A future with fewer traffic accidents? A look at driverless cars, safety and liability

November 8, 2017 | 7:00 am


The U.S. government recently released new federal guidance for automated driving systems that officials say has the potential to change the way we travel. But what does that mean to you, the everyday driver and passenger of motor vehicles?

The answer comes down to safety.

“The safe deployment of  automated vehicle technologies means we can look forward to a future with fewer traffic fatalities and increased mobility for all Americans,” according to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

As Chain | Cohn | Stiles managing partner David K. Cohn sees it, this is great news for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and others on our roadways. The Bakersfield-based accident and injury law firm each year represents hundreds of innocent victims of motor vehicle crashes where human error is the primary cause.

That guidance report, called “Automated Driving Systems: A Vision for Safety 2.0,” calls for industry, state and local governments, safety and mobility advocates and the public to lay the path for the deployment of automated vehicles and technologies. It can be accessed and read here.

In fact, the California Department of Motor Vehicles recently unveiled a timeline for when driverless cars may begin appearing, as well as a new set of streamlined regulations. In short, test vehicles could be on California roads and highways by June 2018, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Currently, California rules require a human driver behind the wheel even when fully autonomous cars are being tested. Driverless cars already are operating in Arizona, Florida and other states that have looser rules than California, or no specific driverless regulations at all, according to L.A. Times.

DMV officials are trying to balance safety with technology development, and safety experts believe that robot cars will prove safer than human drivers.

According to Car and Driver, removing the possibility of fatigue or alcohol impairment in a driver alone knocks 45.5 percent off the fatality rate in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also declared that a driverless-­vehicle fleet, should at a minimum cut in half the current toll of roughly 40,200 deaths annually.

The federal government will continue to set safety standards for automobiles, while the state’s role is to make sure vehicles traveling on state highways conform to federal standards, the DMV stated.

Already, some vehicles are available with autonomous features.

Available to the public for purchase, Tesla’s Model S and Model X are stocked with eight surround cameras, ensuring a full 360 degrees of visibility. Enhanced autopilot allows the self-driving car to match speed to surrounding traffic conditions and allows for multiple lane changes.

Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., similarly developed an autonomous car, Waymo, with its name deriving for the company’s mission to create “a new way forward in mobility.” Alphabet describes Waymo as “a self-driving tech company with a mission to make it safe and easy for people and things to move around.”

According to Forbes, of the 35,000 car crash fatalities in 2015, 94 percent were due to human error, with almost 40 percent of the fatalities resulting from driving under the influence.

While autonomous cars would drastically decrease the number of accidents due to the fault of the driver, car companies would face great liability from the number of accidents due to the fault of the automobiles, according to Forbes. In the event of a car accident, if the self-driving car is at fault, the automobile company would face the repercussions of the incident and accept liability. Autonomous cars could drastically increase in price in order to cover liability costs, but car insurance premiums could substantially decrease because there would be fewer accidents.

For Chain | Cohn | Stiles, which helps victims of car accidents and other motor vehicle accidents, fewer accidents equals fewer injuries and deaths. In that case, the future is bright.

— By Alyssa Wood for Chain | Cohn | Stiles 

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If you or someone you know is injured in an motor vehicle accident at the fault of someone else, please call Chain | Cohn | Stiles at 661-323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com. For work injuries, you can also visit bakersfieldwclawyers.com.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles joins MADD to honor local officers, prosecutors fighting to end DUI crimes

June 15, 2017 | 8:27 am


Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Kern County recognized and honored local law enforcement officers and prosecutors on Wednesday, June 14, for their valiant efforts in helping stop DUI crimes.

Bakersfield-based personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles was proud to be a sponsor, supporter and organizer of the event.

In all, more than 70 officers from throughout Kern County agencies were awarded at the 2017 Kern County MADD Law Enforcement and Prosecutor Recognition ceremony, held at Hodel’s Country Dining in Bakersfield. Prosecutors from the Kern County District Attorney’s Office were also honored, with the highest awards going to the top prosecutor, top probation officer, and the top law enforcement officer.

