Although Orlando has a reputation for safety as America’s top travel destination, our city was host to a number of high-profile accidents in 2016. These accidents, along with ongoing public safety issues such as reckless driving and the treatment of senior citizens, have caused a lot of concern for residents.
Fortunately, these worries have led to some positive developments in the form of legislation, increased research, and new technology. Orlando is working harder than ever to identify hazards, prevent future accidents, and keep its residents safe from harm.
But will new laws and tools be enough? Today, we look into three safety concerns that Orlandoans have going into 2017 and what the city is doing to address them next year.
Retention Pond Drownings
You can’t drive anywhere in Central Florida without passing a retention pond or two. While these basins are invaluable for flood prevention and improving water quality in nearby lakes, rivers, and bays, they pose a serious drowning hazard for motorists.
Perhaps the most well-known drowning occurred on Aug. 21, 2015, when University of Central Florida student Chloe Arenas fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a retention pond. She died on the scene, according to Orlando Sentinel.
Her highly-publicized death touched upon a fear many of us have in this city and resulted in the passage of Chloe’s Law. This law requires the Florida Department of Transportation to install guardrail barriers along hazardous open bodies of water by June 30, 2018. FDOT will use data from drowning deaths over the last 10 years to identify the dangerous roads and retention ponds that need guardrails the most.
Chloe Arenas is far from the only drowning victim here. Florida is the state with the highest car accident drownings in the nation, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with an estimated 57 people dying each year from driving into open bodies of water like retention ponds.
It will have to be seen in 2017 whether FDOT is able to keep up with this important deadline, and whether these guardrails will be enough to prevent another tragic drowning from happening in our city. For now, Orlando residents will have to be cautious when driving near open bodies of water in order to avoid a car accident.
Rise of Elder Abuse
We all have an older loved one that we care about, so the rise of elder abuse in our city is something we should all take seriously. And because our state has a uniquely high elderly population — 19.1 percent of Florida’s population is 65 and older, the highest in the nation, according to the Pew Research Center — it’s an issue that cannot go ignored.
The rise in elder abuse can partly be attributed to the growing elderly population, as baby boomers get older each year. During the 20th century, the population of Americans age 85 and older grew from 100,000 to 4.2 million, and by 2050, it is estimated that 20 percent of Americans will be 65 and older, according to the Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect.
In our state specifically, the number of verified elder abuse and neglect cases have risen by 74 percent since 2011, according to Florida Department of Children and Families, with a total of 2,525 cases in 2015.
Unfortunately, the true number of abused seniors in Florida is likely much higher, as elder abuse largely goes unreported. The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates that for every report of elder abuse that is made to Adult Protective Services, at least five cases go unreported.
One recent high-profile case of elder abuse in Orlando involved Lillian Moses, a 95-year-old woman who was allegedly physically abused and neglected by her grandson. Thomas Keefe White, her grandson, reportedly hit her and left her alone for days at a time with only a bottle of water, some crackers and Ensure, according to his arrest warrant.
There is no comprehensive national data on elder abuse, according to the Orlando Sentinel. So it’s the responsibility of Orange County and our state as a whole to do a better job of tracking elder abuse and educating the public about the common signs of elder abuse. Until we become better at identifying and reporting instances of neglect, life for a large population of our state will be at risk of elder abuse and nursing home abuse.
Wrong-Way Driving Accidents
Our city also had a number of well-publicized wrong-way driving accidents in 2016. Most notably, a wrong-way driver who fell asleep at the wheel caused a collision near Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom back in May that injured 11 people, including a 7-year-old boy.
Unfortunately, many of the factors that can cause someone to drive the wrong way down a highway — such as drowsiness, intoxication, or dementia — are surprisingly prevalent in our country.
In the case of sleepiness behind the wheel, a recent study by the AAA Foundation has revealed that driver drowsiness was involved in one in five fatal crashes, and that it is as dangerous as drunk driving.
Solutions for these deep-seated, dangerous driving behaviors will not happen overnight, but in the meantime, Orange County and the Express Authority are trying out a piece of new technology that may have a huge impact on stopping wrong-way driving accidents in their tracks: wrong-way warning signs.
The signs were created by University of Central Florida Professor Dr. Haitham Al-Deek. Wrong-way warning signs flash lights when they detect a person entering the ramp from the wrong way in an effort to make the motorist stop and pull over.
The signs also have a camera, which immediately takes a photo of the vehicle to alert the Florida Highway Patrol. The FHP can get the exit ramp in question, along with the license plate of the vehicle in question, from the sign’s photo.
These new signs have been effective so far, and have successfully stopped 21 wrong-way driving vehicles on State Road 408 alone, according to News13. However, they are only installed along seven locations in Orlando, and the new technology is still experimental in nature.
Fortunately, if these signs continue to show good progress, the Expressway Authority has plans to install 29 new signs around Orange County by the end of 2017 to further protect Orlando from wrong-way driving accidents. For now, residents must be on their toes about wrong-way drivers, especially at night, which is when most of these car accidents occur.
Hoping for a Safer Orlando in 2017
If there’s one thing that all Orlando residents have in common, it’s the wish for a safer and healthier 2017. If you were a victim of an accident this year, you’re not alone and you may be entitled to compensation.