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Jeffrey Zaslow's tragic car accident death highlights problems on Michigan roads

Auto accident that killed renowned writer starts discussion about driver safety and the car accident epidemic that our society seems to accept

So many people are killed in auto accidents. Each loss is tragic. For families and loved ones, it’s a terrible shock to lose someone you love in a crash. We have also seen our share of, for lack of a better word and I apologize for not being able to think of one now, celebrity car accident deaths. But perhaps with this latest loss, of an author that I personally enjoyed and heard speak two years back at the brain injury awareness dinner I helped sponsor, perhaps one good thing that might come is conversation and news coverage about just how preventable these tragic deaths often are.

Michigan writer Jeffrey Zaslow died recently in such a car accident. Zaslow was a Wall Street Journal columnist and author/co-author of bestselling books The Last Lecture, The Girls From Ames, Gabby and Highest Duty. Most recently, Zaslow was working on The Magic Room, a nonfiction narrative set at a Michigan bridal shop, that examined at the lives and hardships of a handful of brides. The book was inspired by his daughters. Zaslow was loved by many in the journalistic community and readers from all over the world. He will be missed.

After his death, the media was full of news stories about Zaslow’s contributions and his sudden and tragic loss. According to published reports, Zaslow was killed this month when he lost control of his car on an icy road and skidded into the path of a semi truck in northern Michigan. He was only 53 years old.

What makes me write this blog today is the excellent column in the Huffington Post Business section, by Sharon Silke Carty: Jeffrey Zaslow’s Death Underscores Problems on the Roads. Carty was a friend of Zaslow’s, and while reflecting on his untimely death, she brought about a very important point that media, the public, safety advocates and government officials often plainly ignore: so many car accidents are preventable, and losing so many people to car accident deaths should not simply be accepted by our society.

Here’s an excerpt from Carty’s column:

” I worry that even though a huge community of people will grieve Zaslow, most will accept his death as a tragic accident, something completely unpreventable that could happen to any of us.

No one is going to hold a charity walk to help people who survived these kinds of accidents. No one will be wearing any ribbons to express how sick and tired they are of this thing happening.”

As an auto accident attorney, I have always felt the word that’s used in these cases – “accidents” – is so unfortunate and regrettable. It seems to almost accept, as Carty says, that these things just happen. But they don’t. They don’t have to. Most people who are killed in these so-called car accidents or truck accidents were not “accidentally” killed. Nor are these events “accidents” or random acts of God.

They are far too often preventable and caused by the negligence of others. They are caused by bad choices. Think about all the people killed texting and driving, drunk driving, negligently driving too fast for conditions, riding a motorcycle “crotch rocket” at insane speeds, in road rage crashes, and from road defects and vehicle defects.

The federal government says nearly one in four big tractor trailer trucks on our roads today are so dangerous that they are driving in an “out of service” condition, meaning these trucks are too dangerous to be on the roads. Now consider that 5,000 people are killed in truck accidents every year, often in cases that I handle where the mechanical defects cause the crash.

Carty says it better than I do; while U.S. car accident deaths are on the decline since seat belts were enacted, there are still enough people dying in auto accidents to fill 10 jumbo jets every day, according to the Global Road Safety Partnership. That’s insane – but perhaps because it is so mind-numbing it hasn’t even entered our popular vernacular as something we can work to prevent. We still call these deaths “accidents.”

Carty, who spent years at the scene of deadly car accidents and now covers automobiles on the business side, had some ideas of what needs fixing. And they are very close to what our own auto accident attorneys have been proposing through the Michigan Association for Justice No-Fault Committee, the Presidency of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and the American Association for Justice Truck Accident Lawyer Litigation Group:

“Driver education in this country needs a complete overhaul. It has been underfunded, unregulated and mismanaged for far too long. Anyone who took driver’s ed in the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s learned how to drive in the dark ages of American driver’s ed.

And the country could use a massive public education outreach initiative to re-teach the public about what it means to be a good driver. Something similar to the campaigns that took us out of the Mad Men era and into a world that knows cigarettes are bad and drunk driving is worse.”

I would also like to see federal and state laws for truck drivers and trucking companies made safer. We need to do a better job when trucking companies looking to increase their bottom lines choose to make short-cuts at the expense of driver safety and truck safety maintenance. There is a safety crisis with truck drivers ignoring pre-trip safety inspections, and driving way beyond their hours of service (HOS), in a dangerously fatigued state.

I’m going to end today with another insightful point from Carty:

“I refuse to accept the idea that fatal car accidents are just the price we pay for a mobile society. But it’s not an issue that people seem to be rallying around. Sometimes when I talk to people about car safety, particularly parents of new teen drivers, I can see their eyes glaze over. They don’t want to know.”

We send our sincere condolences to the family of Jeffrey Zaslow, and all of the others we have lost in preventable car accidents.

Steven Gursten is an auto accident attorney, president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past-president of the American Association for Justice Truck Accident Litigation Group. Steve frequently writes and speaks on safe driving and Michigan auto laws.

Related Information:

Steps to take following a car accident in Michigan

Michigan car accident FAQs

10 things to know if you’ve been injured in a car accident

Michigan Auto Law exclusively handles car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state of Michigan. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Sterling Heights, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Detroit. Call (800) 777-0028 or to speak with one of our auto accident attorneys today.

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