People analyze all kinds of statistics relating to car accidents. What kind of car? How old was the driver? And, what was the cause of the accident?
It’s easy to get caught up in the statistics, but they are more than just numbers. The represent disaster, pain, and personal loss, and much of it is preventable.
According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study reported that driver error caused 94 percent of car accidents. In 2017, more than 37,150 people died in car accidents in the United States. In Florida, there were 2,924 fatalities and 254,310 injuries. Like everywhere else, many Florida car accidents can be avoided simply by improving your driving habits.
Of course, no matter how careful you are, other drivers may not be as conscientious. Consider the following common causes of crashes.
1. Distracted Driving
Distracted driving is the most common cause of motor vehicle accidents in the United States. Each day in the US, over 1,000 people are injured, and nine people are killed because of distracted drivers.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines distracted driving as “any activity that could divert attention from the primary task of driving.” Therefore, eating, drinking, chatting, or switching radio stations can all be distractions. When we are driving, we need to focus our attention on the road. For example, using a smartphone demands visual, motor, and mental attention.
In most states, you can get pulled over for texting while driving. Four states, however, have secondary enforcement. Texting while driving is against the law in Florida, but a police officer cannot use texting while driving as the primary offense for a stop. A law enforcement officer cannot stop a driver just for texting and driving, but they can issue a ticket if they see a driver committing another offense and texting.
Many of us have driven over the posted speed limit at some point. We may be running late for an appointment or in a hurry to get to a concert, so we speed up. Sometimes we are so focused on our schedule or our destination that we speed without really being aware of it. However, speeding increases the risk of accidents.
Speeding is the second most common cause of road accidents in the United States. In fact, speeding causes nearly 55 percent of motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. It causes accidents and increases the severity of accidents for several reasons. When we are driving too fast, it takes longer to slow down and react to changes in traffic, road obstructions, and accidents. The driver may have to brake hard and may even lose control of the car.
Finally, if there is an accident, the impact of the collision is greater, which leads to more severe injuries or fatalities. In fatal crashes, 55 percent of crashes related to speeding were caused by driving over the posted speed limit, and 45 percent were caused by driving too fast for conditions. So many tragic accidents could be prevented by simply driving at an appropriate speed and ensuring there is enough space between your vehicle and the one in front of you.
The posted speed limit is not just an arbitrary number. Florida’s speed limits are calculated using traffic engineering studies. They provide a consistent flow of traffic and to promote safety on the road. When a driver does not follow the speed limit, they have less reaction time and may find it more difficult to handle turns, which greatly increases the chance of a collision.
When we talk about the dangers of speeding, we usually focus on the risk of driving too fast, however driving too slowly is also a risk. In Florida, driving too slowly is also against the law. Drivers should be within the posted speed limit, but not so slowly that they block the flow of traffic, except when necessary for safety reasons.
3. Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol and Drugs
By now, is there anyone who does not know that driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs is extremely dangerous?
According to the Insurance Information Institute, intoxicated drivers (whether they are under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or some other substance) are responsible for nearly 30 percent of all traffic fatalities. Approximately 10,000 people die in alcohol-related crashes each year in the United States. Although Florida DUI fatalities have gone down, there were 5,125 alcohol-related crashes in 2017.
Under Florida law, if you drive with an unlawful bodily alcohol content (0.08 percent or higher) or if you drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you may be convicted of a DUI and subject to harsh penalties. No matter how sober you think you are, there is no doubt that alcohol has a profound effect on our driving ability. It can impair many driving skills, such as:
- Reaction time – Alcohol slows our reflexes, so a driver cannot react quickly to changing road conditions.
- Coordination – To drive safely, we need to coordinate our hands, feet, and sight, which is difficult for an impaired driver.
- Concentration – Impaired drivers may find it difficult to stay awake or to focus on the road.
- Comprehension – Alcohol affects our ability to make quick, sound decisions.
- Vision – Alcohol consumption often slows a driver’s eye muscle function, eye movement, and visual perception, all of which cause blurred vision. Night vision may also be significantly impaired.
- Tracking – Driving demands constantly judging the car’s position on the road, the speed, and location of other vehicles, the centerline, and more. A drunk driver may have difficulty monitoring their speed and staying in their lane.
It is also illegal to drive under the influence of drugs in Florida, including marijuana, opioids, methamphetamines, or any potentially impairing drug, whether prescribed or over the counter. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration drugs affect each person differently. However, drug use impairs driving ability in ways similar to alcohol use.
