On August 10, 1978, three teenage girls, sisters Lyn and Judy Ulrich and their cousin Donna traveling to volley practice on Route 33 in Goshen, Indiana were incinerated when the gas tank in their 1973 Ford Pinto exploded after the vehicle was rear-ended by a van. Technically speaking, they were killed in an auto accident. In reality, however, they were murdered by corporate greed.
That is because Ford executives, including President Lee Iacocca, knew the Pinto was a four-wheeled death trap. Rushed into production in 1970 after only two years of development and testing, the Pinto was Ford’s response to the influx of foreign-made subcompact cars into the American market that began in the late ‘60s. During the design process company engineers sounded alarms about the gas tank which was, for a number of reasons, vulnerable to rupture in low-speed rear-end collisions. They were also concerned because a large empty space behind the backseat allowed the entire back third of the car to crumple, wedging the body and frame tightly against the car doors, making them virtually impossible to open.
Fixing the lethal combination of an exploding gas tank and jammed doors would have cost the company $15 per Pinto. Iacocca’s response: “Safety doesn’t sell.” Not surprisingly, the boss’ attitude permeated the company when attorneys representing people injured and killed in the exploding cars unearthed what became known as the “Pinto Memo.” Prepared to help Ford block new fuel system safety standards being proposed by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the memo’s authors estimated it would cost Ford $11 per vehicle or $137 million to comply with the new regulations. They weighed that against the $50 million in litigation and settlements costs the company would incur if the cars were not made safer. Their conclusion: “…the implementation costs far outweigh the expected benefits.“
And so the company continued to manufacture and sell the deadly vehicles for more than a decade. During that time between 500 and 900 people were burned to death. The Pinto was not pulled from the market until the cost of settling lawsuits filed on behalf of the victims and the attendant negative publicity made the car unprofitable.
I was reminded of the Pinto debacle when I read a New York Times article about a series of accidents caused by Tesla’s autopilot system. The story focused on the death of 22-year-old Naibel Benavides who was killed when a Model S in autopilot mode traveling 66 MPH on a city street ran a stop sign and slammed into the parked Chevy Tahoe in which she was sitting. The car’s brakes were never applied.
While a Tesla is as different from a Pinto as the Wright Brothers’ plane is from an F-16, the cause of the crashes that killed the Ulrich’s and Ms. Benavides are the same: placing pursuit of profit ahead of people. Unlike Ford, GM, and other carmakers who use technology to restrict their systems to divided highways where there are no stop signs, traffic lights or pedestrians, Tesla allows drivers to use autopilot anywhere and everywhere. The results are predictable and tragic: the number of accidents involving Tesla’s system is skyrocketing.
And I suspect that lawsuits filed by victims are the only thing that will stop the carnage.
Every time I think of the victims we represent or read reports about companies who place no value on human life, I am reminded of why I went to law school, why I go to work every day, and why we should all fight to preserve the civil justice system that makes our world a safer place to live.
It’s a tradition here in the Valley and across the country: every weekend people climb into their cars and drive to their favorite restaurants, bars, and nightclubs to eat, dance, hang out with friends and yes, drink.
Later in the evening some of those people will participate in another American tradition: taking a breathalyzer test after being pulled over by the police. It’s a bad way to end a great evening. That’s why we at Betras, Kopp & Harshman have a hard and fast rule about driving if you’ve had an alcoholic beverage or two or three or four:
DON’T DO IT.
Use a designated driver. Call Uber or Lyft. Get a ride from a friend or loved one. But please don’t drink and drive.
Unfortunately, as an in-depth investigation in the New York Times revealed, people who follow the rules are sometimes charged with OVI/DUI because the breathalyzers law enforcement uses to measure the blood alcohol level of people who are suspected of drunk driving aren’t reliable.
Here is the top takeaway from the investigation:
More than 1 million drivers a year are arrested for drunk driving, but the breath test technology supporting many of those arrests can be unreliable. Courts across the country have tossed out more than 50,000 tests in recent years because of problems with specific machines, errors made by police officers and mistakes by labs that set up and maintain the devices.
In the past year, more than 30,000 test results were thrown out by judges in Massachusetts and New Jersey. Other challenges are moving through the courts in states across the country. The machines used in Ohio are among those that have produced inaccurate results.
