California ranked 4th worst state to drive in the United States, according to report

February 5, 2020 | 3:37 pm


Have you had a bad driving experience lately? Well, you may not be alone.

California has been named the fourth worst state to drive in the United States, according to a new report from WalletHub, a personal finance and information website. WalletHub compared driving experiences across all 50 states to help drivers identify the states that provide the best commuting conditions. It looked at 31 factors, including four key dimensions:

  1. Cost of ownership and maintenance
  2. Traffic and infrastructure
  3. Safety
  4. Access to vehicles and maintenance.

California was found to have the highest percentage of rush hour traffic congestion, the second highest average gas prices, and the fifth highest car theft rate, according to WalletHub. On the positive side: California is reported to have the fewest days with precipitation, the most auto repair shops per capita, and the most car washes per capita.

In all, California ranked No. 47 worst state to drive. Here’s the complete breakdown:

  • Ranking of 49 for cost of ownership and maintenance.
  • Ranking of 46 for traffic and infrastructure
  • Ranking of 4 for safety
  • Ranking of 1 for access to vehicles and maintenance

According to the study, the only states worse for driving than California were Washington, Rhode Island and Hawaii. On the other hand, the best states for driving were Iowa, followed by Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas and Nebraska.

Among the data analyzed by WalletHub were from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Highway Administration. WalletHub also asked a panel of experts regarding the future cost of car ownership, electric and self-driving vehicles, and perhaps most importantly: safety. Among the comments made regarding safety, and how to reduce the number of traffic fatalities, the experts commented:

  • “Several infrastructure improvement and policy measures are found associated with the reduction in traffic fatalities including speed reduction and traffic calming measures (like raised intersections and middle islands), dedicated and protected bicycle lanes and safer pedestrian crossings. Indirect interventions like alcohol taxes and mode alternatives (night transit, taxis, ride-hailing) are related to drunk driving reduction. A combination of such measures along with educational campaigns for safe driving can assist States with reaching Vision Zero goals.
  • Banning the use of cell phones while driving with severe penalties for violators.
  • Reducing road use taxes for vehicles with sensors that prevent unsafe driving.

Other recent reports have highlighted other not-so-good California facts, including the fact that in Los Angeles, people spent 119 hours a year last year stuck in traffic, and Sacramento being home to some of the worst drivers in the country (according to a report by QuoteWizard) when looking at speeding tickets, accidents, DUIs and citations.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

New year, new laws for California drivers, police, bicyclist, and more

January 1, 2020 | 6:00 am


The New Year brings new laws to California.

For 2020, several new laws will affect roadway safety starting Jan. 1, including increased distracted driving penalties, peace officer use of deadly force, bicycle turning movements at intersections, wildlife salvage permits, and motor carrier permit rules. The following laws are relevant for Chain | Cohn | Stiles legal practices, as the law firm handles accident and injury cases.

  • Traffic control devices for bicycles (AB 1266): This new law allows bicycles to travel straight through a right or left-hand turn-only lane while at an intersection, if an official traffic control device indicates the movement is permitted. The California Department of Transportation would be required to develop standards to implement the provisions.
  • License points for distracted driving (AB 47): Current law prohibits a person from driving a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone in a handheld manner; if found in violation, the offense is punishable by a fine. A new law will levy an additional penalty on a driver found in violation of California’s hands-free law: a point will be added on to a driver’s record for each hands-free violation occurring within 36 months of a prior conviction for the same offense.
  • Peace officer use of deadly force (AB 392): This new law revises the standards for use of deadly force by peace officers. The use of deadly force by a peace officer is justifiable when the officer reasonably believes it is necessary, amending the reasonable force standard to “objectively reasonable force.”
  • Law enforcement training (SB 230): This new law requires law enforcement agencies to rewrite use of force policy and provide mandatory training to all peace officers in order to comply with the new law.
  • Cannabis and passenger vehicles (AB 1810): California law will now prohibit the consumption of cannabis, in any manner, by passengers in a bus, taxicab, pedicab, limousine, housecars, or camper. This exemption is now only applicable to alcoholic beverages consumed by passengers in these types of vehicles.

Besides these traffic laws above, you should be aware of several other new laws in 2020 affecting the workplace, your privacy, animals, schools, and the criminal justice system.

WORKPLACE

  • Minimum wage (SB 3): The minimum wage in California goes up by one dollar to $12 an hour for workers at companies with 25 or fewer employees and to $13 an hour for workers at larger companies.
  • Hairstyles (SB 188): California becomes the first state to ban workplace and school discrimination based on a person’s natural hairstyle or hair texture. Protected hairstyles include braids, twists and locks.
  • Lactation accommodations (SB 142): This new law requires companies to provide appropriate lactation accommodations that is close to the employee’s work area, has electrical plugs and is free of intrusion.
  • Sexual harassment (SB 1343): Requires businesses with at least five employees to provide sexual harassment training to its employees within six months of being hired, and every two years after that.
  • Paid family leave (SB 83): New parents will have more time to care for their child. Benefits under Paid Family Leave will increase from six weeks to eight weeks starting on July 1, 2020.

HOUSEHOLDS

  • AB 1482: Rent control: The law limits rent increases to 5 percent each year plus inflation, but never above 10 percent total. The law does not apply to housing built in the 15 years prior. The limit is a rolling number so the date housing is excluded changes every year.
  • AB 652: Religious displays: The law prohibits landlords and homeowner associations from banning the display of religious items on entry doors or door frames. The items cannot be larger than 26 by 12 inches.
  • SB 222: Housing discrimination: This law expands existing law to protect veterans and military personnel against housing discrimination.
  • SB 30: Domestic partners: This law allows heterosexual couples to register as domestic partners instead of getting married. Currently, only heterosexual couples age 62 or older were allowed to register as domestic partners because of social security benefits. The new law could help couples with combined higher incomes avoid the federal marriage tax penalty.

