Most people never suspect that they will ever be involved in a motor vehicle accident. Unfortunately, these types of accidents occur across the United States in large numbers each year. In fact, more people die and are injured in car crashes in the United States each year than in any other country on the planet.
There are many potential causes of car accidents, but a few stand out as the most common in the United States. By having a better understanding of these potential causes (and what you can do to avoid them), you can increase your safety and confidence behind the wheel. Still, if you’re ever the victim of an auto accident in the Houston area, our legal team at Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law is here to help you.
Overconfidence Behind the Wheel
Before we look at some of the specific causes of crashes, we should address how we see ourselves as drivers. You might have heard that drivers are overconfident behind the wheel. One study found that 73% of drivers believed they were better than average.
There’s actually a name for this phenomenon. It’s called illusory superiority, which is a fancy-sounding term that just means that most people believe themselves to be above average in their performance of most tasks—including driving. Specifically with regard to driving ability, studies have time and time again found that even people who are objectively bad drivers (based on road tests) rate themselves as “better than average” without batting an eye.
Overconfidence behind the wheel leads some drivers to make poor decisions, which can often result in accidents. The good news is that when someone comes to terms with the fact that they might be as error-prone as others, they can take a closer look at their own driving habits and improve their performance to reduce the chances of being involved in a crash.
So, what causes those crashes, and how can drivers improve? Let’s find out…
Failing to obey posted speed limit signs is yet another common cause of auto accidents. Sadly, more than 10,000 people died as a result of speeding accidents in the United States in 2016 alone. In general, these types of accidents account for about a quarter of all annual road fatalities in the country. Part of this can probably be traced back to the phenomenon described above, where drivers feel too confident behind the wheel and therefore think they can safely drive faster than the speed limit without consequence. Unfortunately, when you’re traveling at speeds above the posted limit, your ability to react and adapt to changing road conditions is also diminished. It takes a car a longer distance to come to a complete stop when it’s traveling faster, which can contribute to serious auto accidents.
The best way to avoid accidents related to speeding? Always obey posted speed limit signs. This is important 100% of the time you’re behind the wheel. Remember, however, that the posted speed limit refers to the maximum speed you should be traveling under ideal conditions; when road conditions are less than ideal (rainy, icy, low visibility, high traffic, etc.), you should reduce your speed.
In recent years, distracted driving has really come to light as one of the top causes of motor vehicle accidents—not just in the United States, but worldwide. Part of this has to do with the fact that more people these days have smartphones and mobile devices than ever before; these devices, by their very nature, can easily create dangerous distractions behind the wheel. Texting, using social media, and even talking on the phone while driving can drastically reduce a driver’s reaction time and ability to focus on the road—making them significantly more likely to cause an accident.
It’s important to understand, however, that distracted driving doesn’t just refer to smartphone use behind the wheel. There are many other potential sources of distracted driving, such as:
- listening to loud music
- applying makeup while driving
- eating while driving
- being distracted by passengers while driving.
Specifically, distracted driving is defined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as any activity that takes your full attention away from the road and increases your risk of getting into an accident. The good news is that it’s easy to avoid distracted driving; putting your phone on silent or even storing your phone somewhere out of sight while driving are both great ways to reduce the “temptation” to let your mobile device take away from your focus on the road.
Have you ever experienced fatigue or exhaustion behind the wheel? If so, then you may have stopped for a cup of coffee or taken other measures to wake yourself up and stay alert. What many drivers don’t realize is that drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving, and there aren’t many safe measures you can take to overcome drowsiness behind the wheel once it has begun.
There are many ways in which driving while tired can make you more likely to get into an accident. For starters, when you’re tired, you’re unable to pay attention to the road as closely as you should. Drowsiness and exhaustion can also affect your ability to make smart decisions behind the wheel and reduce your reaction time, meaning you may not be able to brake or take evasive measures as quickly as needed.
Aside from making sure you’re well rested before getting behind the wheel, drivers should be on the lookout for signs of drowsiness while driving and pull over for rest when safe to do so if any of the following occur:
- frequent yawning or blinking
- missing exits or drifting from lanes
- hitting “rumble strips” on the side of the road.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 29 people each day die in auto accidents related to alcohol-impaired driving. While instances of impaired driving have been on a gradual decrease since about 2008, there are still millions of drivers each year who get behind the wheel after having too much to drink. In most states, the legal blood alcohol limit for driving is .08%, but in reality, driving after even one drink can be dangerous. This is because alcohol, much like drowsiness, reduces your ability to make smart decisions and also cuts down on your reaction time significantly. This means you may be unable to come to a stop quickly if needed or navigate around an unexpected obstacle in the road.
The best way to avoid impaired driving? Never drink and drive—even if it’s “just one beer” or “just one drink.” Having a designated driver, being a designated driver, or calling a taxi are all simple ways to avoid getting into an alcohol-related traffic accident.
These are just a few of the most common causes of vehicle crashes in the United States. Hopefully, you’ll never be involved in any of these. If you are the victim of an auto accident, however, be sure to set up a free consultation and case evaluation with our team at Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law.