It's Time To Get Away From The

It's Time To Get Away From The "A" Word For Car Crashes

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.

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