PRIVACY

  • Online privacy (AB 375): The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) gives internet users more control over their data. Among other things, the law gives users the right to know what data is collected, the right to reject the sale of your information and the right to delete your data.

EDUCATION

  • School suspensions (SB 419): The law bans schools from suspending students in grades 4-8 for disrupting school activities or defying teachers and administrators. Students in grades K-3 already have this protection. High school students must wait until 2025 for the same benefit.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

  • Juvenile hall (SB 439): Minors under 12 who commit non-violent crimes would be released to his or her parent or legal guardian instead of being sent to juvenile hall. The law does not apply to minors who commit murder, rape, or great bodily harm.
  • Human trafficking (SB 970): Operators of motels and hotels in California must provide training to teach its staff how to identify victims of human trafficking.

ANIMALS

  • Dog areas (AB 1762): The California Department of Parks and Recreation has until July 1 to establish a comprehensive list of state parks that allow dogs, including the specific areas that allow dogs and the total miles of trails that are open to dogs.

WILDFIRES

  • Public safety power shutoffs (SB 167): Requires utilities to devise plans on reducing the negative impact of planned power shutoffs to first responders and people with disabilities.
  • Tree trimming (AB 247): Gives the California Public Utilities Commission more oversight over tree trimming efforts by utilities. Power companies would have to submit timely reports on their brush and tree trimming work.
  • Wildfire warning center (SB 209): Establishes a wildfire warning center to broaden the state’s ability to predict and prepare for wildfire. The center would rely on a statewide network of automated weather stations and fire detection cameras.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

Driving in drizzle: 12 tips for navigating safely in the rain (Rule 1: slow down!)

December 4, 2019 | 6:00 am


With rain making its way into the Central Valley, the rich soil is getting a vital ingredient that helps grow the crops to feed our country. But, the water sprinkles are also landing on our roadways, creating dangerous driving conditions.

Rain is directly associated with higher accident rates. In fact, out of the nearly 6 million motor vehicle crashes that occur each year in the United States, about 22 percent are weather-related, according to Federal Highway Administration. Knowing how wet roads and reduced visibility affects the way your vehicle handles will help you drive safely in rainy conditions.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, with tips from local authorities, remind drivers to be aware of the roadway hazards associated with rainy weather.

“Let’s all make sure we slow down on the streets of Bakersfield when it’s wet and raining,” said David Cohn, managing partner and attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Slowing down helps you maintain control of your vehicle, and could mean the difference between a crash, and making sure you and others get home safe.”

Here are some more tips for driving in the rain:

Wait: If you feel uncomfortable driving in the rain and can postpone your trip or commute, wait until the weather improves before driving. There is no reason to put yourself in danger if driving in wet conditions is not necessary.

Plan Ahead: If you must drive, always give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination. Never rush when it’s raining heavily.

Check Your Car: Check your headlights, tail lights, and windshield wipers to make sure that they will work efficiently when they are needed. Also check the tread of your vehicle’s tires; balding tires can severely reduce traction on wet roadways. Use your hazard lights only when you have stopped on the road or at the side of the road.

Slow Down: You should drive considerably slower than you normally would, and slower than the speed limit. Wet roads are very dangerous. Your vehicle’s reaction time is much slower when it is raining. Also, accelerate and decelerate slowly. This will help you stay in control and avoid skids.

Turn on Headlights: Even if it is only misting, turning on your vehicle’s headlights will increase both your own visibility and other drivers’ ability to see your car on the road. Plus, California vehicle code requires drivers to use their headlights during inclement weather.

Keep Your Distance: Keep a greater distance between your vehicle and the car in front of you. Stopping your vehicle will be more difficult when driving in the rain. Maintain a distance of several car lengths between your car and other vehicles, to about five or six seconds between marks.

Avoid Heavy Braking: Try to slow your vehicle by taking your foot off the accelerator earlier than you normally would in preparation to slow down or stop.

Avoid Cruise Control: Don’t use cruise control so your attention on using both the gas and brake are in tune.

Watch for Puddles: Driving through standing water can cause hydroplaning, which is when you lose traction and skid across the surface of the road. To avoid hydroplaning, drive around places where water has collected by changing lanes or safely steering around such areas. If your car does hydroplane, calmly take your foot off the accelerator and steer in the direction that the front of your car needs to go. Avoid making sudden turns or slamming on your brakes.

Anticipate Other Hazards: Drivers may encounter fallen trees, downed power lines, flooded roadways, and other hazards. Deep water can hide many dangers you cannot see, and only a few inches of water can disable your vehicle and even carry it away. Never drive through deep water or around barricades indicating the road has been closed.

Don’t Drive Distracted: Electronic devices and cell phones should never be used while driving, but when driving in rainy weather your attention to your surroundings is your best defense against a hazard or collision. Watch out for brake lights in front of you.

