Motor Vehicle Accidents in Roadway Construction Zones and a Traffic Control Coordinator’s Responsibilities for Driver’s Safety

Motor vehicle accidents in roadway construction zones are not atypical occurrences. Often, a driver approaching an appropriately signed and set-up roadway construction zone fails to realize that the driving environment has changed – sometimes radically – and fails to appropriately adjust their driving behavior to safely navigate the construction zone. However, occasionally, traffic control devices and warning devices such as signs are not placed according to MUTCD, or other state or agency mandated standards, or what were once appropriately placed traffic control devices have fallen into a state of disrepair after being subjected to repeated strikes by passing traffic. Disarrayed traffic control devices confuse drivers and cause unsafe spatial relationships between moving vehicles. Driver confusion and close-quarter operation of vehicles within deficient construction zone set-ups are often the secondary and tertiary contributing factors of motor vehicle accidents in roadway construction zones.

In substantial NJDOT roadway construction projects, the resident engineer (RE) in charge of the roadway constriction project is responsible for drivers’ safety as those drivers pass through the construction zone and the RE is responsible for the designation of a member of the project staff as the person responsible for the implementation and maintenance of the project’s traffic control plan. The Traffic Control Coordinator (TCC) is a full-time, supervisory level position who must be available on a 24-hour a day, 7-days a week basis, who is responsible for the implementation and maintenance of the traffic control plan. NJDOT assigns a minimum of 14 specific duties and responsibilities to the TCC. One responsibility is the completion of a daily inspection and documentation of the placement and maintenance of the construction zone traffic control devices and the maintenance of lightbulbs, message signs, and other similar equipment affixed to traffic control devices associated with driver safety in the construction zone.

Properly designated TCCs must complete the Rutgers CAIT Traffic Control Coordinator Program or an equivalent course approved by NJDOT’s Office of Capital Project Safety. The TCC must complete an approved TCC refresher course every two years.

Motor vehicle accidents occurring in roadway construction zones are complex events. We at Westfield Investigative Group, LLC, are Rutgers CAIT trained and holders of current Rutgers CAIT TCC certification. We are experienced in the investigation of motor vehicle accidents occurring in roadway construction zones and is aware of the TCC’s duties and responsibilities.

Boat Operators Who Receive Formal Boat Safety Course Training Are Less Likely To Be Involved In Fatal Boating Accidents

The United States Coast Guard’s 2018 Recreational Boating Statistics contains statistics on recreational boating accidents and state vessel registration.  In 2018, the Coast Guard counted 4,145 accidents that involved 633 deaths, 2,511 injuries and approximately $46 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents.

Where boating safety course instruction was known, 74% of deaths occurred on boats where the operator did not receive boating safety instruction.  Only 18% percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had received a nationally-approved boating safety education certificate.  Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, machinery failure, and excessive speed rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.

In New Jersey, a person less than 13 years of age may not operate a motorized vessel.  A person 13 through 15 years of age may operate a vessel powered by an electric motor or vessels 12 feet or longer and powered by a motor less than ten horsepower only if they have successfully passed a boating safety education course approved by the New Jersey State Police.  A person under the age of 16 may not operate a PWC.  A person 16 years old or older, may operate a motorized vessel if they have successfully completed an approved boating safety course.

The Westfield Investigative Group, LLC investigates pleasure boating, personal watercraft, and towed watersports accidents and incidents.  We also offer to the legal community consultation regarding the curriculum of the boat safety course, instruction methods, and final examination requirements.  Those students who successfully complete the final exam have demonstrated an understanding of basic boating knowledge necessary for safe boating.  Involvement in an accident or incident is an indicator that the boat course trained boater failed to act in accordance with their training.

Police Vehicular Pursuits

Vehicular police pursuits are allowed for certain offenses, however, vehicular pursuits for traffic offenses are generally not authorized. A police officer has the authority, at all times, to attempt the stop of any person suspected of having committed any criminal offense or traffic violation. When deciding to pursue a police officer must consider certain factors. The police officer must reasonably believe that the violator has committed an offense of the first or second degree, or certain other offenses, or must reasonably believe that the violator poses an immediate threat to the safety of the public or other police officers. A pursuit for motor vehicle offenses is not authorized unless the violator’s vehicle is being operated so as to pose an immediate threat to the safety of another person.

A police officer’s decision to pursue a vehicle should always be undertaken with an awareness of the degree of risk to which the law enforcement officer exposes to themselves and others. The officer must weigh the need for immediate apprehension against the risk created by the pursuit.

The Westfield Investigative Group, LLC is experienced in investigating police vehicular pursuits. To date, we have conducted police procedures and police pursuit investigations in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Our investigations include reviews of the officers’ actions in the light of pursuit guidelines and standard operating procedures in the circumstances known to the officer at the time of the pursuit and the review of all forms of police pursuit documentation.

Please see our website for additional police procedures review services including police conflict of interest matters, inadequate investigations, police officer dispatching, police emergency and non-emergency driving, police response to calls for service, police actions in roadway construction zones and other police procedures matters.

$1,500,000 Award

May 2016:  An improperly conducted police vehicular pursuit and improper police procedures matter settled for $1,500,000 prior to trial.

The matter involved an unmarked police vehicle in pursuit of a speeding vehicle.  During the course of the 31-second, three-tenths of a mile pursuit, the police vehicle attained speeds up to 74 mph in a 25 mph residential neighborhood.  While attempting to apprehend the vehicle, the police vehicle struck a not-involved passing vehicle in an intersection.  The passing vehicle overturned and the driver sustained serious injuries.  The speeding vehicle was never apprehended.

