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Traffic accidents caused by drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol are some of the most difficult for victims and their families to handle, particularly because they are so preventable. Some might say that they're not accidents at all, considering that the at-fault driver made a choice to drive intoxicated.

Drunk driving is the suspected cause of a fatal car accident on central California's Route 152 this week. According to the California Highway Patrol, a San Jose man was traveling the wrong way on 152 in his SUV when it collided head-on with a pickup truck in the eastbound fast lane of the highway. The crash was severe enough to kill two people. One of those was the passenger in the front seat of the pickup truck, a 30-year-old woman. She was pronounced dead at the scene, but another passenger in the back seat of the truck, also female, was flown to a Modesto hospital before succumbing to her injuries.

Yet another passenger in the pickup truck, a 23-year-old woman, suffered serious injuries and was also flown to a hospital. Both the truck and SUV drivers were hurt less severely.

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California residents likely remember the devastation caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which shook the Gulf Coast in 2005. After the devastating storms, many people were left homeless. As a quick response to the need for temporary housing, several companies manufactured and installed government-issued trailers to the storm victims.

However, when many of these people started complaining about medical complications, including wrongful death in some cases, it became apparent that something was wrong. Among the concerns were headaches, nosebleeds and difficulty breathing, stemming from asthma. At least one woman reportedly died from leukemia after she lived in such a trailer.

A class-action lawsuit was filed against the companies that manufactured the housing, claiming that hazardous fumes contained in the trailers were to blame for making the inhabitants of the trailers sick. When tested, it was discovered that the trailers were emitting formaldehyde, which is a carcinogen, yet is commonly found in building materials.

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When we read or hear about fatal traffic accidents, it's not uncommon or surprising to learn that alcohol or drugs were involved. A new study on alcohol and drug use among drivers killed in crashes offers some startling statistics that remind us of the very real danger of driving while intoxicated. But it also indicates that we have much more to learn about the effects of combining some of those intoxicants, even in small amounts.

The study's central finding was that among U.S. drivers who were killed in car accidents, more than half had drugs or alcohol in their system at the time of the crash. It also determined that male and nighttime drivers killed in crashes were most likely to have drugs or alcohol appear on a toxicology screen.

The study used National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data on fatal accidents in 14 states from the years 2005 to 2009. Of the more than 20,000 drivers who died, 57 percent tested for at least one drug, including alcohol. About one out of every five drivers had multiple drugs appear on their toxicology screens, with alcohol being the most common. Less than 50 percent of women killed in crashes had alcohol or drugs in their system, while 60 percent of men tested positive for these substances. When it came to race, blacks and whites had the same likelihood of testing positive, while Asians were significantly less likely and Native Americans much more likely.

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If you have a medical condition that prevents you from driving a car, you know how frustrating it can be to always rely on other forms of transportation. Public transit options may not be available everywhere or anytime you need to be somewhere, and being dependent on friends or relatives for a ride isn't ideal, either. Some people who aren't cleared to drive choose to do so anyway, which can result in not just criminal charges if they're caught, but tragic consequences for anyone affected by a crash as a result of the medical condition.

A San Bruno, California, man with a seizure disorder that prevents him from holding a driver's license is accused of killing two men and injuring several other people in a crash that happened after he suffered a seizure while driving. He's been charged with two counts of murder, as well as vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence as a result of the July 28 accident.

The two men who died in the crash were cousins, ages 37 and 39, who had just left the baptism of one of the men's daughter. The men, who were from San Bruno and South San Francisco, were stopped at a light in San Bruno when their car was rear-ended. Both were pronounced dead at the scene. Other people hurt in the crash, including at least two children in another vehicle, were taken to hospitals.

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ranked California at the top of a deadly list. The recently released traffic report compiled figures for injuries and deaths involving pedestrians in 2010. Of the 4,280 pedestrians who lost their lives across the country, 599 were in California -- the highest number by far of any state.

Government officials said the statistics represent a 13 percent decline in fatal accidents from 2001. The numbers are less encouraging when compared to the 2009 pedestrian death rate, which was 4 percent lower than 2010. Pedestrian fatalities made up 13 percent of all vehicle-related fatalities.

The NHTSA studied the conditions under which pedestrians were killed or hurt. More than two-thirds of the victims were men. Eighty percent of the fatalities happened away from intersections and potentially protective crosswalks.

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John J. Garvey, III
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