People have talked about car accidents for as long as there have been cars.
But there’s something about this term which isn’t quite right:
“accidents” suggest car crashes are random, unforeseeable
events, like lightning striking. In reality, they’re not. Car crashes
are actually predictable, explainable, and most importantly, preventable.
Professionals in the auto industry have been studying data on crashes for
years. Recently, our ability to study crashes effectively has improved,
because of onboard sensors, video cameras, and other technological advances.
We now know more clearly than ever why and how crashes occur. There are
six basic categories of crashes:
1) Leaving the lane: surprisingly, a full one-third of crashes are caused
by people leaving their lane, or leaving the road completely. The culprits
for these crashes are almost always distractions: technology, billboards,
“rubbernecking” at the site of other crashes, etc. It’s
simple to tell people to pay attention and avoid distraction, but it’s
quite another to actually have them do it.
2) Rear-enders: it’s hard to believe that this accounts for almost
one-third of all crashes. How is this possible when a rear-ender is so
easy to avoid? If people could resist the temptation to tailgate, fiddle
with electronics or phones, and actually think about leaving enough stopping
distance, these could drop to almost zero.
3) Fatigue: almost everyone has been guilty, at one time or another, of
driving when they’re too tired to do it right. People fall asleep
or zone out at alarming rates. In fact, about seven percent of all crashes
are caused by drivers who fall asleep or are drowsy. People don’t
gauge their ability to stay awake and alert well. Also, they often don’t
realize their brain can go into short periods of “microsleep”
which put them and others at risk. People should not overestimate their
ability to drive when they’re zonked - especially during the holiday season.
4) Losing control: about 11 percent of all crashes happen when someone
just loses it. Many things can make it happen, such as hydroplaning on
a puddle of water, overreacting to another driver, or turning too hard
at high speed. People tend to have false confidence about their driving
abilities and ability to control their vehicles in an emergency. We could
all benefit from visualizing “escape routes” as we roll through
traffic, and from generally being more humble and careful.
5) Blind turns: the rational part of us knows that you shouldn’t
try to turn when something (like a large truck or bus) blocks your view
of oncoming traffic. Yet people do it anyway, and in doing so account
for 12 percent of all traffic crashes. Just because you can’t see
it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
6) The right on red: this is one of the worst accident scenarios for pedestrians.
When drivers try to make a right on red, they typically look to the left
to see if traffic is clear. That takes their attention away from pedestrians
or bikes may be passing in front of them. There’s simply more going
on than someone can process, especially when they try to keep rolling
throughout the turn. To make this turn safely, you may just have to stop
to take in the scene before moving again. Doing this will only cost you
a few seconds, but it could save a life.
People can get used to anything. When I was a kid, I used to marvel at
construction workers walking on I-beams 80 feet off the ground at high-rise
construction sites. A fall would almost certainly mean death, but the
workers were so used to it that they were completely nonchalant about it.
We have the same problem with cars. Most of us drive so much that we let
our collective guard down. Even though we do it a lot, the fact remains
that we’re hurtling around in metal boxes which weigh several thousand
pounds. When we forget that, we’re asking for a whole lot of trouble.