting on its left side near Sycamore Drive. Macdonald suffered serious injuries in the accident and was taken by Life Flight helicopter to Sacred Heart Pensacola. Police are still investigating the cause of the crash.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ("IIHS") opened a recent Q&A article on rollovers with a key question: "Are rollovers a big problem?" Although rollovers only occur in 2% of crashes, the IIHS reports that rollovers account for over a third of occupant deaths for passenger vehicles. Of the 21,347 passenger vehicle occupant fatalities in 2011, 7,420 involved a rollover. SUVs and pickup trucks are more likely than passenger cars to be involved in rollovers. In 2011, 55% of SUV occupant deaths involved rollovers, compared to 46% of pickup occupant deaths, and 24% of passenger car fatalities.
Electronic stability control, discussed in a prior blog post, grew in popularity from 2000 to 2010 and became mandatory in all vehicles with the 2012 model year. It has made major improvements in rollover rates, but they still occur. The NHTSA estimates that even with across-the-board use of ESC, there would still be 5,000 to 6,000 rollover deaths annually. In part this is because ESC may not prevent rollovers caused by impact with another vehicle, impact with an obstacle in the road, tire problems, or the total loss of traction due to weather conditions. As such, keeping people safe in the event of rollovers remains a critical safety goal.
Seatbelts are an important part of rollover safety, in part because they help prevent occupant ejection. In 2011, 64% of those killed in rollovers were unbelted. Airbags, particularly head-protecting side curtain airbags that are triggered in a rollover event, are another key safety tool.
While those devices are fairly universally praised as helpful in rollover accidents, there has been debate over the role of roof strength. Some suggest it is irrelevant because injuries occur when the occupant's body hits the roof, which occurs before the roof is (or is not) crushed. In contrast, other researchers suggest a buckling roof causes injury when it makes impact with the occupant's body. The IIHS suggests a different focus, emphasizing that limiting the intrusion of the roof into the compartment enables all other restraint systems (like airbags and seatbelts) to work properly. Further, two separate IIHS studies showed roof strength helped keep occupants safe in rollover crashes, in part because they reduced the risk of ejection which is closely correlated with both injuries and fatalities.
We hope that continued studies lead to innovations that both prevent rollovers and keep occupants involved in rollovers safe. We will also continue to advocate for people injured in rollover accidents that were not the victim's fault. This can include a wide range of claims against a number of potential defendants, such as negligence claims against other drivers, suits against municipalities responsible for hazardous roads, and product liability claims against manufacturers who build and sell unsafe vehicles. As a Panama City law firm for rollover injuries, we welcome calls from accident victims throughout Northwest Florida. An initial consultation is always free.