Less than a year after a University of Central Florida student drowned when her car plunged into a retention pond in Orlando, Florida lawmakers have taken legislative action to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future. “Chloe’s Law,” which was introduced last year in the Florida Legislature by State Senator Darren Soto of Kissimmee and State Representative Rene Plasencia of Orlando, has passed in both legislative chambers, is being signed into law by Governor Rick Scott, and will go into effect on July 1, 2016.
Specifically, Chloe’s Law will require the state of Florida to install guardrails along bodies of water where drownings have occurred (or will occur) between July 1, 2006 and July 1, 2016. When the bill was originally introduced last year, Senator Soto and Representative Plasencia said they did not know how many bodies of water would be covered by the bill or how much it would cost to meet the requirements, but they insisted that the cost is worth it if lives can be saved. The new law additionally requires the Florida Department of Transportation to review all similar traffic collisions and to submit a report with recommendations to the Florida Legislature by January 2017.
Chloe Arenas, 21, drowned last year after she lost control of her Hyundai and plunged into a retention pond off State Road 408 in east Orange County, according to the Orange-Osceola Medical Examiner’s Office. An autopsy report classified the young woman’s death as an accident. Ms. Arenas was not intoxicated, according to the toxicology report. She left a friend’s house at about 4:00 a.m. on the morning of June 29 to pick up her grandmother and mother to take them to the airport, according to Ms. Arenas’ friend Clarissa Lindsey.
WAS FATIGUE A FACTOR?
Ms. Lindsey speculated that Ms. Arenas may have nodded off behind the wheel. After the drowning, Ms. Lindsey became a vocal, active advocate for Chloe’s Law. Florida leads the nation in the number of people who drown in their vehicles. In 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reviewed crash reports and fatality records from the years 2004 through 2007 and concluded that Florida averaged 57 traffic deaths annually by drowning in those years, with a total of 384 traffic-related drownings nationwide.
The Orlando Sentinel further reviewed the federal crash data and surveyed the records from 2008 through 2012. The newspaper found that Florida again led the nation in traffic-related drownings in those years, with 49 traffic-related drownings during the five-year period. Texas was second with 18 traffic-related drownings in the same period, followed by Indiana with 14 drownings, and Louisiana and Arizona with 10 deaths in each state.
Some lawmakers were concerned about the legislation’s fiscal impact. An analysis of the bill indicated that the original proposal requiring guardrails along bodies of water could cost the Florida Department of Transportation $2.4 million dollars. However, an amendment offered by Representative Plasencia leaves some amount of discretion to the Department of Transportation’s Chief Engineer, which could reduce the law’s overall financial impact.
HOW CAN YOU AVOID FATIGUED DRIVING?
Chloe Arenas was not intoxicated when her car plunged into that retention pond outside Orlando, but she was a busy young woman, still awake at 4:00 a.m., and when you drive a long distance at that hour, fatigue can easily overtake you. Sleep deprivation is particularly dangerous when you drive. Fatigue slows your reaction time, decreases your overall awareness, and impairs your judgment, just like drugs or alcohol. The impact of sleep deprivation on your driving ability and overall traffic safety must not be downplayed or underestimated. To remain alert and to avoid drowsiness while driving, AAA offers these suggestions:
- Get plenty of sleep the night before a long trip.
- Travel during the hours when you are normally awake.
- Take a break every two hours or every 100 miles.
- Stop driving if you become sleepy.
- Never plan to work all day and then drive all night.
- Drink a caffeinated beverage.
- Travel with a wide-awake passenger.
The U.S. has been a 24-hour-a-day society for several decades. Television stations do not “sign off” any longer, and some stores never close. The result is that compared to merely 25 years ago, we average less sleep. A poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation reveals that about one out of five adults in the U.S. sleeps fewer than six hours a night on most nights. That means the driver next to you may be drowsy or even sleeping. Automobiles may be safer today than in the past, but fatigued driving is a growing safety concern – and not only in the United States.
WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH TELL US?
Research published in the year 2000 in the British Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine showed that driving after being awake for 18 or more hours is as dangerous as driving with a blood alcohol content level of 0.05 percent, the legal limit in many European nations. The British Medical Association also warned that people without enough sleep may have higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression, and may take unnecessary risks.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, every year in the United States, about 7,500 traffic deaths are caused by fatigued drivers. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that about four percent of the drivers in the U.S. admit to driving regularly while fatigued. That’s one in every twenty-five drivers. Fatigued drivers react slowly and process information more slowly. Their vision loses its sharpness, and they’re also more apt to be “on edge” and to drive aggressively.
More disturbing figures: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that driver fatigue is responsible for approximately 100,000 accidents annually in the United States, resulting in about 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in losses. Many of these figures, however, are undoubtedly underestimated, because it’s hard to isolate and identify “fatigue” as the direct or contributing cause of many traffic accidents.
Nevertheless, researchers have frequently and conclusively demonstrated that sleep-deprived driving can lead to distractedness, negligence, injuries, and death. In 2004, the U.S. Army studied four hundred army vehicle collisions and reported a link “between insufficient sleep and driver-at-fault accidents.” In fact, the Defense Department estimates that nine percent of the vehicle crashes resulting in serious injuries or fatalities during Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield were caused by fatigued driving.
IF YOU ARE INJURED, WHAT IS YOUR RECOURSE?
If you are injured in any traffic accident with a sleeping, fatigued, or distracted driver, you must take action to protect your rights and your future. Severe, disabling, and permanent injuries – traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and injuries leading to blindness or amputation, for example – will require the maximum available compensation. In central Florida, you’ll also need the advice and services of an experienced Orlando personal injury attorney who knows what it takes to win that compensation on your behalf.
The injured victims of sleep-deprived drivers and other negligent drivers in Florida are entitled by law to complete reimbursement for their medical bills and for all other accident and injury-related losses and expenses, but that reimbursement is not simply handed to you. You’ll have to prove that you’ve been injured by negligence. That’s why, if you are injured now or in the future by another driver’s negligence, it’s imperative to contact one of our personal injury attorneys immediately, and in central Florida, an experienced Orlando personal injury attorney.