Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Leaving you child alone in the car


There has been a lot of news recently about leaving kids alone in cars or at home.  While we all know or should know we should not leave our kids in hot cars, there is a question as to how old you child must be to be left alone.  Since North Carolina does not have any case law or statute on the specific issue, here is a great article on the subject.

By Shea Denning
The prosecution of a South Carolina mother who left her 9-year-old child unattended in a park several days in a row while the mother worked her shift at a nearby McDonald’s has been widely covered and roundly criticized.  The mother reportedly was charged as a result of the incident with unlawful neglect of a child, a felony under South Carolina law.
I thought about that mother last night as I was reading Ramona the Pest, a Beverly Clearly classic, to my daughter at bedtime.  In last night’s chapter, Ramona Quimby’s mother leaves Ramona at home alone one school morning and instructs her to begin walking to school at 8:15 a.m.  Ramona is in kindergarten.  Ramona’s mother is portrayed throughout the book as a reasonable and caring parent, and her decision to leave Ramona at home while she takes her older daughter to the doctor is written about as though it is a perfectly reasonable choice.  I flipped to the front of the book to see the copyright date.  1968.  That explains it, I thought.
In 2014, I’m pretty sure that most people would consider it unreasonable to leave a kindergarten age child at home unattended, even without instructing the child to later walk herself to school.  I’m less sure about the public consensus on the decision the South Carolina mother made.  My guess is that nearly everyone would view it as not ideal; some might call it unreasonable; and an even smaller number might consider it criminal.
In North Carolina, it is a Class 1 misdemeanor for a person who is at least 16 years old to knowingly or willfully cause a juvenile to be in a place or condition where the juvenile could be adjudicated neglected.  See G.S. 14-316.1.  This crime, which also applies to circumstances in which the minor could be adjudicated delinquent, undisciplined or abused, is commonly referred to as “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”
The North Carolina Juvenile Code defines a “neglected juvenile” in part as one who does not receive proper care, supervision, or discipline from the juvenile’s parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker. G.S. 7B-101(15).  While North Carolina’s appellate courts have considered young children who are left unattended to be neglected within the meaning of this provision, the cases in which they have done so have also involved other types of neglectful behavior.  See, e.g., In re Gleisner, 141 N.C. App. 475, 478-79 (2000) (finding substantial evidence of neglect based in part on mother’s act of leaving her eight-year-old daughter alone for three and a half hours as a form of discipline); In re Bell, 107 N.C. App. 566, 567-69 (1992) (noting that county Department of Social Services first became involved when it received a report stating that four children under the age of six had been left alone overnight, and affirming trial court’s adjudication of neglect based on the mother’s failure to ensure that her children received proper treatment from the county health department, to use her food stamps so as to keep an adequate supply of food in the house, and to take full advantage of free day care); see also In re D.M., 185 N.C. App. 159, 647 S.E.2d 689 (2007) (noting that trial court had adjudicated children neglected following petition alleging, among other neglectful acts, that children ages seven, six and four had been left alone for three days while their mother traveled out of town).
Indeed, in In re Stumbo, 357 N.C. 279, 284 (2003), the North Carolina Supreme Court noted that “not every act of negligence on the part of parents or other care givers constitutes “neglect” under the law and results in a “neglected juvenile” as “[s]uch a holding would subject every misstep by a care giver to the full impact of [the Juvenile Code],” including mandatory investigations by the Department of Social Services.
And, contrary to pervasive lore, no statute establishes a presumptive age at which a child may be left unattended.  Cf. G.S. 14-318 (making it a Class 1 misdemeanor to go away from a building, leaving any child under 8 locked or otherwise confined “so as to expose the child to danger by fire” without leaving some person of the age of discretion in charge of the child).
Readers, what’s your view?  Was prosecution of the South Carolina mom warranted?  And at what age is it appropriate to leave a child home alone?  From what I hear, once children are old enough to be left at home without risking allegations of neglect, you can’t leave them unattended for fear of other consequences.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Insurance points from an accident


I received a call today from a friend whose insurance company, GEICO. wanted to raise their insurance rates as a result of an accident.  The accident was an at fault accident but the total property damage was less than $1,500.  The question was can they raise their rates.  Based upon the charge below, the insurance company could not raise their rates since the total property damage was less than $1800 and they had no claim.

Insurance companies will often try to raise your rates even if they are not allowed to unless you push back and tell them you will report them to the department of insurance if they raise your rates.

Below is a general chart on insurance point.  Each point will raise your rates approximately 25%.

