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What Causes Traffic Accidents?

In the aftermath of a car accident, it is not always clear what went wrong. People refer to car collisions as accidents, but they are often the natural result of poor decisions by drivers. Human errors come in many different forms, from passive mistakes like the failure to check mirrors, to active mistakes like the decision to pass someone when it isn't safe to do so. Understanding what causes car accidents can help you avoid the mistakes that are most likely to cause injury, or even lead to a wrongful death on the road.

Drivers Are To Blame

Vehicle defects cause a tiny percentage of accidents. Environmental conditions contribute a similarly small percentage. The vast majority of accidents, 94 percent according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, are attributed to drivers. While the scope of the problem is disheartening, it does show that changes in driver behavior can greatly reduce the likelihood of a collision. 

The NHTSA classifies the various driver-related reasons why accidents occur. The categories are recognition errors, decision errors, performance errors, non-performance errors and other. Of these categories, recognition and decision errors are the most common.

Recognition errors involve a number of common and growing problems. When a driver fails to pay attention, succumbs to internal or external distractions, or does not perform the tasks necessary to understand his or her surroundings, the critical reason for the resulting accident is a recognition error.

Decision errors include issues like speeding, going around curves too quickly, misjudging the room to maneuver, or making an incorrect assumption about what other drivers are going to do. If you expect another driver to yield and they don't, the resulting collision is the result of a decision error.

Car Accident Avoidance

Decision and recognition errors account for nearly three-quarters of all driver-related reasons that accidents occur. Eliminating these mistakes would likely save tens of thousands of lives lost to fatal car accidents each year. Unfortunately, driver behavior has remained stubbornly unchanged for many years.

Efforts to combat drunk driving, for example, achieved initial success but have stagnated now for decades. Despite a widespread understanding that driving drunk is highly dangerous, a percentage of drivers continues to risk serious injury and criminal penalties to do it. Likewise, getting drivers to avoid distraction, refrain from speeding, follow at a safe distance and obey other traffic safety guidelines is a tall order. Individuals have the power to change their driving habits for the better. If you are looking to avoid a car accident, changing the way you approach driving is your best bet.

Source: NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts, "Critical Reasons for Crashes Investigated in the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey," February 2015 

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