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Why Steve Kaplan & Oakland County are wrong on high crash intersections

April 11, 2017 by Steven M. Gursten

Are these public officials protecting the public when they dispute that high crash intersections are not dangerous? Here’s why they’re wrong

14 Mile and Orchard Lake
In a recent news article, Craig Bryson of the Road Commission for Oakland County and West Bloomfield Township Supervisor Steve Kaplan took issue with Michigan Auto Law’s report on the state’s high crash intersections. But their arguments are false.

Recently, C&G Newspapers ran a story about our attorneys’ list of the most dangerous intersections and roads in Michigan. The article’s primary focus was on the No. 1 of all high crash intersections, the roundabout at 14 Mile and Orchard Lake roads. This Farmington Hills/West Bloomfield location saw 163 reported car crashes last year, 27 of which had reported injuries at the scene.

The C&G article
 quotes Craig Bryson, public information officer for the Road Commission for Oakland County. He told C&G that our classifying an intersection car crash as “dangerous” is wrong, as some of these car accidents “were not dangerous at all.”


To quote Mr. Bryson directly from the article:

“What the law firm didn’t do is tell you whether those crashes are serious injuries or whether they are very minor crashes. What we know from looking at and analyzing the data is that the roundabouts … are very minor crashes with very little injuries. So we are more interested in an intersection that has fewer total crashes but where there are more serious injury crashes or fatalities.”

Bryson, Steve Kaplan and the Oakland County Road Commission are wrong in saying high crash intersections are not dangerous

As public officials charged with the responsibility of protecting the safety of Oakland County drivers, I was surprised by this comment. To state the obvious, fatalities and injuries resulting from a car crash only occur if there actually is a crash.

But it was West Bloomfield Township Supervisor Steve Kaplan who made the biggest mistake in his comments in the news article. Mr. Kaplan said that our crash data numbers were incorrect because not all reported car accidents resulted in an ambulance being called.

Mr. Kaplan is wrong. He’s wrong because most car crash injuries don’t always result in an ambulance being called to a scene right away because most injuries aren’t always apparent immediately after a motor vehicle accident.

Saying an intersection that has 163 reported car crashes is not dangerous because you choose to define “dangerous” as those car crashes that result only in ambulance runs, does not exclude that many people were also injured in crashes that did notresult in an ambulance run.

Here’s what Mr. Kaplan said when he told C&G that our car crash data numbers are incorrect:

“We know that because we know the number of ambulances we dispatch to that area. The collisions that occur in a roundabout are of low velocity; essentially, you are talking about one vehicle striking another vehicle from behind. … We don’t have T-bone incidents or head-to-head collisions in any roundabout.”

To ignore the possibility that an intersection with a high number of car accidents is dangerous based only on how many ambulances are dispatched is faulty and dangerous logic.

Injuries in a car crash are often unnoticed at the scene of the accident

As an auto accident attorney, I’ve found that people who are injured in a car crash often do not immediately report this injury at the scene of the crash. Every year, there are people who die in car accidents who appear uninjured at the scene. There also are countless hundreds of people who go on to have major spinal surgery, but who appeared for hours after a car crash to be perfectly fine.

This occurs for any number of reasons. Often an injury — even a very serious one that may later require surgery and months of disability — will not have an immediate onset of pain at the scene.

This can be due to the nature of the injury itself. Take for example the most common injury from a car crash — neck pain or back pain. Often, this neck pain or back pain results from a tear in the annulus of a spinal disc in the neck or back. This causes a disc herniation that results in increasing pain and impairment over time. This pain for most people gets progressively worse as more and more disc material moves through the tear and presses further on the nerve roots and spinal cord. The tear itself that occurs in a sudden trauma like a car accident to the disc annulus will not cause immediate pain for many people. That’s because the disc annulus is made up of hard and cartilaginous material. It is only as the material inside the spinal disc begins to press through that tear that most people begin to experience pain.

Also, a sudden surge in adrenaline after a scary event like a car accident can temporarily mask injuries.

Many people tell police at the scene they think they are fine and refuse an ambulance when they are asked if they need one. But every single day in America, we see people who decline an ambulance at the scene of a car crash, then end up in hospital emergency rooms as their pain intensifies throughout the day.

Hopefully, you can see the faulty logic in Mr. Kaplan’s reasoning above. That an ambulance is not called to the scene of a car crash doesn’t preclude that no one was injured.

But this faulty reasoning becomes even more apparent when we consider that every year there are people who die in car accidents — and not all in high crash intersections — who appear uninjured at the scene.

Recall comedian Sam Kinison, who was killed in a car accident. When the car accident occurred, he appeared to be completely fine to observers at the scene, save for a minor cut on his lip.

Hospital emergency rooms do not determine whether to treat people who show up hours after a car accident based upon whether an ambulance was called to the scene.

Medical examiners do not say someone didn’t die in a car accident because no ambulance was called.

Neurosurgeons do not determine the medical necessity of spine surgery for people injured in car crashes based upon whether an ambulance was called to the scene.

But the head of West Bloomfield — a community that has four high crash intersections that have appeared on our most dangerous lists — is arguing the position that only if an ambulance is called to the scene of a car crash can we then say that crash location is dangerous.

Most people would say that an intersection that has 163 reported car accidents in a given year, more than any other street location in Michigan, still qualifies as “dangerous.”

Unless, apparently, you work for West Bloomfield, in which case you choose to ignore that possibility. Yes, ambulance runs are important. The severity of injuries or the number of fatalities can be used to say that a given intersection is configured in a way that makes it dangerous.

That’s why the locations where an ambulance was called are also listed in our blog post.

In addition to our Most Dangerous Intersections list, we also publish annual data showing only intersections that had the most reported car crash injuries, as well as a dedicated web page to find specific data by county and city.

Our mission with the list of high crash intersections

The lawyers at Michigan Auto Law work very hard every year to bring this information to the public, combing through huge amounts of data so we can tell people the locations where they should drive with extra caution when driving in these areas. We undertake this effort to help educate and inform the public on which areas have the highest numbers of reported car accidents so they can drive extra defensively or choose an alternative route.

I’ll finish with something that our own attorney, Todd Berg, said about why we publish an annual list of high crash intersections:

“We do this as a public service. We do this because we are concerned about public safety.”

What a simple, direct explanation — one we hope Mr. Kaplan and Mr. Bryson can hopefully also understand. If there is a high number of reported car crashes at a given intersection, that may suggest that location is more dangerous than other areas, and township and county officials can then look into the reasons why these car accidents are happening.

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