Ventilate: Rain causes humidity levels to increase. You may find that your vehicle’s windows become foggy when you operate your vehicle while it is raining. Most cars’ ventilation systems include a function that will work to reduce this type of fog that develops on the interior of your windows and windshield. It may be necessary to pull over if you are no longer able to see through your windows.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com

Study: Number of people killed by red light runners hits a 10-year high (and how to prevent crashes)

November 20, 2019 | 6:00 am


We all learned the rules as children: green light means go, yellow light means slow, and perhaps most importantly, red means stop. Unfortunately, adults seem to be forgetting that lesson.

The number of people killed by drivers running red lights has hit a 10-year high, according to a study by Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA). Nearly 1,000 people were killed in a year, according to the most recent statistics available — that’s a 30 percent increase from 10 years ago.

Almost half of the people killed in those crashes were passengers or drivers of other cars hit by a red-light runner. And just over one-third of the victims were the driver who ran the light, the AAA study found.

The reason for the uptick may surprise you. While distracted driving played a role, traffic lights that weren’t timed appropriately were also to blame. But perhaps most surprising? Many crashes are the result of drivers intentionally speeding and breaking the law by running red lights. About one in three drivers said they’d done it within the last 30 days, even when they could’ve safely stopped, AAA reported. The reason drivers ran a red light even though they knew it was against the law is equally as surprising. About 2 in 5 drivers don’t think police will pull them over for dangerous driving.

The Bakersfield-based accident and injury law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles is urging drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians to use caution at traffic signals.

“Like crashes cause by those driving under the influence, crashes caused red light runners are 100 percent preventable crimes,” said David Cohn, managing partner and attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Drivers who decide to run a red light are making a selfish and reckless choice that puts all of us on the roadways in danger.”

The good news is there are several things we can do to prevent red-light crashes. Continue reading this blog post to learn how.

 

RED LIGHT CAMERAS

Crashes caused by red light runners can be curbed with red light cameras, which take photos and a 12-second video of the driver when a car runs a red light.

In fact, such cameras reduced red light violations by 40% in a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Those cameras take photos of vehicles that run red lights, which police can review for ticketing purposes. Running a red light will cost the offender $490, according to the Judicial Council of California, which sets fines for traffic offenses.

Locally, the Bakersfield Police Department reviews about 1,500 to 2,000 violations per month, according to The Bakersfield Californian. On average, 37 are cited each day. Red-light cameras are stationed at 10 Bakersfield intersections.

  • Bernard Street and Oswell Street
  • California Avenue and Oak Street
  • California Avenue / New Stine Road / Stockdale Highway
  • Chester Avenue and Brundage Lane
  • Coffee Road and Stockdale Highway
  • Coffee Road and Truxtun Avenue
  • Ming Avenue and Valley Plaza
  • Ming Avenue and Real Road
  • Ming Avenue and Old River Road
  • White Lane and Wible Road

These intersections with red light cameras saw collisions reduce by more than 80%, according to a recent Kern County Grand Jury report.

 

HOW TO AVOID RED LIGHT CRASHES

Besides putting in more red light cameras, Chain | Cohn | Stiles recommends pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers do several things to avoid crashes at intersections.

Drivers

  • Drivers should monitor “stale” green lights — those that have been green a long time as you approach the intersection. They are more likely to turn yellow as you arrive at the intersection.
  • Prepare to stop. Lift your foot off the accelerator and “cover the brake” when preparing to enter any intersection by positioning your right foot just above the brake pedal, without touching it.
  • Use good judgment. Monitor “stale” green lights, those that have been green a long time as you’ve approached the intersection. They are more likely to turn yellow as you arrive at the intersection.
  • Tap the brake. Tap your brakes a couple of times before fully applying them to slow down. This will catch the attention of drivers who may be inattentive or distracted behind you.
  • Drive defensively. Before you enter an intersection after the light has turned green for you, take a second after the light changes and look both ways before proceeding.

Pedestrians and Bicyclists

  • Wait. Give yourself a few seconds to make sure all cars have come to a complete stop before moving through the intersection.
  • Stay alert and listen. Don’t take chances. Watch what is going on and give your full attention to the environment around you.
  • Be visible. Stay in well-lit areas, especially when crossing the street.
  • Make eye contact. Look at drivers in stopped vehicles to ensure they see you before crossing the road in front of them.
  • Never wear headphones or earbuds while commuting or talk on the phone.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of a red-light runner, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

Teen drivers, school buses the focus of safety awareness weeks

October 23, 2019 | 11:11 am


Our children’s safety can be one of the most important focuses in our lives, which makes two national observances this week especially vital. This week in the United States we are observing “School Bus Safety Week” and “Teen Driver Safety Week.”

Learn safety tips, statistics, and other important information about these observances below.

“Our children’s safety is a top concern always,” said David Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Let’s all remember this week, and moving forward, to be extra careful around school buses, talk to teens about safe driving habits, and follow our laws always.”

 

Teen Driver Safety Week

This week and beyond, parents should speak with their teen children about how to stay as safe as possible behind the wheel. In fact, motor vehicle crashes are the leading causes of death for teens (15 to 18 years old) in the United States, ahead of all other types of injuries, diseases, or violent acts. Teens are also 10 times more likely to be in a fatal car accident than adults.