The Times notes that the machines are sensitive scientific instruments, but in many cases they haven’t been properly calibrated, yielding results that were at times 40 percent too high. Maintaining machines is up to police departments that sometimes have shoddy standards and lack expertise. In some cities, lab officials have used stale or home-brewed chemical solutions that warped results. In Massachusetts, officers used a machine with rats nesting inside.
We encourage you to read the shocking NYT report here: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/03/business/drunk-driving-breathalyzer.html
Along with making a strong case that breathalyzer results cannot be trusted, the Times report also features profiles of people whose lives were nearly destroyed because they were wrongly convicted of OVI based on faulty test results. We don’t want Valley residents to suffer the same fate. If you are pulled over by the police or stopped at a DUI checkpoint, you have rights. Here’s how to protect them:
- Take advantage of your right to consult an attorney before submitting to a breathalyzer test. Inform the officer or officers who are administering the test that you want to speak to a lawyer before you take it. If you download the free Betraslaw app you will be able to contact a member of our legal team with one tap on the screen of your smartphone. You can download the app by searching for it in the App Store on Google play or by accessing the links we’ve posted at https://bkmlaws.com/download-app/ and our Facebook page.
- To blow or not to blow? We’re asked this question often. But there is no blanket answer because the circumstances surrounding every case are different. That is why you should contact us before submitting to the test. In general, however, because failure to take the test will result in an automatic one-year suspension of your driver’s license you should take it, especially if you have never been charged with DUI before and you have not been involved in an accident.
- If you are charged with DUI/OVI hire experienced legal counsel. OVI is a serious offense that carries steep penalties. Attempting to represent yourself in an OVI case is, in a word, reckless. If you are convicted you will be fined, you could be sentenced to jail, you may lose your driving privileges for a long period of time, and you will be forced to pay incredibly high auto insurance premiums for a number of years. In addition, an OVI conviction could get you fired from your current job and may make it difficult to find another. Don’t face these consequences on your own. When you retain Betras, Kopp & Harshman to represent you we will be with you at your first hearing, ask the court to allow you to drive as your case works its way through the judicial system, investigate the circumstances surrounding your arrest, provide sound legal advice, and fight to obtain the best possible outcome, including a dismissal or acquittal.
- Is it possible to successfully defend a DUI in court? The answer is yes. Our experienced OVI/DUI Defense Team led by Atty. David Betras has represented thousands of clients charged with impaired driving. If we believe you should not have been arrested and charged we will use our expertise and knowledge of the law to have the charges dismissed or win an acquittal in court. That expertise includes challenging the results of breathalyzer tests which, as the NYT report notes, are not always reliable or accurate.
If you or someone you know has been charged with impaired driving, contact the Betras, Kopp & Harshman OVI/DUI Defense Team right away by calling 330-746-8484, 800-457-2889, or by using the Betraslaw app. We’re here to fight for you.
Kids are returning to school across the Buckeye State, so we’re going to be offering school bus safety tips for drivers, kids, and parents throughout the week. Let’s start with a refresher course for drivers…
This infographic below illustrates when drivers must stop for school buses that are picking up or dropping off students. Along with placing kids in danger, violating the law carries stiff penalties. Failure to stop for a school bus adds two points to your license and is punishable by a fine of up to $500. In addition, your license may be suspended for one year.
Along with obeying the law regarding stopped school buses, you should also remember the following:
NEVER PASS A SCHOOL BUS ON THE RIGHT
NEVER PASS A SCHOOL BUS THAT IS STOPPED AT A RR CROSSING
ALWAYS OBEY THE SPEED LIMITS POSTED WITHIN SCHOOL ZONES
Finally, here’s a brief refresher course about a school bus’ flashing lights and signs:
Yellow/Amber Flashing Lights – The bus is preparing to stop and pick up or discharge students. Normally turned on approximately 300 feet before bus stops. Motorists should prepare to stop as soon as the bus comes to a complete stop and/or the red flashing lights come on.
Red Flashing Lights – Motorists must stop. Students are exiting or boarding the bus. Stop 10 feet from the front or rear of a school bus and do not proceed until the bus resumes motion. Never pass a school bus that has red flashing lights on, even if the “stop sign” arm is not extended.
Stop Sign – Motorists must stop. Students are exiting or boarding the bus. Stop 10 feet from the front or rear of a school bus and do not proceed until the bus resumes motion. Never pass a school bus with the red stop sign is displayed or the red lights are flashing.
We’ll have additional safety tips tomorrow so please check back and please be on the lookout for kids–their safety is in your hands.