Car accidents happen to the best of us, but there are things you can do to avoid a car accident, to keep yourself safe and out of harms way.
The vast majority of automobile accidents are caused by drivers’ negligence. At least one of the drivers was partially if not entirely at fault, and could have avoided the accident by exercising greater attention and caution. In other words, auto accidents are nearly always the result of drivers’ mistakes.
While every accident is unique, a small handful of contributing factors show up again and again, at least one of which is virtually guaranteed to have been at play in any given collision. There are things you can do to avoid a car accident.
But remember: just because you drive responsibly does not mean that another driver, acting irresponsibly, will not crash into you. But, should you get into an accident, it will be easier to demonstrate that the other driver was more likely to be at fault, ultimately affording you full compensation for your injuries and damage to your vehicle.
Here are the some common causes of car accidents and ways to avoid them:
Cause of Car Accident: Speeding
Driving too fast causes accidents. The faster we drive, the quicker our reaction time needs to be—the less time we have to apply the brakes and to swerve out of the way, and the less time we have to scan our surroundings, which whiz by us faster and faster as our speed increases. When we speed, any errors we make in driving are magnified. Just a moment of distraction is more dangerous at higher speeds—the car covers a greater distance while the driver’s attention is directed elsewhere, if only for a split-second. If we over-correct in our steering, we veer further from our intended path, the faster we’re traveling. Excessive speed also contributes to the severity of the car accident. The force with which two cars collide is a function of two things: their mass, or size, and their acceleration—that is, their speed.
Avoid a car accident: Obey the speed limit
We all have been tempted to get where we’re going just a little faster, believing that the posted speed limit is just too low for our personal needs. We know that “going with the flow of traffic”—an important consideration, without question—can mean driving a bit above the posted limit. However, speed limits are not arbitrary—they’re backed by research and decades of statistical analysis. On the whole, speed limits are well calibrated to minimize car accidents, but they’re only effective if followed.
Furthermore, should you find yourself in an accident, going the posted speed limit will work in your favor, especially if the other driver wasn’t. This essential detail will help establish the other driver’s role in a crash – a vital consideration for your compensation.
Cause of Car Accident: Drunk Driving
Fortunately, it’s now common knowledge that drunk driving is exceptionally unsafe, both for the intoxicated driver as well as for the others who share the road. When under the influence of alcohol, our coordination, response time and judgment become increasingly less reliable the more alcohol we consume. Drunk driving accounts for a significant percentage of fatalities resulting from automobile accidents nationwide. If you were to get into an accident while driving drunk – even if the other person was clearly at faul – the other driver’s insurance company would have an easy time defeating your claim for compensation.
Furthermore, the price of a DUI arrest are costly, both emotionally and financially. Emotionally, there is the shame of being arrested, of having to go to court, of dealing with the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC), and of telling your family, maybe even your employer. Even if you decide not to fight the charges against you, your finances will still take a hit. There are fines, penalties and surcharges. There is also a program fee for enrollment in mandatory drunk driver prevention classes you will have to take, in order to reinstate your license.
Avoid a Car Accident: Don’t drive drunk
This should be obvious, don’t drink and drive. If you insist on having a drink, make sure a designated driver is present, willing and available. Before making your drink plans, appoint a designated driver. If no one is available, DON’T DRINK. The entertainment of drunkenness is not worth the risk of a crash, should you get behind the wheel. Avoid a car accident at all costs. If you aren’t certain you have a designated driver to take you home, don’t drink.
And steer clear of drivers you suspect to be under the influence.
It’s equally important to give plenty of space to any driver you think may be drunk. Is the car weaving? Driving well below the speed limit? If so, do whatever’s necessary to safely get out of their way. And, do yourself, the driver, and everyone else on the road, a favor. Get the license plate number and call the cops.
Cause of Car Accident: Distracted driving
Driver distraction is one of the most common causes of car accidents. What constitutes a distraction? Changing the radio station, searching for a song on an iPod, tuning the radio, fishing around for something in the glove box, talking to a passenger—these are common sources of distraction. But by far the most common is the ubiquitous cell phone. Whether we are talking or texting, our cell phones occupy our minds, diverting our mental energy from the task of driving.
Avoid a car accident. Know the facts about distracted driving.
- Distracted driving contributes to about 16% of motor vehicle fatalities nationally and in New Jersey
10% of all drivers age 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as being distracted
Drivers in their 20’s represent about 23% of all drivers in fatal crashes
You’re 20 times more likely to get into an accident when you text and drive than a non-distracted driver
Spending 5 seconds texting while driving at a speed of 55mph is enough to travel the length of football field blindfolded.
New Jersey has laws requiring drivers to use hands-free devices. One would hope that would solve the problem. Sadly, studies show that using headsets in no way diminishes the distraction of talking while driving. In fact, research actually points to increased distractibility as a result of hands-free devices. So what’s a person to do to avoid a car accident?
