Every day in America, parents place children in the back seat of their vehicles. Commuters board buses and trains on their way to work. Kids step onto school buses or catch a ride with the neighborhood car pool. Workers use taxi cabs to get to their places of employment. People around the nation travel daily in many different forms and to many different places, but what many have in common is that they are passengers in their mode of transport and therefore are not in control of the drive.
From time to time, everyone is a passenger on transportation. Some people are more likely to be passengers than others because of their position in life, including children who are too young to drive and the elderly who are not capable or choose not to drive. As our society becomes more crowded, traffic increases and carpooling or public transit become a reality for more Americans, including those in Illinois. Being a passenger has many advantages, including the facts that most passengers incur fewer transit costs and can maximize their time by engaging in other activities while riding. When you ride as a passenger, though, there is a trade off: you must relinquish control of your ride to the person who is driving the car, bus, or train.
Many passengers express discomfort when asked if they feel safe during their travel. While accidents can happen when anyone is driving, it is human nature to feel safer when you are in control than when someone else has control. Even when a passenger trusts the driver, there is still a chance that an accident will result and that injuries will occur.
As a passenger, accidents can be the fault of the driver of the passenger’s vehicle or the driver of another vehicle. This means that even an experienced and safe driver can place her passengers at risk when an accident occurs.
Different types of operators are held to different standards when it comes to passenger safety. The highest standard is held by those operating public transit vehicles, whether cars, buses, or trains. As these operators are responsible for the safety of many passengers, their duty is high and they must operate with the utmost care for those on their vehicles. Even a minor infraction can make a public transit employee liable for any injuries that result to a passenger, even if the deviation would be insignificant to another driver.
Other drivers who are not in the business of transporting the public from one place to another must still exercise care for their passengers. In most cases, this involves drivers of passenger vehicles taking friends, family members, or neighbors for a ride. When the driver does not act cautiously, accidents often occur and many accidents result in injuries to the passengers. After a crash, passengers in the vehicle of an at-fault driver often do not realize that they can bring a claim for their damages. Simply riding in the car of the driver that caused the collision does not bar a passenger from recovery. Rather, an injured passenger can bring a claim directly against the responsible driver, even if that driver is a family member. In most situations, the automobile insurance carried by a driver will allow any injured passengers to make a recovery. In our experience, this often means that one spouse can recover for injuries that were due to the negligence of another spouse.
Car passengers are often injured as the result of the negligence of a driver of another vehicle, separate from the driver of the vehicle that they are using for transit. In these cases, passengers can still bring claims for their losses, including their injuries, against the other driver. Again, the law allows victims to recover for their damages when the negligence of another caused a crash.
While passengers may relinquish control of a ride to an operator, there are several things that a passenger can do to be as safe as possible during travel:
- Always wear a seat belt – Since the invention of the seat belt, studies routinely show that when worn properly, seat belts save lives. The lap portion of a seat belt should be worn low over the hips and the shoulder strap should be low across the body, not next to the neck.
- Secure children in appropriate child restraints – States vary in their requirements of child safety restraints but even if the law is lax in some areas, parents should always properly restrain children. Depending on the age, height, and weight of a child, this may include a rear facing car seat, a front facing car seat, a booster seat, or merely a seat belt. Child restraints are only effective when used as directed so the instructions provided with the safety seat should always be followed.
- Only adult passengers should sit near some airbags – Traditional airbags that deploy from the dashboard or steering wheel of a car generally should only be used with adults, meaning that children should remain in the back seat. Each car is different so make sure you are aware with any safety devices by asking the driver or owner of the car before you ride.
- Secure all loose items, including luggage – Whether on public transportation or in a private vehicle, loose objects can pose a danger. In the event of a crash, loose objects, like boxes and suitcases, can become airborne and turn into projectiles. When these projectiles make contact with a passenger, greater injuries are likely to result than if the suitcase or package had been properly stowed.
- Only sit in designated seats – When facing a long ride on public transportation, it is tempting to sit on stairwells, in vestibules, or even on the floor. However, these areas are not designed for passenger seating and therefore do not have the safety devices, including padded surfaces, that exist in other areas. Refrain from placing yourself in danger by occupying unintended areas and always sit in a designated seat when possible.
Even when a passenger acts as safely as possible, collisions still occur and injuries may still result. When this happens, it is important to speak with a personal injury lawyer to learn whether you may have a claim for your damages. Each case is unique and the facts of each accident are different so to get the best advice possible, you should speak with a skilled lawyer to learn about your legal options.
At Abels & Annes, P.C., we are concerned with the safety of passengers and with their rights after an accident. We understand that after a crash, you may want answers immediately and we are here to help. We work hard for each of our clients so that we can obtain the maximum possible award in each case. If you have been hurt in an accident, call us today at (855) LAW-CHICAGO (529-2442) or locally at (312) 924-7575 and let us help you.
If you have injured as a passenger in an accident, contact us or call us at (855) LAW-CHICAGO today for a free case consultation.