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I am friends with the extended family, and I know that this entire incident has been terribly hard on them.

I wonder: is she still allowed to drive?


The update sounds like the best possible resolution. Nothing is gained by any kind of incarceration. Something is gained by the 83 year old driver losing her license. That's a type of incarceration anyway in that her day-to-day mobility is taken away.

It's one of the fundamental flaws in our 20th suburban planning that we've created communities where the elderly are compelled to drive to the point of causing damage (property and life) before they give up their mobility.

What's more, giving up your license at that age is a little bit of death sentence. My grandmother gave hers up around 93. She probably should have done it a few years before, but you can see the mental deterioration on her. (she lives more or less alone on a hill)

Exactly how is it rare that personal assets are part of a settlement? If you have assets, and cause a wrongful death, and are found liable in a civil case, you are going to pay through the nose.

Charlie: many people lack sufficient personal assets that can be seized. A house and basic personal possessions are usually off limits.

As for forcing old people to give up their license. I agree that it is hard on them. However, if they cannot drive safely, then they should not be driving.

charlie, it's pretty common for people to settle for the insurance cap. From what I've picked up from the Mrs. it's the industry standard.

As for forcing old people to give up their license. I agree that it is hard on them.

But if the norm were that we built and lived in walkable communities it wouldn't be so hard. Many seniors might even wiling dispense with a car just to save on the expense.

many people lack sufficient personal assets that can be seized. A house and basic personal possessions are usually off limits.

And many people drive woefully underinsured. Shouldn't motorists be required to carry adequate insurance for the risks they incur on society?

Replace this:
for the risks they incur on society

With this:
for the risks they externalize on society

It is in fact extremely common for settlements to be for the cap or less. Risk-averse drive with significant assets get a higher limit because there is no guarantee of that result. In most states, the minimum is in fact too low, given that the purpose is not to protect the driver from insolvency, but to ensure the injured party has a source of funds for compensation.

Indeed, in Maryland the minimum is $20,000 liability coverage per person and $40,000 per accident. Most drivers obtain more than this, of course.

If the desired result is to have safer roads, liability caps are not a very good means of achieving them.

First, $20K won't cover all property damage, and is laughable when there is any personal injury involved. Most people who get high coverage are those with large amounts of seizable assets.

Second, as you raise the cap to something that reflects the risk,you get an increased likelihood that people will drive without a license, which creates other problems.

Third, a grossly disproportionate number of serious accidents are caused by unlicensed/suspended drivers. Caps don't affect that.

Low caps shift risks onto potential victims. They also create a perverse system under which those who actaully have resources to pay a judgment obtain larger insurance amounts, while those who have no assets to go after can and do obtain less insurance.

I don't think the caps are the biggest factor in driving insurance costs; it's the claims history in that state, largely. So I think a relatively modest increase in the minima would not result in much of an increase in the uninsured (after all, it's common now with very low caps). And no one said this is about safety. It's about making sure that inevitable accidents don't result in the grotesque result of the victim being stuck with the financial burden of the medical expenses, etc.

Folks, the reason you settle for the insurance caps is most people don't have assets -- or enough assets that are worth pursuing.

But if you do have assets, yes, the attorneys will go for that. Old people are easy targets on that -- lots of cash stowed away somewhere.

Crickey, I doubt most people have much more than the state minimum. Or as SJE points out, they don't have any insurance -- and those people don't have many assets either. Ultimate judgement proof.

Mandatory insurance regimes are very flawed. Another reason why auto insurance companies should be nationalized.

Crickey7: I think that raising the cap is a good idea, but it a very poor proxy for increasing responsibility. The fact that this woman only got 3 points and a small fine shows that a big part of the problem is that enforcement is spotty, and punishment is little more than a slap on the wrist. The USA has a bad combination of low gas prices, big cars, very high safety standards for occupants, sprawl, pro-car taxes. very lax enforcement and piddling punishments. There is every possible incentive to drive the biggest car, as much as possible, and very little disincentive to speed or drive like an idiot.

Since winning a civil trial and getting the damages you want is never a sure thing, a common rule of thumb is that you should have liability coverage equal to 2-3 times your net worth. So if you have $1 million coverage, more plaintiffs would rather settle for $1 million than sue in the hopes of getting $1.3-1.5 if they win big, less if they just win, and nothing if they lose.

Of course, this does not deal with the fact that most people will be under-insured. Ethical people without alot of money still need to be told what an ethical coverage would be. And the mandatory minumum insurance needs to be raised. (Not sure how that relates to the cap you have been discussing; I don't think damages are capped in MD. Maybe you mean minimum?)

Unrelated to that financial point: People have not been taught how to drive with bike lanes--particularly the right turn. The new MD Driver Manual does mention the idea of merging rather than right-hooking. But New York City, Oregon, etc. require the right-hook style turn.

charlie, right now it is your word against the family's lawyer, my second-hand info from my wife, and Crikey7's knowledge - which I suspect is more than a layman's. So, would you care to give something more substantive.

And if you're right, why do you think the family's lawyer is lying?

Yes, Jim. Incorrectly used "cap" for "minimum".

Jim Titus: I agree. OF course, people drive across bike lanes, drive in bike lanes, park in them. who cares? Certainly not the police.

Washcycle, I recall that she was only charged after bikers made a stink. There were complaints that the BPD did not investigate the accident properly and were lax in charging her. Is there any more information on BPD changing their practices?

Other than in 1st post.

It's a tragedy all around. I can imagine that the elderly woman has also suffered for her mistake in ways that cannot be shown by the nominal fine. Giving up her license voluntarily suggests that.

Re: driver and level of punishment.

I agree with Crickey7. I don't hold with the eye for an eye philosophy. Jail is for people who represent a violent ongoing threat to society.

That this was an accident is true. It wasn't an unavoidable accident though. Rather than punish a driver most severely NOW that she has finally killed someone I'd rather see a system were we intercept and correct the driver BEFORE something like this happens.

Operating a motor vehicle in a reckless and endangering manner should never be tolerated. Sad to say it is.

@Jim Titus and determining level of coverage.

Jim - what you describe is a process for determining the level of coverage necessary to protect ones assets which is not the same as the level of coverage necessary to compensate for the damage one might reasonably cause.

Ethically speaking both the millionaire and the beggar need to be able adequately compensate their victim.

JeffB: Society clearly does not limit incarceration to the violent, since the majority in jail are non-violent usually drug offenders. When you kill someone, we don't need to necessarily put you in jail, or sue them for everything they have got. Personally, I favor alternatives to incarceration.

The most important point, however, is that there is lot of distance between (a) throwing grandma in jail and (b) a $200 ticket.
People focus on the extremism of the former, but overlook that a traffic ticket is an obscene mocking of the value of a human life.

There needs to be more than a slap on the wrist. Community service, serious fines. At the least, there should be presumption that you should not be driving.

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