Avoid a Car Accident: Hang up and drive
We can all relate to feeling that time spent driving could be used for multitasking. Scheduling appointments. Calling that nagging family member. Checking voicemail. We’ve gotten so accustomed to the multitasking lifestyle we may perceive drive time as idle time. But consider this: You are maneuvering a two-ton machine, moving through space at high speed, with the potential to kill anything in its path. Such sobering perspective should compel us to take drive time more seriously.
Additionally, driving can be tedious, especially if you’re caught in traffic or driving your daily route for the umpteenth time. It’s so tempting to use our phones to pass the time or get work done. But the research repeatedly shows that cell phone use significantly impairs our driving and is one of the most common contributing factors to automobile accidents.
If your mind is driving along with the rest of you, you’ll be a better, safer driver. And this can have a significant impact on your chances of a successful claim. If you heard about a car accident involving two people, one of whom was on a cell phone (while the other wasn’t) what would you assume? All other things being equal, insurance companies and judges tend to make the same assumption.
Cause of Car Accident: Drowsy driving
According to a 2016 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 100,000 accidents can be directly attributed to drowsy driving each year. The NHTSA further claims that drowsiness behind the wheel can be just as dangerous as drinking and driving.
To further drive the point home, AAA Northeast states that drowsy driving is estimated to be a factor in 20 percent of fatal crashes. According to Robert Sinclair, Jr., manager of media relations for AAA Northeast, “Our new research shows that getting less than five hours sleep is the same as driving drunk.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep. It is recommended that adults sleep at least 7 hours each night to ensure the best health and well-being.
How many people are actually this diligent about their sleeping habits? With the demands of work and family, are we truly upholding our responsibility to ourselves and others to get enough sleep? Rest is not a luxury – it is a necessity. These reports are prove positive that sleepless nights and restless days are catastrophically affecting society at large.
So what is a nation of overworked and underslept commuters supposed to do?
Avoid a Car Accident: Sleep first, drive later.
Drunk driving carries a considerable stigma in our society, but drowsy driving—though equally dangerous—does not. You wouldn’t drive drunk, so don’t drive while exhausted. If it takes conscious effort not to slip into unconsciousness, if it’s a struggle to keep your eyes open, if you find yourself nodding off, however momentarily, then pull over as soon as possible, take a nap and then get back on the road.
Bedtime habits to help avoid a car accident:
- Aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Every night.
- Don’t eat a few hours before going to bed. A full stomach is working too hard when it shouldn’t be.
- Get far away from mobile devices at bedtime. Put them in another room.
- Use room darkening drapes to stimulate your production of melatonin – the sleep-inducing hormone.
- Create a bedtime ritual. The routine will tell your body it’s time to sleep.
- Clear your head. If you have thoughts plaguing your mind, keeping you up at night, place a piece of paper and a pen next to your bedside. Write down those lingering thoughts to get them out of your head.
Cause of Car Accident: Driving aggressively
In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray gives the following advice to his companion: “Don’t drive angry. Do not drive angry.” Aside from the fact that he’s talking to a groundhog, his advice is actually quite sound. In fact, the banner of “aggressive driving” covers most of the driving practices and habits that frequently cause accidents.
Driving aggressively usually entails any of the following actions:
- Merging suddenly or eleventh hour
- Cutting off other drivers
- Swerving across lanes
- Overuse on the car horn
- Rapid acceleration
- Refusing to let other cars in
Bear in mind, aggressive driving extends beyond the aggressor. It also affects how others drive, potentially setting off a ripple effect of impatience, anxiety, anger, or other defensive behavior. Aggressive driving can set the stage for retaliatory responses, none of which bode well for safety on the road.
Avoid a Car Accident: Drive defensively
Driving defensively simply means being alert and cautious when you’re on the road. It means over-compensating in your driving, for the potential bad drivers out there. There are a few things you can do to drive defensively and avoid a car accident:
- Put a few car lengths between you and the car in front of you—obeying the “three second rule.”
- Use your peripheral vision
- Check your blind spots, glancing in all your mirrors
- Use your turn signal before changing lanes
- Slow down
Cause of Car Accident: Ignoring bad weather
In most accidents involving bad weather, the driving conditions were not the cause of the accident, but rather the drivers’ failure to take the weather into account. Inclement weather usually results in, among other things, poor visibility and slippery roads.
Bad weather affects your visibility.
The question is not whether we can see, but how much. The less we are able to see, the quicker our reaction time needs to be. Even on a clear night, our visibility is diminished—our headlights cannot follow the curves of the road. What we can see is limited to the angle and range of the beams, giving us visual access to far less of our environment than we get during the day. It goes without saying that rain, snow and fog significantly limit visibility, making it even more difficult to avoid a car accident.
Bad weather affects the surface of the road.