In particular, there are six dangers that are especially important for teens to understand: alcohol, inconsistent or no seat belt use, distracted and drowsy driving, speeding, and number of passengers. Learn more about them below, courtesy of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

  • Alcohol and Drugs: All teens are too young to legally buy, possess, or consume alcohol.  However, nationally in 2017, 15% of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes had alcohol in their system. But alcohol isn’t the only substance that can keep teens from driving safely.  According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 6.5% of adolescents 12 to 17 years old reported using marijuana. Like other drugs, marijuana affects a driver’s ability to react to their surroundings. Remind teens that driving under the influence of any impairing substance could have deadly consequences.
  • Seat Belts: Wearing a seat belt is one of the simplest ways for teens to stay safe in a vehicle. A total of 539 passengers died in passenger vehicles driven by teen drivers and more than half (60%) of those passengers who died were NOT buckled up at the time of the fatal crash. Even more troubling, in 87% of cases when the teen driver was unbuckled, the passengers were also unbuckled. The chances of surviving a traffic crash are 45% higher when properly restrained in a seat belt.
  • Distracted Driving: Distractions while driving are more than just risky—they can be deadly. In 2017, among teen drivers involved in fatal crashes, 9 percent were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. The use of mobile devices while driving is a big problem, but there are other causes of teen distracted driving which pose dangers as well. They include adjusting the radio, applying makeup, eating or drinking, or distractions from other passengers in the vehicle.
  • Speeding: In 2017, almost one-quarter (27%) of all teen passenger vehicle drivers involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time of the crash, and males were more likely to be involved in fatal crashes than females.
  • Passengers: Teen drivers transporting passengers can lead to disastrous results.  Research shows the risk of a fatal crash goes up in direct relation to the number of passengers in a car. The likelihood of teen drivers engaging in risky behavior triples when traveling with multiple passengers.
  • Drowsy Driving: Teens are busier than ever: studying, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and spending time with friends are among the long list of things they do to fill their time. However, with all of these activities, teens tend to compromise something very important—sleep. This is a dangerous habit that can lead to drowsy driving or falling asleep at the wheel.

 

School Bus Safety Week

Every school day in this country, 25 million children ride in a bus. The good news: School buses are among the safest modes of transportation. In fact, students are 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking a bus instead of traveling by car, according to NHTSA. Why? They’re designed to be safer than passenger vehicles in preventing crashes and injuries.

But it’s not inside of the bus we should be most concerned about in terms of safety, but what happens outside. The real risks is in walking to the bus stop, and getting on and off the bus.

Here are some tips to keep students safe, as well as those walking and driving around school buses.

Tips for Drivers

  • Watch out for children walking or bicycling to school when backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage.
  • Be on the lookout when driving through neighborhoods. Drive slowly and watch for children walking in the street.
  • Learn the school bus laws in California.
    • Yellow flashing lights indicate that a bus is preparing to stop to pick up or drop off children. Drivers should slow down and prepare to stop.
    • Red flashing lights and an extended stop-arm signal indicate that the bus has stopped and that children are getting on or off. Cars must stop a safe distance away and not start again until the red lights stop flashing, the stop sign has been folded back, and the bus begins to continue on its way.

Tips for Students

  • Be at the bus stop at least 5 minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive.
  • Stand at least 6 feet away from the curb when the bus approaches, and keep the line away from the street.
  • Wait until the bus stops, the door opens, and the driver says it’s okay to step onto the bus.
  • Remain visible to the bus driver at all times.
  • Never walk behind the bus. You should always make sure that you’re in the driver’s line of sight.
  • Use the handrails to avoid falling.
  • If seat belts are available on the bus, buckle up.
  • Don’t speak loudly or make loud noises that could distract the driver.
  • Stay in your seat.
  • Don’t put your head, arms, or hands out the window.
  • Keep the aisle clear of books, bags, and other objects.
  • Wait for the bus to stop completely before getting up from your seat.
  • If you have to cross in front of the bus after you get off, first walk at least 10 feet ahead until you can see the driver.
  • When the driver signals, look left, right, then left again. Walk across the road and keep an eye out for sudden traffic changes.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

Driving while high on THC? Here’s what you should know

October 16, 2019 | 6:00 am


Marijuana today has become mainstream as voters across the United States approve ballot measures for legalization and medical use. In fact, cannabis is now legal for recreational use in 10 states (including California) and the District of Columbia, and nearly three dozen states have cleared the use of medical cannabis.

As legalization continues to expand, safety officials across the country are more concerned than ever about stoned drivers taking to the nation’s roads and freeways, potentially endangering lives. But while there’s general agreement that driving while high is bad, there is not yet a linear relationship between THC levels and degree of impairment.

Read below to learn about the current state of marijuana laws as they relate to driving, ongoing studies, and what you can do to make sure we are all safe on the roadways.

 

CALIFORNIA LAW

Under California law, marijuana use and driving is still in the works. California DMV states that “the use of any drug which impairs your ability to drive safely is illegal.” The law does not distinguish between prescription, over-the-counter, or illegal drugs.

California also does not have a legal blood concentration limit for THC, unlike for alcohol. That is, there is no stated level at which a person is presumed to be under the influence as a result of marijuana use.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed AB 127 into law, which provides funding and authorization for the California Highway Patrol, and other law enforcement agencies, to study the effects of marijuana-impaired driving.

“One of the open-ended questions (about legal, recreational cannabis), that is a legitimate question, is public safety on the roads,” Newsom said in a statement before signing the bill. ”

 

DRIVING WHILE STONED

Government agencies are now testing ways to ensure the legalization of cannabis doesn’t create new public health risks, including answering the question, “at what point is someone too high to get behind the wheel?” The answer is complicated.

Scientists and pharmacologists don’t know how to measure if and to what extent marijuana causes impairment. The reason is existing blood and urine tests can detect marijuana use, but those tests can’t specify whether the use occurred in the day or month. They also don’t indicate the level at which a driver would be considered “under the influence.”

