A preventable problem for an SUV driver in the Downtown Tunnel on I-264 between Portsmouth and Norfolk led directly to the death of a motorcycle rider. The fatal incident happened shortly before 1 am on January 12, 2018.
Virginia State Police responded to the scene in the eastbound tube. Investigators determined that a woman driving an SUV ran out of gas and let her vehicle come to a stop in the right-hand lane. The motorcycle rider following the SUV had tried to quickly change lanes to avoid a collision, but he lost control and was ejected from his bike.
The man flew into the back of the SUV and reportedly died on impact from massive head and neck injuries. Troopers filed an initial charge of illegal stopping on the interstate against the SUV driver. The relevant section of the applicable state statute, section 46.2-888 of the Virginia Code, states, “No person shall stop a vehicle in such manner as to impede or render dangerous the use of the highway by others, except in the case of an emergency, an accident, or a mechanical breakdown.”
While it could be argued that the woman experienced a mechanical breakdown, running of gas is not the same as a breaking axle or suffering a tire blowout. Taking to the road with the gas gauge on E can constitute negligence of the kind that merits a traffic ticket, and of the kind that creates liability for injuries and deaths from wrecks.
The legal standard for negligence in insurance claims or wrongful death lawsuits is failing to take reasonable and ordinary care to avoid creating dangers for other people. Forgetting to put gas in one’s vehicle can count as neglecting a normal duty to prevent stopping inside an interstate tunnel.
My Virginia wrongful death law firm colleagues and I send our heartfelt condolences out to the friends and family members of the young man from Norfolk who died as a result of the crash in the Downtown Tunnel. Having helped many motorcycle riders and their loved ones hold negligent or reckless drivers accountable, we sadly know that motorcyclists depend on the safe and respectful actions of car and truck drivers to a large degree.
Since motorcycles have almost none of the safety features of passenger vehicles, riders have little protection in crashes. Statistics compiled by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles bear this out. During 2015, the agency recorded 2.061 crashes involving motorcycles. Those wrecks left 1,776 people injured and 69 others dead. Drivers must do more to share the road with motorcycle riders.