The United States records approximately six million roadway accidents every year. From these, millions of people suffer serious injuries from which approximately 36,000 die. Traffic accidents are so common, in fact, that there is at least one accident occurring every minute of the day! There is a traffic accident happening somewhere even as you read these words.
Framed into these statistical structures, the reality of traffic risk is very alarming. The real tragedy, though, is that serious accidents are almost always completely preventable. While unpredictable mishaps do occur, like late-night deer encounters or vehicle malfunctions, the causes of the vast majority of traffic accidents fall onto a short but oft-repeated list of offenses. Despite extensive efforts by automotive engineers and roadway safety committees country-wide, these behaviors persist among drivers everywhere.
Here are the major causes of car accidents and how you can prevent yourself and loved ones from becoming part of the statistics:
This is by far the number one cause of accidents. Multitasking may be a great way to juggle your work, but on the road, it’s a prescription for disaster. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cites distracted driving as not only a major cause of vehicle crashes, but disturbingly, a major contributor to pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. One out of five deaths resulting from distracted driving involves a pedestrian, including children.
So what falls under the umbrella of “distraction”? Basically, anything that diverts your attention from the road. Cell phones are a growing cause, especially in the age of relentless text messages, pinging constantly from clients, spouses, and friends. Other distractions can come from eating, chatting with kids in the backseat, or trying to use your stereo or navigation system while in motion. Experts recommend ignoring cell phone notifications, powering off the phone completely, or pulling over to read or send urgent messages. Keep the banter to a minimum in the car, too. Avoid trying to manage lunch or extremely hot drinks when your attention needs to remain on the road.
Excessive speed accounts for 26% of deadly vehicle accidents. Teenagers and younger adult drivers are statistically more likely to drive at unsafe speeds than older adults. Speed limit signs are posted for a reason. They are calculated based on the condition and width of the road, the visibility ahead (winding vs. straight), and the proximity of vulnerable people, such as on residential streets or in school zones. Driving faster than the posted limit makes it unlikely you will be able to stop in time or see pedestrians or other cars before it is too late.
Pay attention to your speed when you’re behind the wheel. If work tardiness is making you lay on the gas, try evaluating your time management rather than make up the time on the road. For speedsters, it may be tempting to race through that straightaway, but don’t do it; all it takes is one serious miscalculation to ruin your own or someone else’s life.
Of the approximate 36,000 annual roadway fatalities, about one third are caused by substance-impaired drivers. The official definition of drunk driving is 0.1 G/DL blood alcohol concentration, but real impairment of reflexes and visual tracking begins at 0.2 G/DL. One beer is enough to slow your brain down. Current regulations have begun to account for marijuana use prior to driving as well, as driving high presents many of the same dangerous impairments.
The solution here is simple. Do not, for any reason, use alcohol or recreational substances if you have to drive. Arrange for a designated driver, or have a ride-sharing service or taxi take you home.