For alcohol, there is a clear, national standard. If your blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 percent or higher, you’re considered cognitively impaired at a level that is unsafe to drive. Extensive research supports this determination, and the clarity makes enforcement of drunken driving laws easier, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But setting a marijuana-related impairment level is a murkier proposition.

Eaze, an online cannabis marketplace, recently surveyed licensed Californian drivers who used cannabis within 30 days of responding, and here’s what they found:

  • Nearly half, 46%, who responded were unable to answer whether there exists a legal bloodstream concentration limit for THC, as there is for alcohol.
  • 81% were aware that it is illegal to drive under the influence of cannabis.
  • 62% also were unaware of the legal penalties that come with it. Like a DUI involving alcohol, they can include fines, jail time and license suspensions.
  • 82% stated that driving is the primary method by which most marijuana consumers buy cannabis
  • Almost half, 45%, reported driving after consuming the drug.
  • Of adults who consume and drive, 77% believe it doesn’t affect their driving, and 16% believe it improves their driving.
  • A vast majority said they would not do so if low- or no-cost ride-share options, or delivery, were available.

In the end, the study showed that “few know critical details about cannabis consumption and driving.”

 

BREATHALYZERS?

Breathalyzer tests for alcohol are a quick and non-invasive way to tell if a driver is drunk. Testing for stoned drivers isn’t as straightforward. And there is no known correlation between blood THC concentration and impairment, and testing requires a blood or saliva sample. These complications have made it a challenge to gauge whether legalization makes the roads more hazardous. Some areas have laws that define a predetermined concentration of THC in the blood as illegal whether or not the driver appears impaired.

One company, called Hound Labs, is working on a breakthrough in creating a marijuana breathalyzer.

The company says its device can accurately detect whether a person has smoked pot in the last two hours. The device also doubles as an alcohol breathalyzer, giving police an easy-to-use roadside for both intoxicants.

Other tools now on the market to determine marijuana test blood, saliva or urine can take days for a result.

For now, law enforcement agencies rely mostly on roadside sobriety tests by officers to make an initial determination on impairment. In California, every highway patrol member learns to administer “field sobriety tests” — undergoing an extra 16 hours of training to recognize the influence of different drugs, including marijuana.

 

RESEARCH

Studies do show that marijuana does, in fact, weaken a driver’s ability to maintain focus, and it slows reflexes. But more research is still needed, experts say.

Research by the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia University showed that half of young drivers, age 16 to 25, who died in car crashes were under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or both. In 2015, 43 percent of all drivers killed in vehicle crashes who were tested, tested positive for legal or illegal drugs, according to the NHTSA. In California, 19 percent of all drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes who were tested, tested positive for legal or illegal drugs. And those percentages have been increasing each year.

Drugged driving is known as “a silent epidemic,” because there is a misconception that it’s OK and is safe to drive after smoking pot, as NPR reported. And the public — especially teenage drivers — are not well aware of some of the hazards of drugs such as marijuana on driving.

A major study underway on driving impairment at University of California San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research is scheduled to wrap up next year. Other groups, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo., are working on creating standards for a marijuana DUI detection test.

 

STAYING SAFE

The advice for pot users and driving is the same for all substances that cause impairment: never drive while under the influence!

Just like drunk driving, driving under the influence of drugs is a crime – even if impairment is due to prescribed medications, illicit drugs, over-the-counter medications or marijuana – medical or recreational. The dangers and legal consequences are the same.

Here’s what you need to know about driving while under the influence of marijuana:

  • Marijuana slows your reaction time and ability to make decisions. Marijuana affects the part of the brain that controls body movement, balance and coordination and can impair judgment and memory. Studies show that driving while under the influence of marijuana negatively impacts attentiveness, perception of time and speed. Impaired memory can affect the ability to draw from past driving experiences, especially in emergency situations.
  •  The higher you are, the more risks you take while driving. Studies show that drivers with only a small amount of THC in their blood can feel the effects. They often try to be more cautious, driving slower than normal, even sometimes too slow. However, greater problems arise when increasingly larger doses of THC are present in the blood. These drivers tend to weave in and out of lanes more, react slower to traffic lights and unexpected obstacles and are less aware of their speed. Overall, higher doses of marijuana tend to cause greater impairment when it comes to driving.
  • The effect of marijuana is strongest during the first 30 minutes after consumption. People who drive immediately after using marijuana may increase their risk of getting into a crash by 25 to 35 percent. The impairing effect rises rapidly and remains for some time. These affects can be delayed if the marijuana is ingested rather than smoked.
  • Combining alcohol with marijuana or impairing medications is even more dangerous than any used alone. Alcohol is a depressant and works by slowing down the central nervous system, which means that normal brain functions are delayed. It also impairs hand-eye coordination and how you process information. When marijuana or the long list of impairing prescription medications and illicit drugs are mixed with alcohol, the combination can heighten the effects of both on the body and brain.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

Work injury lawyer James Yoro provides insight for cancer cases involving former refinery workers

September 11, 2019 | 6:00 am


Editor’s Note: Chain | Cohn | Stiles workers’ compensation lawyer James Yoro provided advice and legal insight in the local cases involving the Mohawk Refinery in Bakersfield, and workers who may have been exposed to cancer causing materials. Trusts have been set up to distribute fund to those who either worked at or are related to someone who worked at the refinery before 1980 and later developed cancer.

Below is the article published in The Bakersfield Californian, followed by a news video interview by KBFX Eyewitness News:

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Decades can pass before cancer from asbestos exposure becomes evident, and by that time, who’s to say exactly who or what is to blame?

