Interstate Reopens after 95-Vehicle Pileup

Auto accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report that Interstate 77, near the Virginia-North Carolina border, recently reopened after a devastating crash that killed three and injured 25 others. The chain-reaction crash ultimately involved 17 separate accidents and 95 vehicles within a one-mile span.

The crashes occurred near the bottom of Fancy Gap Mountain near the state lines in late March 2013 – an area that is notorious for dangerously heavy fog. There are warning signs all over the mountain advising drivers to be cautious of sudden vision loss. Since the mid-1990s, there have been at least six similar pileups on the mountainous stretch.

The crash last month, however, was by far the worst. Two people died in crashes in 2000 and 2010, but this is the first time any more than two fatalities have been reported. Traffic was backed up for about eight miles in the hours after the pileup, and police closed the northbound lanes so emergency responders could get to the wreckage.

In the hours leading up to the crash, starting around 6 a.m., overhead messages warned drivers of the heavy fog. The messages warned motorists to slow down, however, the crashes were for the most part caused by drivers going too fast in the extreme conditions. The worst of the 17 crashes involved eight vehicles, many of which caught on fire. All three of the fatalities were in vehicles that struck tractor-trailers, at least one of which rear ended one, causing the car to become lodged underneath the back of the massive trailer.

As regulators on the East Coast figure out how to better prepare drivers for dangerous driving conditions, authorities on the West Coast are trying to wrap their heads around the most recent catastrophic drunk driving crashes. At Washington’s state Capitol, lawmakers are trying to determine the best way to respond to the deaths of Dennis and Judy Schulte.

The couple was on a walk a few weeks ago in North Seattle with their daughter-in-law and infant grandson when Mark Mullan struck them with his car, killing the Schulte’s and critically injuring the woman and her son. His BAC was nearly three times the legal limit, and he is now facing up to 20 years in prison.

In recent years, Washington State has spearheaded the now-national efforts to increase drunk driving penalties through legislation. The state now requires certain DUIs be made felonies, ignition interlocks for first-time offenders, and doubled prison sentences for intoxicated vehicular homicide. According to MADD, the state has some of the strictest drunken driving laws in the country.

In 2011, alcohol was involved in more than 37% of all fatal crashes in Washington, and more than 6% of all roadway crashes. The number of DUI-related crashes in 2011 was nearly 6,100 – a decade earlier that number was just above 6,500.

Many are confounded as to why the stricter laws are not leading to significantly less drunken driving crashes. Yes, the numbers are coming down, but not as fast as lawmakers and the public had hoped. Clearly there is more work to be done, particularly in dealing with repeat offenders.

After the Schulte’s deaths, lawmakers promised to target multiple offenders and offer several proposals for even tougher laws. Some are saying, however, that there is only so much increased legislation can do. The driver who killed the couple obviously had no regard for the law whatsoever. He was driving without a license, without the court-ordered interlock device, and had five previous DUIs. The chairman of the Impaired Driving Working Group stated that, instead of getting stricter, DUI laws need to get smarter.

Many advocates are saying that new, revolutionary technology is the next step in reducing the occurrence of drunk driving. The federal government heard this cry, and invested $5 million into a research project that will develop cars that can automatically determine a driver’s intoxication level through touch or air. MADD’s vice president of public policy projected the new technology could be out within the next five years. Others are more skeptical, saying the idea is good in theory but unrealistic in practice. One victim of a devastating crash caused by a repeated-offender stated that alcohol is the exclusive problem, but that it is not going anywhere.

Auto accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm affirm that nearly 300 DUI-related laws have been introduced in 40 states already this year, and encourage all Americans to educate themselves on these frequently evolving regulations. If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a crash caused by the negligence or another, you may be entitled to significant compensation, and should contact a skilled lawyer as soon as possible.

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