“These local heroes are potentially helping save lives by removing DUI offenders from our streets,” said Carla Pearson, victim services specialist for MADD Kern County. “They deserve recognition for making our communities throughout Kern County safer.”

To view the names of all of the officers awarded, click here. Among the top award winners were:

  • Probation Department Award, Deputy Luis Gomez: While Deputy Probation Officer Luis Gomez does not conduct traffic stops to arrest DUI offenders, he does work hard at keeping the community safe by supervising felony probationers to ensure they are not consuming alcohol. He also works tirelessly to ensure these offenders remain in compliance with the orders of the court. Through funding provided by the Office of Transportation and Safety, Officer Gomez supervises 75 high-risk, felony and repeat DUI offenders. In 2016 alone, Officer Gomez conducted 947 home calls and 855 office conferences with these dangerous offenders. In 2016, he conducted 522 urinalysis tests by ETG device and 1,125 Breathalyzer tests. Officer Gomez has been swift in his responses to those who violate Court orders by arresting them or placing them on monitoring programs in an effort to reduce their alcohol consumption. Officer Gomez’ diligence in supervising these high-risk worst of the worst DUI offenders is commendable and has gone a long way to help keep our streets safer for the citizens of Kern County.
  • Top Prosecutor 187 Award, Kern County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Michael Yraceburn: Michael Yraceburn prosecuted the nation’s first successful murder conviction for driving while impaired by marijuana. That March 2014 crash, in which the suspect was driving close to 80 miles per hour before losing control, killed David Aggio on impact. The suspect was sentenced to 20 years to life.
  • Top Law Enforcement, Bakersfield Police Officer Louis James: Officer James was reassigned to the Bakersfield Police Department’s Traffic Section in July 2015. Since then, he has primarily worked the graveyard shift. As a result, he has been one of the most, if not the most, productive traffic officer in regards to DUI enforcement. Though he was assigned to the traffic section for only a year and a half, he maintained his aggressive DUI enforcement to make the citizens of Bakersfield safer. In 2015, He received an award from MADD California for his efforts, and in 2016 he arrested 247 DUI drivers. This was the most of all traffic units within the department and one of the highest in California.

Prosecutor’s Awards were also handed out by the Kern County District Attorney’s Office, and were awarded to Kim Richardson, Garrett Rice and Brad Taconi.

The awards ceremony returned to Bakersfield for 2017 after the loss of federal grant funding and budget cuts prevented the 2016 awards luncheon from being hosted in Kern County. This year, several community sponsors, working with MADD Kern County’s Advisory Board, stepped up to make sure officers from all Kern County agencies were being honored for their work in fighting against DUI crimes.

The MADD Kern County Advisory Board includes Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Neil Gehlawat and marketing director Jorge Barrientos.

Sponsors for the awards luncheon included anonymous donors, Chevron, Kern Federal Credit Union, Bakersfield Police Officers Association, Greenlawn Mortuary, Raymond’s Trophy, Clifford & Bradford Insurance Agency, Sally Herald CPA, and Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Since 2009, our community has seen at least 4,000 DUI arrests made each year, with 4,056 DUI arrests in 2016, according to the Kern County District Attorney’s Office. That’s more than 11 DUI arrests per day. Sadly, many impaired drivers weren’t stopped in time, and instead caused major damage to innocent lives.

The awards luncheon is one of two MADD Kern County signature events aimed to bring awareness of the DUI epidemic in our community, and fight toward ending DUI crimes here. Bakersfield’s 2017 Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash — presented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles — will be held on Saturday, Sept. 23, at Park at River Walk.

You, too, can be involved in the fight to end drunk and drugged driving locally. You can help by signing up as a walker, runner (5K or 10K), team captain, or volunteer. Parents: The event also features a kid’s “fun run,” where each child of walk and race participants gets a free superhero cape. You can even get involved if you aren’t able to attend by signing up as a “virtual walker,” or by asking a donation toward a participant or team who has been affected.

For more information on that event, go to walklikemadd.org/bakersfield.

— Alyssa Wood of Chain | Cohn | Stiles contributed to this report. 

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