It almost doesn’t matter: Lawyers say that if documentation can be found showing a cancer patient spent enough time working somewhere asbestos was present — and the cancer is consistent with exposure to the carcinogen — then there’s a chance that financial compensation may be available to the person or the person’s heir.

Such is the case with the former Mohawk Refinery on Rosedale Highway.

People who either worked at or are related to someone who worked at the refinery before 1980 and later developed cancer could be eligible for compensation.

People who qualify may be entitled to thousands of dollars, maybe tens of thousands, from any of several trusts set up to disburse money to victims of asbestos exposure.

Though no longer in wide use, asbestos used to be a common material in refineries and other industrial sites. As a result of exposure, workers who inhaled or ingested its microfibers may, over time, develop mesothelioma or lung, esophageal, laryngeal, pharyngeal, stomach, colon or rectal cancer.

The National Cancer Institute says 10 to 40 years can pass before asbestos-related cancers begin to appear.

The refinery has been declared a “qualified site.” That means instead of suing for compensation, qualified victims or their heirs need only prove how long the person was employed there — five years may be enough to qualify — and turn over medical records showing the cancer diagnosis.

Liability for paying such claims does not rest with the refinery or its former owners. Instead, payments would come from five asbestos trusts set up to cover injury claims.

The Bakersfield refinery was owned by Mohawk Petroleum Corp. when it first opened in 1932. It changed hands many times over the years, merging along the way with neighboring operations, and is now owned by Delek US. It is closed and has not operated for 12 consecutive months since 2012.

 

FINDING DOCUMENTATION

In the case of a qualified asbestos site, the process of filing and collecting on a claim does not typically involve a lawsuit. Even so, the process is not always easy; the difficult part can be collecting pathology reports, doctor’s reports and employment records.

Filing a claim has no effect on a person’s pension or Social Security benefits.

Lawyer James A. Yoro, an equity partner in the Bakersfield law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles, said a statute of limitations limits the window of opportunity for filing a claim against an asbestos trust. But because the window only opens when a person becomes aware of the cancer diagnosis, he said, the statute doesn’t usually become a barrier to payment.

While asbestos claims are not unheard of in Kern, Yoro said, those related to valley fever are more common here.

He noted that someone making an asbestos claim may have been exposed to the carcinogen at different times at various locations. This diversity of exposures does not generally affect a person’s chances of collecting payment from an asbestos trust.

 

ANOTHER AVENUE

Yoro also pointed out another option available to people exposed to asbestos while at work in California. It’s called the Asbestos Workers’ Account and it is part of a fund in the state Treasury.

How long and difficult the process of collecting on an asbestos claim often depends on the documentation a claimant provides, Yoro said. The more records available, he said, the better.

He advised that anyone with a possible claim consider filing one.

“If somebody does have a potential claim, they should definitely try it out,” he said. “There’s nothing to lose by trying it.”

 

ASBESTOS TRUSTS

Dozens of trusts exist to pay out asbestos-related medical claims. In the case of the former Mohawk Refinery along Rosedale Highway, these five trusts have money that can be claimed by people who used to work there and contracted cancer, or whose antecedents did.

The trusts were established to pay out future claims against these companies:

  • Babcock & Wilcox (B&W), which used asbestos as insulation in boilers
  • Halliburton, manufacturer of asbestos-containing turbines, pumps and compressors
  • J.T. Thorpe, which used asbestos to make refractory materials
  • Pittsburgh Corning Corp., maker of pipe-insulating products with asbestos in them
  • Fibreboard, manufacturer of fiberglass insulation and other materials that contain asbestos

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If you or someone you know is hurt on the job, or hurt in an accident at the fault of someone else, please contact lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com for more information.

*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

What you need to know about Valley Fever in Kern County

August 21, 2019 | 6:00 am


Last year, California experienced 2,200 new cases of Valley Fever, and most were reported in the southern Central Valley regions of Kern, Tulare, Kings, Fresno, Madera, and Merced counties. In fact, Kern County residents were affected the most with 890 cases. In all, about 30 percent of all Valley Fever cases nationwide occur in the Central Valley each year.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles along with California health officials are warning people about Valley Fever, not only for Valley Fever Awareness Month, but year-round. Breathing the Central Valley’s dusty air can put you at risk for this potentially fatal disease. Here’s what you need to know about Valley Fever, whose most at risk, what you can do to prevent the spread, and what to do if you or your loved ones are affected.

 

WHAT IS VALLEY FEVER?

Valley Fever, or coccidioidomycosis, is caused by a fungal spore that is found in soils in the southwest United States, and in some areas of Central and South America. People get infected by breathing in spores contained in dust that gets into the air when it’s windy or when the soil is disturbed during activities such as digging, gardening and construction.

In many cases, Valley fever does not make people ill, but some get flu-like symptoms that can last a month or more. Most who have flu symptoms recover fully, but others can develop severe disease, including pneumonia and infection of the brain, joints, bone, skin and other organs. Anyone who thinks they might have Valley Fever should see a doctor. A blood test can determine the disease, and doctors should be suspicious of Valley Fever in patients who live in the valley or have traveled through the area who have a cough that doesn’t go away after more than several weeks.

Valley fever does not spread from person to person, and many people who are exposed to the fungus never have symptoms. Other people may have flu-like symptoms, including fatigue, cough, fever, shortness of breath, headache, night sweats, muscle aches or joint pain, and rashes on the upper body or legs. Serious illness can occur, resulting in hospitalization, long-term disability, or even death.