Points % of Rate Increase Points % of Rate Increase
1 25% 7 160%
2 45% 8 190%
3 60% 9 225%
4 80% 10 260%
5 105% 11 300%
6 130% 12 340%
The table below shows the amount of insurance points certain offenses carry, as well as the insurance points for certain motor vehicle accidents.
Points Convictions and At-Fault Accidents
12 Manslaughter Prearranged highway racing
Lending a car for prearranged hwy racing
Hit-and-run resulting in bodily injury/death
Driving with blood alcohol level .08 more
Driving commercial vehicle blood alcohol .04 more
Driving While Impaired
Transporting illegal intoxicating liquor for sale
10 Highway racing Lending a car for highway racing
Speeding to elude arrest
8 Driving during revocation or suspension of license or registration Aggressive Driving
4 Reckless Driving Hit-and-run resulting in property damage only
Passing a stopped school bus
Speeding in excess of 75mph when the speed limit is less than 70mph
Speeding in excess of 80 mph when the speed limit is 70 mph or greater
Driving by a person less than 21 after consuming alcohol or drugs
3 At-fault accident that occurs before Jan. 1, 2004, resulting in death, or bodily   injury* in excess of $1,500 or property damage of $2,500 or more** At-fault accident that occurs on or after Jan. 1, 2004, resulting in death, or bodily injury* in excess of $1,800 or property damage of $3,000 or more**
2 Illegal passing Following too closely
Driving on the wrong side of the road
At-fault accident that occurs before Jan. 1, 2004, resulting in property damage in excess of $1,500, but less than $2,500**
At-fault accident that occurs on or after Jan. 1, 2004, resulting in property damage in excess of $1,800, but less than $3,000**
Speeding more than 10mph over the speed limit provided the total speed is in excess of 55 mph, but less than 76 mph
Speeding 10 mph or less in excess of speed zone of 55 mph or greater
1 All other moving violations At-fault accident that occurs before Jan. 1 2004, resulting in bodily injury* of $1,500 or less, or property damage in of $1,500 or less**
At-fault accident that occurs on or after Jan. 1, 2004, resulting in bodily injury* of $1,800 or less, or property damage in of $1,800 or less**
Speeding 10 mph or less in excess of speed limit of less than 55 mph
* No SDIP points will apply for Bodily Injury if the insured furnishes proof that costs were solely for diagnostic purposes. ** The greatest number of points will be applied for at-fault accidents resulting in Property Damage and Death or Bodily Injury
Certain Special Exemptions apply, that can be used to reduce what you pay for insurance. They include:
  • Speeding 10 mph or less over the posted speeding limit if
    • You weren’t speeding in a school zone; and
    • You have no other speeding ticket or moving violation for the Experience Period (excluding a single Prayer for Judgment Continued (PJC) in the entire household)
  • A single PJC per household every three years, but a second PJC may cause insurance points to be assessed for both the first and second offenses.
  • Some car accidents if
    • You have no property damage;
    • The damage is $1,500 or less;
    • You have no conviction for a moving violation with connection to the accident; and
    • Your household has no convictions or at-fault accidents during the Experience Period.
After a conviction that carries insurance points, your insurance company can deem you a high-risk driver. That means they may sell your insurance policy to the North Carolina Motor Vehicle Reinsurance Facility. The Reinsurance Facility exists to insure drivers that an insurance company or companies don’t want to insure. The rates the Reinsurance Facility charges can be significantly higher than the rates an insurance company would offer to a non-high-risk driver. In addition, they’re allowed to multiply by any appropriate surcharge percentage (see Surcharge Rates table).

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ramp Meters Coming to North Carolina


New law just passed by the NC legislature will allow for the implementation of Meter Ramps.  These ramps are set up to allow one car to enter onto the highway at a time.  The theory behind the lights is that there will be less conjestion as cars enter the highway.  On the flip side, there is a theory that it causes more rear end collisions with cars stopping on the on ramp in addition to more traffic on surface streets while cars waiting to get onto the highway get backed up.  I follow the second opinion as does the News and Observer. 

The cost of 14 of these meters will be about 3.2 million. So how will they be paid for you ask.  The answer is traffic tickets.  While failing to stop at the meter red light is an infraction that carries no driving points or insurance points, there will be court costs and fines.  As a result, you can expect to pay around $200 for running one of these lights.  Just another case of the government using traffic tickets to pay for another pet project.

Here is an article from the North Carolina School of Government Criminal Law Blog about the subject.

