We prepare for a lot of things when we embark on a vacation destination, though a car accident isn't usually one of them. Maybe it should be.
San Clemente, also known as the Spanish Village by the Sea, is a West Coast tourist destination year-round. But travel in Southern California is rarely a breeze, at least when it comes to the roads. AAA estimates holiday travel has climbed steadily in recent years, with 2017 Memorial Day travel numbers at an estimated 39.3 million - the highest since 2005. More cars on the road, of course, means more car accidents.
Four people died recently in a California highway crash two hours east of San Clemente near Joshua Tree National Park when they collided with a big rig head-on, resulting in an explosion that rocked the entire roadway packed with Memorial Day weekend travelers, many in packed passenger cars and hauling boats. One vacationer from Oregon, a retired U.S. Army infantryman, told the L.A. Times his first thought was the blast was from an improvised explosive device.
Travel is Up
Although it's unclear whether the victims themselves were on vacation, we do know millions of people were traveling across the country that weekend for the summer holiday, which marks the beginning of the summer travel season.
AAA reported overall travel was up 2.7 percent this year from last, and 88 percent of those travel by vehicle (as opposed to by air travel). While holiday weekends are especially popular, traffic in Southern California is never a picnic in the summer.
Whether you're taking the family car on vacation or renting a vehicle for out-of-town travel, it's important to inform yourself of the possible risks, and plan accordingly.
Safe Travel Tips
- Plan Your Route. Road trips cover long distances, often on unfamiliar roads with sometimes confusing signs and unexpected weather change. You need to make sure you have your route carefully mapped for a few reasons. The first is so you know what to expect, and can familiarize yourself with proper safe driving techniques, as well as ensure your vehicle is in the right condition to handle the challenges (i.e., heat, defrosting, air conditioning, windshield wipers, tire grip, etc.). Beyond that, you want to make sure you aren't tempted to speed or stretch your drive time beyond what is safe. The California Highway Patrol reports drowsy driving is responsible for 4,300 car accidents, 2,050 injuries and 30 deaths a year in the Golden State. That's more than likely a low estimate because sleepy driving isn't as easy to track as, say, drunk driving.
- Have Your Vehicle Maintained. Before you set out on a journey that is 100 miles or more, you need to make sure your vehicle is in good working condition. That means an inspection and a check-up and a tire rotation. If you fail to do this, and a vehicle defect causes or contributes to a crash, you could be found negligent or comparatively at-fault for injuries to yourself. Precedent established in the 1975 California Supreme Court case of Li v. Yellow Cab made California a pure comparative fault state, meaning fault on the victim's part won't prohibit them from collecting damages, but it will proportionately diminish the amount you can receive.
- Be Cautious Around Commercial Vehicles. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports more than 10 million commercial trucks are registered in the U.S., some weighing up to 80,000 pounds. Stay out of their blind spots. Give them a wide berth. Never cut too closely in front of one, as they are not able to slow down as fast your typical passenger car.
- Pay Attention. This includes not just avoiding driver fatigue, but also driver distractions - including your fellow vehicle occupants, as well as your smartphone. On Jan. 1, 2017, Assembly Bill 1785 went into effect in California, requiring all motorists to keep cellphones out of their hands. If drivers are going to use a phone, it has to be mounted to dash or windshield or hands-free.
If you are involved in a San Celemente car accident while on vacation, our attorneys can help you navigate the challenges.