Healthcare providers prescribe antifungal medication for some people to try to reduce symptoms or prevent the infection from getting worse. People who have severe lung infections or infections that have spread to other parts of the body always need antifungal treatment and may need to stay in the hospital.

 

KERN COUNTY AT RISK

Anyone who lives in or travels to an area where the fungus lives in the environment can get Valley Fever, and it can affect people of any age, but it’s most common in adults age 60 and older. Additionally, certain groups of people may be at higher risk for developing the severe forms of Valley Fever, such as people who have weakened immune systems, as well as pregnant women, people who have diabetes, and people who are black or Filipino.

The best way to reduce the risk of Valley fever is to avoid breathing dust by:

  • Minimize soil disturbance.
  • Stay indoors on dusty days.
  • Roll up windows in cars and use recirculating air conditioning when driving through dusty areas.
  • If outdoors in dusty areas, consider wearing a N95 mask or respirator.

In areas where Valley Fever is common, like Kern County, it’s difficult to completely avoid exposure to the fungus because it is in the environment. And there is no vaccine to prevent infection. That’s why knowing about Valley Fever is one of the most important ways to avoid delays in diagnosis and treatment. People who have Valley Fever symptoms and live in or have visited an area where the fungus is common should ask their doctor to test them for Valley Fever. Healthcare providers should be aware that Valley Fever symptoms are similar to those of other respiratory illnesses and should consider testing in patients with flu-like symptoms who live in or have traveled to an area where Coccidioides lives.

 

WORK SAFETY

Employers in affected areas can take steps to protect workers from breathing in the fungal spores that cause Valley Fever. These include controlling dust, providing worker training, and suspending outdoor work during heavy winds.

It’s important for employers of outdoor workers to post resources for preventing work-related Valley Fever. Each year, more than 1,000 Californians receive hospital treatment for Valley Fever, and about eight of every 100 people hospitalized die from the infection annually.

Workers who dig or otherwise disturb soil containing the fungus are at risk for getting the illness. The fungus lives in the soil in parts of California, particularly the Central Valley. When people inhale the fungal spores released when the soil is disturbed, they may get Valley Fever.

Some workers at higher risk for Valley Fever include wildland firefighters, construction workers, archaeologists, military personnel, and workers in mining, gas, and oil extraction jobs.

Here are some steps employers and employees can take to prevent the spread of Valley Fever:

  • Determine if your worksite is in an endemic area.
  • Adopt site plans and work practices that reduce workers’ exposure, which may include minimizing the area of soil disturbed; using water, appropriate soil stabilizers, and/or re-vegetation to reduce airborne dust; stabilizing all spoils piles by tarping or other methods; providing air conditioned cabs for vehicles that generate heavy dust and make sure workers keep windows and vents closed; suspending work during heavy winds; placing any onsite sleeping quarters, if provided, away from sources of dust.
  • Employers must develop and implement a respiratory protection program in accordance with Cal/OSHA’s Respiratory Protection standard.
  • Take measures to reduce transporting spores offsite, such as cleaning tools, equipment, and vehicles before transporting offsite; providing coveralls and change rooms, and showers where possible if workers’ clothing is likely to be heavily contaminated with dust.
  • Train workers and supervisors about the risk of Valley Fever, the work activities that may increase the risk, and the measures used onsite to reduce exposure. Also train on how to recognize Valley Fever symptoms.
  • Encourage workers to report Valley Fever symptoms promptly to a supervisor.

 

HELP AVAILABLE

Valley Fever Institute at Kern Medical aims is to increase education and awareness for the public, patients and health care providers, and provide the patient care and promote research that includes epidemiology, clinical drug development, prevention, immunology and immunizations. Chain | Cohn | Stiles recently joined the Valley Fever Institute at the annual Valley Fever Walk aimed at raising awareness of Valley Fever.

The Valley Fever Americas Foundation aims to promote awareness and raise funds to support promising academic and medical research on the fungus which causes Valley Fever, in efforts to produce a vaccine or a cure. There is currently no cure for the disease.

“Understanding the conditions in which Valley Fever is most likely to be contracted can prevent further suffering and loss throughout our community, and being familiar with its symptoms empowers victims of this disease to be diagnosed early and increase their chances of making a full recovery,” according to the foundation.

More resources on Valley Fever can be found at the Valley Fever Institute and Valley Fever Americas Foundation.

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MORE INFORMATION

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If you or someone you know is injured at work or becomes ill due to work condition, please contact the personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

Safety in school zones is key as thousands hit Kern County roadways for new school year

August 14, 2019 | 3:34 pm


The streets in the mornings and afternoons are filled with cars, bikes, SUVs and buses. The sidewalks, too, are lined with pedestrians, short and tall. This can only mean one thing: It’s back to school in Kern County!

Students in K-12 schools started the new school year Aug. 14, including the largest elementary and high school districts in the state, Bakersfield City School District and Kern High School District. In all, roughly 200,000 students are enrolled in K-12 schools locally.

With so many people hitting our roadways starting this week, and continuing through the summer, Chain | Cohn | Stiles — along with local public safety agencies — are reminding local residents to keep safety in mind always to and from school, and to share the road — motor vehicle drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists alike.

Bakersfield Police Department, California Highway Patrol, and Kern County Sheriff’s Office, among others, will be conducting a maximum enforcement effort in and around school zones with the goal of preventing traffic collisions, and educate the public on pedestrian and bicyclist safety. In addition, officers will be distributing bicycle and pedestrian safety pamphlets in the area of local schools.