Steve was retained to investigate the police pursuit and subsequent crash, and to evaluate the actions of the pursuing police officer in the light of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Police Vehicular Pursuit Guidelines.

In his investigation, Steve used downloaded data from the police vehicle’s Event Data Recorder (black box), and merged it with GPS data from the same police vehicle’s dash camera, and merged that data with information from video files taken from a nearby home surveillance camera system.  When all data were combined, Steve was able to identify with precision the police officer’s actions and inactions during his identification of the speeding vehicle, the pursuit of the vehicle and the crash involving the passing vehicle.

Steve’s investigation of the pursuit found that the investigating police officer failed to conduct an appropriately comprehensive investigation of the pursuit and the actions of the pursuing police officer.  A subsequent report was authored where commentary regarding appropriate police procedures was made.

The case particulars were published in the May 2016 Edition of New Jersey Jury Verdict Review and Analysis.  Click HERE to view the summary and analysis.

Who Had The Green Light?

Who had the green light? A primer on the determination of the aspect of the traffic light in intersection accident investigations.

Who had the green light? This is usually the very first question that comes to mind when a motor vehicle collision occurs at a traffic light controlled intersection. When photographic evidence is not available, a method of investigation may be employed that may either identify or suggest which driver had the green light. This method inserts numerical data gleaned from police incident reports and verified statements into situation-specific mathematical formulae. The calculations are then reviewed in light of the circumstances surrounding the accident and a determination may be made. The degree of certainty of the green light determination is related directly to the availability and credibility of evidence and information.

In order to make a green light determination an involved driver must answer five situation specific questions. The answers to the questions following must, to the extent possible, be both accurate and true. Inaccurate, incomplete or false statements cannot be verified or be corroborated. Uncorroborated statements usually do not produce litigation-appropriate evidence.

1) Describe in detail the intersection, the placement of the traffic signals and the roads leading to it. Familiarity with the characteristics of roads approaching the intersection may suggest if grades or curves, or other obstructions prohibited or delayed a driver’s direct observation of the light(s).

2) Where were you? A determination of a vehicle’s spatial relationship to the intersection at the time the light was initially observed is required. Also required is knowledge of the cycling and timing of the traffic signal. The timing of the light cycle defines the time available for vehicles to legally and safely pass through the intersection.

3) How fast were you going? Knowing if a vehicle’s speed was varying or constant affects the degree of certainty of the determination.

4) Did you hear something? The identification of any sounds heard by a driver prior to the collision may provide insight into the spatial relationship between the involved vehicles. Especially important are sounds such as horns, sliding or skidding tires or any other sounds indicative of an impending collision.

5) Describe the damage to your vehicle. A description of the damage sustained by one or both vehicles may provide insight as to the spatial relationship of the vehicles when they entered the intersection. Knowledge of which vehicle entered the intersection first may be help helpful in making a determination.

After information relating to time, distance and speed has been identified and analyzed, verified numerical data is placed into appropriate mathematical formulae. A number of different equations can be used to calculate different aspects of the approach to the traffic signal. Once calculations have been completed the resulting answers are then considered in accordance with the timing and sequencing of the traffic signal; the damage sustained by the vehicle(s) and the sounds possibly heard prior to the collision. At that point a green light determination can be made.

The Westfield Investigative Group, LLC is a full-service accident investigation service that is able to determine who had the green light using traditional investigative and mathematically-based methodologies. Our investigative methodologies have been used successfully employed in both intersection accidents as well as other non-accident situations. We adhere to best practices and employ all appropriate means to attain favorable results for our clients. Please see our website for additional information about us and the accident reconstruction and collision-related investigative services we provide.

Published Article

April 2014:  “Boating Collisions… A ‘Typical’ Collision Reconstructionist Will Not Do,” was published in the Spring 2014 edition of the American Boat and Yacht Council’s quarterly periodical  the Reference Point.  The article is an expanded version of the December 2012 In Brief article.

$950,000 Award

March 2014:  Steve offered testimony in a binding arbitration hearing before a retired judge.  In 2010, a passenger aboard a pleasure vessel sustained a serious back injury when she, another passenger and the vessel’s operator were launched from their positions within a fast-moving vessel.  The three were launched when the vessel’s operator improperly steered the vessel toward a large swell to engage it bow on.  The judge found that the vessel operator failed to abide of the ordinary practice of seamen when he applied an unsafe vessel maneuvering technique to transit the swell and when he failed to appropriately prepare for the cruise.  The seriously injured passenger was awarded $950,000.

Boating Accident Instructor

February 2014:  Steve co-instructed a block of instruction on boating accident investigation and reconstruction.  The instruction was offered at the International Association of Marine Investigators (IAMI) Annual Training Seminar in Oklahoma City, OK.  Steve is an IAMI member and an IAMI Certified Marine Investigator.

Published Article

December 2013:  “Boating In New Jersey … The Least You Need To Know,” was published in the December 2013 edition of the New Jersey Association for Justice’s  monthly periodical In Brief.  This article lists the requirements for persons desiring to operate pleasure vessels upon New Jersey waters.

Published Article

December 2012:  “Boating Accidents… A ‘Typical” Accident Reconstructionist Will Not Do,” was published in the December 2012 edition of the New Jersey Association for Justice’s  monthly periodical In Brief.  The article lists the attributes a “qualified” boating accident reconstructionist should have.