4. Aggressive Driving
Driving can be frustrating. Gridlocked traffic, road construction, and everyday stress can push a driver over the edge into aggressive driving or even road rage. Aggressive driving usually involves rude gestures, screaming, tailgating, and similar angry actions. Aggressive drivers also tend to speed, merge without signaling, switch lanes erratically, and other dangerous driving behaviors. Aggressive driving crosses the line into road rage when a driver assaults a driver or passenger, uses a weapon or uses the car as a weapon.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, nearly 80 percent of drivers demonstrated road rage in the past year. Aggressive driving frequently starts when other drivers engage in bad or discourteous driving habits. Then about half of the victims of this bad behavior become aggressors themselves. They become angry and respond with rude gestures, yelling, repeated honking, and aggressive driving. From there, the aggression just escalates. Approximately 2 percent of drivers admit that they have tried to run another aggressive driver off the road.
Although Florida does not have a law specifically dealing with road rage, it did enact a law in 2010 that is an attempt to control aggressive driving. The law states that if a driver is convicted of or pleads no contest to a traffic offense that caused a crash three times within 36 months, that person will be required to take a driver improvement course to maintain his or her driving privileges.
5. Falling Asleep Behind the Wheel
We lead busy, stressful lives, and many of us are so tired that we accidentally fall asleep behind the wheel. According to one report, in the past month, at least one in 25 adults admitted to driving while fatigued and drowsy. Some drivers just don’t get enough sleep before getting behind the wheel. Others work long hours driving commercially. A sleepy driver has difficulty paying attention to the road and has slower reaction times.
Sleep is a biological need with predictable patterns of sleepiness and wakefulness, so it is best to avoid driving when you would normally be sleeping. According to the CDC, the average adult needs seven or more hours of sleep each night, but more than a third of adults do not get the sleep they need. According to Live Science, 64.2 percent of Florida residents get seven or more hours of sleep. You may think that sleep loss is not a serious problem, but according to a study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, drivers who got only five or six hours’ sleep in the prior 24 hours were almost twice as likely to be involved in a car accident. Also, a sleep-deprived driver is just as dangerous as an intoxicated driver.
Why are we so sleepy? There are many reasons. Employees working long hours or shift workers often experience fatigue. Consuming alcohol or any type of drugs or medications can make you drowsy. Untreated sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome or narcolepsy often are not diagnosed, and therefore, not treated. Even more frightening, a driver may not even be aware that he or she is tired.
6. Adverse Weather Conditions
Florida is known for its beautiful weather, but like anywhere, Florida sometimes experiences adverse weather conditions. Approximately 21 percent of motor vehicle crashes each year are weather-related. Many drivers assume that if they have an accident in bad weather, it is not their fault and they are not responsible. However, failure to account for weather conditions may expose a driver to liability in the event of an accident. Drivers are held to a standard of care that takes the weather into account. When the weather conditions are bad, try to avoid driving unless it is necessary.
Extreme weather conditions can affect your ability to drive safely. Slippery roads and poor visibility are a recipe for accidents. One of the most dangerous conditions is fog. If you are driving in a foggy area, slow down and turn on your low-beam headlights. If your visibility is seriously impaired, find a safe place to pull off the road.
In the event of rain, ice, or other precipitation, you should slow down and keep your distance from other vehicles. Many road surfaces become very slippery when the oil and dust on the road is wet. Slippery roads mean less traction and longer braking times, so allow extra stopping time between vehicles. Note that Florida law requires that headlights must be operating if a vehicle’s wipers are in use. Watch out for traffic signals that are not functioning. Use the right edge of the road or painted lines to help you stay in your lane. Do not drive through flooded areas. Roads may be washed out, or there may be debris or even power lines beneath the water.
Particularly in Florida, drivers should be aware of high temperatures, sun glare, and high winds. Winds are especially dangerous in open spaces such as bridges and highway overpasses.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), bad judgment or driver errors cause most traffic accidents. Examples include tailgating, failure to yield, failure to obey traffic signs or signals, and other conscious or unconscious errors in judgment that result in a motor vehicle accident.
Even though many technological advances are designed to improve vehicle safety, far too many car accidents still occur. The causes of car accidents are varied, but knowing the most common causes of accidents can help us prevent them. The consequences of a collision are often serious injuries or even death.
If you were in a car accident and someone else is at fault, you may need the help of an experienced car accident attorney. An attorney will evaluate your case, advise you of your legal options, and can help guide you through the process.