Ramp Meters:  They Just May Alter Your Life 

July 15th, 2014
By Shea Denning
As a regular I-40 commuter, I feel like traffic jams are the story of my life.  And it is obvious I’m not alone.  But there may be hope.  Legislation enacted last week provides the state Department of Transportation with an additional tool to combat traffic congestion: the ramp meter, a traffic control device never before seen in these parts.  See S.L. 2014-58 (H 1025).
Ramp control meters are basically stop lights (minus the yellow caution light) placed on highway exit ramps. Drivers must stop when the light is red.  When the device is green, a single vehicle may proceed through the meter, which, according to this feasibility study by the Atkins consulting firm for NCDOT, is designed to “meter the flow of entering vehicles proportionate to the available gaps in traffic.” Other states, including the State of Washington, use such devices.  Indeed, Washington’s DOT claims that ramp meters save travel time and reduce accidents by 30 percent.  We all know what happens without them, but here’s how Washington’s DOT puts it:
Without ramp meters, multiple cars try to merge simultaneously. Drivers on the freeway slow down to allow the cars enter and these slower speeds quickly cause backups. If cars enter the highway in controlled intervals, they are less likely to cause a disruption to the traffic on the freeway. A short wait on the ramp allows drivers to increase their average freeway speed and shorten overall freeway travel times.
The News & Observer’s Road Warrior, Bruce Siceloff, wrote about the devices last year, explaining that “they’re controversial even where studies credit them with reducing delays.”
Indeed, the Atkins report noted that public opposition to ramp metering typically stems from the mistaken view that the meters increase rather than reduce delays.  In addition, the report noted that there is a perception that rear-end collisions may increase because cars are stopped on the ramp.  Finally, Atkins wrote that “[l]ocal agencies tend to perceive the ramp meters will back up traffic and degrade traffic flow on their crossing arterial roadway.”  Thus, the report recommended that education be a central component of any ramp meter deployment.
Failure to stop at a ramp meter displaying a red light is designated in new G.S. 20-158(c)(6), effective for offenses committed on or after December 1, 2014, as an infraction.  Unlike running through a stop sign or red light, failing to stop for a ramp meter does not result in driver’s license or insurance points.
The Atkins report recommended several intersections along I-40 and other highways in the Triangle as suitable for ramp metering.  The estimates cost of installing the meters on 14 ramps is $3.2 million.
Now that the General Assembly has sanctioned these devices, Triangle commuters may soon be affected.  If the results are positive, they may change many lives for the better.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Duty to Stop after accident


The North Carolina Hit and Run statute is relatively simple.  However, a close reading of the statute and related case law reveals traps we must all be aware of.

First, fault is not an issue under the stature.  It does not matter who hit who, everyone must stop.  There is no “public street or highway” requirement, the duty exists even on private roads and parking lots.  Any property meets the requirements.  This includes trees, domesticated animals, fences, guard rails and mail boxes.  A person is required to render assistance and /or medical aid and according to caselaw, must do so personally, not just send someone or call for help.

There are many types of hit and run, Failure to stop and remain on scene when serious personal injury or death occurs, Failure to stop or remain at scene when personal injury occurs, failure to give information or assistance when personal injury or death occurs, Failure to sop when injury or death not apparent or only property damage occurs, Failure to give information when injury or death is not apparent or only property damage occurs, or Failure to notify authorities.  

Since the fact requirement of each offense are vastly different, you need to look at the statute that you are charged with to determine which facts may or may not be in your favor.  In addition, theses statutes create a duty to report, which my be in conflict with the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution right against self incrimination.  

Each of these statutes require that the driver “know or reasonably know that the vehicle they were driving was involved in an accident.  There may be many reasons that a driver does not know they are in an accident including the speed and damage involved.  As a result, this issue should always be examined.

Another issue is whether the driver knew or should have known that there was property damage or injury.  In many low speed impacts, the driver may or may not have known there was property damage or even an impact.  This most often happens in a parking lot.

In addition to stopping, there are also reporting requirements.  The driver of a vehicle involved in a reportable accident must immediately, by the quickest means possible, notify the appropriate law enforcement agency of the accident.  When requested to do so, the driver must provide proof of insurance.

If the driver of the vehicle hits a parked vehicle, they must report the collision to the owner of the parked vehicle.  This must be done within 48 hours and must include the drivers name, address, license number license plate number of the vehicle they were driving, date and time of the accident.

A reportable crash is defined as crash involving a motor vehicle resulting in one or more of the following: Death or injury or total property damage of $1,000 or more.  This makes most accidents reportable due to the relatively low property damage amount.

Lawrence J. Kissling III, is a traffic and criminal attorney in Raleigh, NC.