“The Bakersfield Police Department would like to remind and encourage motorists in our community to be aware of their speeds when entering school zones, avoid any form of distracted driving, watch for school crossings and school bus loading zones, and show respect to the other motorists on the roadway,” the department said in a statement. “Motorists need to be sure to plan enough time for their commute and be aware that traffic may be especially congested in school zones during the first week of school.”

Here are some more safety tips to protect your children and make sure they remain safe through the school year, courtesy of California Office of Traffic Safety and other local safety agencies.

PREPARE

  • Always be on the lookout for children when traveling around schools, especially during pick-up and drop-off times.
  • Map out a safe way for your children to walk to school or to the bus stop. Work with other parents in the neighborhood to ensure that children in the neighborhood are supervised closely to and from school.
  • Work with your neighbors and your child on identifying “safe houses,” or homes of neighbors who your child is familiar with if your child is scared or needs help on the way to and from school.
  • Point out places they should avoid, such as vacant lots, alleyways, and construction areas.
  • Encourage your children to use the “buddy system.”
  • Teach your children to always be aware of their surroundings. Be aware of slow moving vehicles or parked vehicles that appear to be occupied. Choose a different route or walk on the opposite side of the street.

TO AND FROM SCHOOL

  • Avoid distractions while driving like texting, talking on the phone, and eating.
  • If your child takes the bus, remind them to line up away from the curb and look both ways when getting on or off the bus. Children need to pay attention to traffic signals and use crosswalks with a crossing guard if available.
  • Know what to do around buses. Flashing yellow lights indicate the bus is preparing to stop and flashing red lights means stop. California law requires drivers in both directions to stop until the red lights are no longer flashing.
  • Teach your children to make sure the bus driver can see them before walking in front of the bus, and to never walk behind a bus.
  • If seat belts are available on the bus, buckle up. Don’t speak loudly or make loud noises that could distract the driver, and stay in your seat. Don’t put your head, arms or hands out the window.
  • For bicyclists, always wear a helmet that is fitted and secured properly. Use hand signals when turning, and stay in the bike lane whenever possible.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

Plan your summer road trip, the most dangerous season for drivers, with safety in mind

July 10, 2019 | 11:33 am


Even with the new gas tax in California, one of the most cost efficient ways to get your family from point A to point B this summer is on the road. Especially in Kern County and the Central Valley, many popular destinations are just a few hours away by car.

But summer is also one of the deadliest seasons for drivers across the country. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more people die in drunk driving crashes in July than any other month. That means each time you hit the freeway, you are putting your family at risk of potential danger.

So, this month more than any other month is the time to recognize and prepare for any event that may take place while on the roadway. Here are some summer safety tips for you to be prepared on your next road trip:

 

Carry an emergency kit

Never leave home without an emergency kit. Top of the list is a cell phone because you can call for help in case of an emergency. It’s also suggested to pack the following:

  • Cell phone charger
  • First-aid kit
  • Tools to jump a car, check tire pressure, and change tires
  • Basic repair tools and duct tape
  • Water
  • Nonperishable food and medicines
  • Maps
  • Emergency blankets and towels

 

Never leave children or pets unattended in cars

The law in California states that no children under 12 may be left unattended in a car. The fact is there is no safe amount of time to leave children alone in the car. Did you know that children’s bodies heat up 3-5 times faster than an adult’s body? That’s according to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. Even if the weather is at a cool 60 degrees, temperatures inside a vehicle can reach 110 degrees. Cracking a window does not allow for enough air flow through the vehicle. Every hot car death is preventable.

If you bring pets on your road trip, have a plan beforehand. Check to see if the restaurant you’re planning on going to is pet-friendly or if another passenger can watch the pet if you have to run into a store.

Also remember to pull your canned sodas out of the car before you hit the beach or they might explode in high temperatures. This also applies to aerosol products such as hairspray and canned deodorant.

 

Stay alert behind the wheel

Drowsy driving accounted for 91,000 motor vehicle crashes in 2017, according to NHTSA. The National Sleep Foundation states that driving while drowsy is dangerous because it has similar effects on your body as if you were to drive drunk. Being awake for 18 hours straight makes you drive as if you have a blood alcohol level of .05, and being awake for 24 hours straight brings it to a blood alcohol level of .10. The best way to prevent drowsy driving is to get 7-8 hours of sleep the night before your road trip.  Signs to watch out for include:

  • trouble focusing
  • heavy eyelids
  • inability to remember the last stretch of road you drove
  • constant yawning
  • bobbing head
  • drifting from your lane

Drinking coffee and energy drinks are not always enough for tired drivers because the effects do not last long. Switching drivers throughout a road trip is a great way to improve alertness in each individual’s portion of the drive. If switching drivers is not possible, one way to increase alertness is to drink one to two cups of coffee and pull over and take a 20 minute nap.

 

Have a designated driver

As always, it is important to have a designated driver if any drivers in your party consume alcohol. Deaths caused by drunk driving are preventable. It is important to check and make sure any medication you are taking will not worsen the effects of alcohol. Common allergy medications, such as Clarinex, should not be mixed with alcohol. For a full list of medications to avoid taking while consuming alcohol click here.

 

And, as always, share the road with pedestrian, scooter riders, bicyclists and motorcyclists, and always wear a seat belt. For more driving safety tips, go to bloggingforjustice.com.

— Alexa Esparza contributed to this report.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.