A slippery road means less reliable brakes and maneuverability, a surefire recipe for a crash. Contrary to what most people assume, rain and snow are often the most dangerous just after they begin to fall—the oil and dust that has not yet been washed away, combines with water to form a slick layer on the road.
Avoid a Car Accident: Respect the weather
Without question, the best thing is to avoid driving in bad weather. Understandably, it’s not always possible to do so, but there is still much you can do to avoid a car accident. If you must drive in rain, sleet or snow — including fog or dark of night — drive cautiously and take the appropriate measures. On occasion, respecting the weather may also mean driving far below the speed limit.
In the snow, defrost the windshield before driving, use tire chains if possible, and slow down. In the rain, check the windshield wipers, defrost the windshield and, reduce speed. In fog, many drivers make the mistake of using high beams in the hopes of better visibility. In actuality, the intense light of one’s high beams reflects off the water droplets in the air, bouncing back into the driver’s eyes, further obscuring the surroundings. If you have to drive in bad fog, use low beams and slow down.
Cause of Car Accident: Neglecting the car
There’s an old saying: “a driver is only as good as his car.” Though, this may not always be the case, therein lies a grain of truth.
Of course, a car that breaks down on the road or highway might certainly cause an accident, but the dangers posed by a neglected car are often more subtle. As the condition of a car deteriorates, it becomes less and less dependable and responsive — tires can’t grip the road effectively because the treads have eroded; brakes are less effective as the brake pads wear down; brake lights, turning signals, headlights and other warning lights can fail, exposing you and other drivers to dangers arising low to no visibility, not to mention the risk from other drivers who may be unable to see you or determine when you’re going to turn.
Avoid a Car Accident: Maintain your car
Continuously monitor the condition of your vehicle to assure your own safety and the safety of others on the highway. Something as simple as keeping the tires properly inflated can help you avoid a car accident. Make sure to replace windshield wipers regularly stay up-to-date on oil changes. While the average person may not have the expertise to maintain our own vehicles, a simple safety inspection at your local dealer or by a qualified mechanic is an inexpensive step towards automobile safety.
Cause of Car Accident: Driving an unfamiliar vehicle
Renting a car? Driving Dad’s retirement Corvette? Designated driving a drunk friend’s car? Driving a car that is not your own can pose a hazard, as you aren’t familiar with the feel and response of the car, or the location of vital automobile functions. You can be a veteran driver and still make a mistake if you’re driving an unfamiliar vehicle. When seconds count to avoid a car accident, muscle memory matters. Will you reflexively grab the gearshift in the wrong direction? Will you mistake the gas pedal for the brake pedal? If you are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the car you are driving, you are much more likely to make mistakes or drive erratically, increasing your chances of getting into an accident.
Avoid a Car Accident: Get to know the vehicle
If you are driving a car you are not accustomed to — a friend’s car, a brand new automobile purchase, a car you have not driven in a while — it is important that you take time to note where everything is before you start to drive. Among other essential driving features, take note of the following functions:
- Emergency brake
- Transmission gearshift (is it a manual or an automatic?)
- Turn signals
- Windshield wipers
- Headlights & high beams
- Hazard lights
Get an overall feel for the car. Sit in the driver’s seat, hold the steering wheel and find the brake pedal. Ensure that the seat height and steering wheel positioning are adjusted properly for you.
IMPORTANT: If you are about to drive a car with a different kind of transmission. If you are accustomed to driving an automatic transmission, and are about to drive a manual, you could be in for trouble if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you have never operated a different transmission vehicle, do not attempt to drive it without training and supervision.
Assuming you’re knowledgeable of operating a manual transmission, spend time familiarizing yourself with the car. Doing so can make the difference between getting where you are going safely and slamming on the brake in a frantic search for a non-existent clutch.
Cause of Car Accident: Trusting other drivers
Over the years, our law firm has seen many accidents caused as a result of one driver putting too much faith in another.
Consider this: Making a left turn at a yellow light, a very common accident scenario. A driver sees the light turn yellow, assuming the oncoming cars will decelerate, he plows through the intersection, making a left on the assumption that none of the cars coming at him will do the same thing: speed up to make it through the intersection before the light turns red.
Other drivers will do what they want, not what we want them to do, or what we think they’re going to do. They see what they see, not what we assume they see. Sometimes drivers miss what is right in front of them. There are a lot of inattentive, inexperienced and plain ole bad drivers out there. There’s only one essential thing we can do about it…
Avoid a Car Accident: Drive like no one knows what they’re doing
We can think of no better principle to remember, any better advice to heed. Applying this principle will remind us to place ample space between ourselves and the vehicle in front of us. It involves remaining wary of the cars around us — we may be driving in someone’s blind spot who doesn’t think to check, who may not have the presence of mind that day, to signal a few seconds in advance, before turning into our lane. People make mistakes — that’s what causes accidents. Giving them a wider berth on the road, gives ourselves a bit more time to get out of their way, might help us all avoid a car accident.