There are nearly six million car crashes per year in the United States, and most of them are preventable. There also was an 8% increase in car accidents in 2015, which was the most in 50 years. That number rose yet again in 2016, when more than 40,000 people were killed in car accidents.
The good news is that science can help us to determine what are the major causes of car accidents. A study that was done in 2008 by the University of Michigan studied 6900 accident scenes and crashes to understand more about what caused each one of them.
None of the crashes that are highlighted below are uncommon or are due to exceedingly incompetent drivers. They happen often, and even the most responsible and intelligent driver can get into one of these accidents:
Rolling Right on Red
As we approach a red light and are planning to turn right, you may slow down but do not come to a complete stop. As you are rolling, you look to the left to see if there are cars coming. You turn your head back to the right and there is a biker or pedestrian.
The reason that the rolling right is so dangerous is that it overwhelms our abilities to pay attention to driving. We are looking to the left and driving to the right. Clearly, this is a dangerous way to drive, but far too many drivers continue to roll on a right turn and do not come to a complete stop, as they are legally required to do.
The rolling right on red accounts for 6% of pedestrian deaths and the number is rising. Worse, 21% of these crashes involve children.
The solution is to always make a full stop when coming to red light and you are intending to turn right.
In the past we have had to guess about how many drivers are falling asleep behind the wheel. But new driving studies and cameras suggest that our guesses in the past were too low. It is estimated that 7% of all auto crashes and 20% of fatal crashes happen to drivers who fall asleep. Surveys indicate that 38% of all drivers fell asleep behind the wheel at least one time in their lives. Also, 11% say they have fallen asleep in the last year.
It happens because people are usually poor judges of their own fatigue when driving. Drivers are also unaware that they may nod off for one or two seconds while driving.
The solution is to make sure you have had enough sleep before driving. Get at least seven hours of sleep before you drive and be especially careful if you are driving at night.
Loss of Control
Simply losing control of the car causes 11% of all car accidents. We like to think that those 11% are just incompetent drivers, but a study has shown that 50% of all drivers rank themselves in the top 20% of driver skill and safety. Drivers actually have little master of how to drive their car, and most of us are not nearly as capable as the car is.
Taking a turn too fast and aggressive maneuvering also cause 5% of all wrecks, and 2% happen when we fail to slow down for water in the road.
The other types of crashes related to losing control are when another driver or another turn in the road puts us in a situation that requires an instant response. We like to think that we will react coolly and with precision in an emergency situation, but most people will overreact and overcompensate and get into an accident.
Remember that it is not just you that can cause an accident; so, can your car, the weather and other drivers. So, keep an eye out for each of these.
Have you ever made a left turn in an intersection where there is a truck or bus that is blocking your view of what is coming? Or, did you blow through a red light and thinking no cars are coming? How about speeding down a road and not being able to see what is ahead of you? Data shows that 12% of car crashes happen when drivers drive blind.
People seem to think that if you do not see something, it must not exist. The solution here is to always drive very cautiously when you cannot see what is coming ahead of you. If there is very bad weather and visibility is nearly zero, it is smart to just pull over until the weather clears.
Rear End Crashes
The first job of driving a car is to not hit the vehicle in front of you. This sounds simple, but rear end crashes account for up to 30% of all car accidents.
People tend to drive closer to the car in front of them because it will help them to get there faster. While this is true, it is just barely so. Science shows that we might save 25 seconds per day from tailgating other drivers. We also tend to think that the driver in front of us will wait until we are done with our phone call to hit the brakes, but this is not the case. Also, while some rear end crashes are just fender benders, but some of these accidents happen at high speed and can cause serious or fatal injuries.
Distracted Lane and/or Road Departure
Another major job of driving safely is to stay in your lane, but 33% of all car crashes happen because we fail to stay in our lane or even on the roadway.
Drivers think they have the ability to multitask, and this can lead to accidents involving lane and road departure. Cell phones are a major distraction, but our attention also is drawn to roadside crashes, billboards, scenery and simple mind wandering. Human are not always the best at keeping attention on one task, and when you are driving, you have to completely pay attention to that task to stay safe. Your best bet is to put away the cell phone and totally focus on your driving. It is harder to do safely than you think.