Magazine article Risk Management

Crash Course: The Overlooked Threat of Vehicle-into-Building Accidents

Magazine article Risk Management

Crash Course: The Overlooked Threat of Vehicle-into-Building Accidents

Article excerpt

As many as 60 times a day in the United States, a vehicle crashes into a commercial building, be it a restaurant, retail storefront or office suite. This surprising statistic highlights a largely overlooked problem that touches on premises liability, workplace safety, property and casualty insurance, and underwriting.

Many of these crashes are a result of driver error and often occur because businesses tend to orient themselves toward the street or parking lot, with their entrances facing forward for maximum visibility.

Unfortunately, this design strategy creates vulnerabilities and, even though there are simple solutions, the problem persists because of lack of awareness, applicable building codes and the will to correct the situation.

The following are some examples of such crashes from an eight-week period earlier this year:

* On March 1, 2014, an 88-year-old woman drove her Ford F-150 pickup truck through the front doors of a Food 4 Less grocery store in Las Vegas. Twenty-six people were hurt and nine hospitalized. One employee was dragged more than 200 feet through the store under the front bumper of the truck. Reports said that the driver mistook the gas pedal for the brake and accelerated into the store as she was driving toward the entrance. The driver was not cited.

* Less than two weeks later, hundreds of attendees were enjoying late night music events on a closed street at the popular South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. A 21-year-old driver evading a DUI traffic stop turned a corner and drove through the temporary barricades at the end of the "closed" street, killing four and injuring two dozen. The driver is now facing capital murder charges and more than 20 counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

* On April 9, there was a minor collision on a street in Orlando, Florida. The car that was rear-ended somehow accelerated and travelled more than 100 feet, over a curb and through a parking area, before striking a KinderCare day care center filled with children and teachers. The car went through the wall and the facility, finally stopping because of the pile of furniture, debris and injured children in front of it. One young child was killed, and another 15 were injured. The investigation is ongoing.

* On April 25, a 74-year-old driver got into his car to leave Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor in Buena Park, California. Instead of backing out of his parking space, he accelerated forward, jumping the concrete wheel stop and striking six people waiting to enter the busy restaurant. One woman was killed and several more hospitalized. The driver was not cited.

These accidents are in no way out of the ordinary. Traffic collisions send cars careening into buildings every day. Drivers under the influence are involved in every kind of accident all too frequently. And there is an increasing amount of evidence that elderly drivers are responsible for a growing number of "pedal error" accidents, which include hitting the gas pedal instead of the brake, or putting the car into "drive" rather than "reverse."


The Storefront Safety Council has been collecting data from various sources in an effort to quantify these types of accidents. Statistics consistently show that almost half of all storefront accidents are the result of pedal error, and that drivers with less than five years driving experience and drivers over 70 years old are most prone to committing such errors. Unfortunately, this sets the stage for a surge of these crashes in coming years.

Two trends are responsible for this potential increase. First, according to the demographics of aging in the United States, more than 10,000 Americans turn 65 years old every day. In 2012, there were about 13 million licensed drivers above the age of 70. By 2025, the number of drivers over 85 will have more than doubled. These drivers are the most prone to the types of errors resulting in vehicle-into-building crashes, so there is likely to be a corresponding upswing in these types of accidents. …

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