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Leading Causes of Car Accidents

Car accidents are a never-ending area of concern both for drivers across the country and for the automotive insurance industry. Driving fatalities represent the leading cause of death among people age 3 to 33, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) [1]. There are many causes of car accidents, but those causes usually fall into one or more of a handful of categories. By learning more about these categories and about how to best defend yourself against falling victim to any one of these leading causes, you can significantly reduce the risk of being involved in an accident, helping to keep your rates low and promoting your safety behind the wheel.

Distracted Driving Behaviors Cause Accidents

Distracted driving represents the one single most common type of driving behavior contributing to auto accidents. In fact, distracted driving may be a contributing cause in to up to 50 percent of all crashes [1]. Distracted driving is not in itself a singular behavior, but a name for a broad range of dangerous driving habits that can and do lead to auto accidents and fatalities each and every day. Drivers who are distracted in different ways are unable to correctly navigate their vehicles in a safe and responsive way. They are ill-equipped to deal with quickly changing road conditions, or to make snap decisions to avoid accidents or save lives. In short, distracted driving is a comprehensive problem with many causes, and many potential negative consequences.

According to some experts, the most common example of distracted driving is a phenomenon many of us call "rubbernecking." Rubbernecking simply refers to turning your head to pay attention to something other than the road ahead of you, such as a stranded motorist trying to change a tire, or a driver getting pulled over by a law enforcement official. Rubbernecking distracts drivers by taking their attention away from the task of operating an automobile, compromising their ability to safely make their way to their destination. Law enforcement officials and first responders report cases of multiple accidents in the same areas, from distracted drivers running into each other or clear off the road due to their fixation on an earlier accident scene.

Rubbernecking is only one example of things that take our attention away from our responsibilities are drivers. Often times we catch ourselves just looking at scenery alongside the road, such as a remodeling project going on in a house down the street or a beautiful garden alongside the road. Whether the things we look at are inherently harmful, they still serve to take our attention away from driving. It is one thing to enjoy the scenery on a slow drive through the countryside; but completely another to allow yourself to become transfixed by the scenery and allow it to rob you of your attention on the road ahead.

Distractions inside the vehicle can be just as dangerous as those outside. One example is in the things we do while we drive. Playing with the radio, CD player or iPod while driving can take your attention away long enough to cause you to rear end someone or slip on some ice. Answering the cell phone-or worse yet, responding to text messages-takes your eyes off the road while also inhibiting your other senses, each of which is vital to safe driving. Last but certainly not least among potential distractions inside the car are other people riding with you. Children fighting in the back seat or a friend or co-worker talking incessantly can do enough to split your attention to create a very unsafe driving environment.

Other examples of distracted driving are driving while overly fatigued and drunk driving. It is clear the effects each of these behaviors has on your safety behind the wheel. To counteract these behaviors, make good choices: do not drink and drive, and if you do find that you have had too much to drink, arrange an alternative ride home or spend the night. If you are too tired to drive, take a break. Share driving duties for long trips, and try to limit the length of trips after work. Get plenty of sleep before embarking on a long trip on the road, and be sure of the effects of any medication you are taking before getting behind the wheel.

Aggressive Driving is Unsafe Behavior

But distracted driving is not the only unsafe driving behavior. You can be paying full attention and still be displaying unsafe driving practices. For example, aggressive driving can contribute to many accidents, even if the driver was fully focused on the road at the time of the accident. There are many examples of aggressive driving. Driving in a bold or pushy manner while on the roads or highways is one example of aggressive driving. If you are tailgating people and flashing your lights at them angrily, or making rude gestures as you pass them by, you are not only displaying aggressive and distracted driving behavior, but are also distracting others from their task of driving their own automobiles.

Blocking another vehicle from entering a freeway or passing, or failing to yield right of way are other examples of aggressive driving behaviors that can lead to unnecessary auto accidents. Weaving in and out of traffic and generally regarding the road as your own personal race track constitute dangerous aggressive driving behaviors as well. To counteract the tendency to participate in these behaviors, try to respond to driving situations in a calm fashion. Keep a safe following distance and do not provoke other drivers into aggressive behaviors through incautious driving practices. Use extreme care when changing lanes, giving yourself plenty of time and always signaling your intent before proceeding. Do not respond to rude gestures or other forms of provocation, and do everything you can to stay safe behind the wheel.

Inclement Weather Hinders Driving Safety

Aside from actions we take as drivers, factors outside our control are also leading causes of auto accidents. Inclement weather is a factor in thousands of accidents each year, many of them leading to injuries or death. Varied weather from heavy rain to sweeping winds to hail or blizzard-like snow can have differing effects on your ability to drive, but all of them certainly contribute to lack of safety on the roads.

If you come upon unsafe road conditions or poor visibility due to the weather, take the time and caution needed to respond safely to get through the weather pattern. In some cases, simply slowing down and adjusting your following distance and other behaviors can help you to safely navigate bad weather. But in very severe cases, you may have to pull over and wait it out. If possible, get to a rest area or some other safe place to park your car where it will not be in the way of other vehicles, and wait until it is safe to proceed on your trip. Making sure your car is road worthy for bad weather driving is also very important.

In many cases, the leading causes of car accidents are completely preventable if drivers would only exercise caution and a little restraint.

[1] Retrieved 2010-01-10.



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