When you suffer serious injuries in a car accident, your immediate focus might be on the after-effects of the accident, not on the reasons why the accident occurred. If you choose to file a personal injury claim, however, you may find that many factors influence car accidents, sometimes changing the balance of legal liability for the accident. Consider some of these common reasons why car accidents occur.
Most auto accidents occur due to some kind of driver error. On the road, things happen very fast: at 55 miles per hour, you can travel the length of a football field in less than five seconds. When errors occur on the road, they can cause substantial danger for everyone involved. Driver error can include a range of mistakes, many of which drivers can prevent by exercising care and caution on the road.
1. Distracted driving.
All too many drivers choose to drive while distracted every day. During their morning commutes, drivers may put on makeup or try to check emails before they get to the office. On the way home in the afternoon, drivers may eat or drink behind the wheel or lose focus as they mull over the events of the day. Many people assume that distracted driving just means texting or checking information on a cell phone, but many other factors may contribute to distracted driving, including:
- Changing the radio station while driving;
- Looking at or attempting to program a GPS device;
- Eating or drinking in the car, especially messy food or drink that creates the potential for a mess;
- Talking on the phone; and/or
- Talking to other people in the vehicle, especially dealing with children in the back seat.
When drivers become distracted, their ability to react to what is happening around them on the road decreases substantially. Distracted drivers have longer reaction times and a greater risk of causing many types of collisions, including sideswipe collisions and rear-end accidents.
2. Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Inebriated drivers, whether under the influence of drugs or alcohol, have a significantly more difficult time handling circumstances on the road than their sober counterparts. Drunk drivers experience decreased focus and concentration, slowed reaction times, and difficulty responding appropriately to dangerous situations. Drunk drivers may behave erratically, making it difficult for other drivers to predict their behavior. While some drunk drivers ignore the rules of the road, other drunk drivers may try to drive with excess caution to avoid getting caught driving drunk. Unfortunately, both behaviors increase the risk of an accident. Every day, around 30 people die in drunk driving accidents.
3. Ignoring the rules of the road.
Laws and regulations that govern the road often prove inconvenient for drivers, especially drivers in a hurry. They want to get to their destination as quickly as possible, and those regulations may prevent them from meeting their goals. The rules of the road, however, exist to keep everyone safe. Drivers who ignore those rules may:
- Speed excessively;
- Weave through traffic, increasing accident risk; and/or
- Ignore traffic signs and signals.
4. Driving while drowsy.
Driving drowsy can pose just as much risk as driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol or driving distracted. Drowsy drivers may struggle to focus or concentrate behind the wheel. Often, drowsy drivers fall asleep behind the wheel, causing their vehicles to continue moving forward with no one to control them. Drowsy drivers may also have slower reaction times or difficulty processing situations that occur on the road.
5. Road rage.
Road rage occurs when a driver behaves dangerously or erratically due to anger at other drivers on the road. Most drivers have probably at one point or another gotten angry at someone else on the road, yelling or blaring their horns to indicate their displeasure. Road rage, however, goes further than just yelling from inside the vehicle. Raging drivers may behave erratically, blasting through traffic or even deliberately ramming into the driver that angered them. Some instances of road rage end with the angry driver deliberately following the other party to attack them. Avoiding road rage by following the rules of the road and keeping yourself as calm as possible on the road can significantly decrease accident risk.
6. Blind spot accidents.
When you think of blind spot accidents, you may assume them unique to big trucks. In reality, however, most vehicles have blind spots where drivers may struggle to see other vehicles, pedestrians, or bicycles. In a blind spot accident, the driver fails to properly check their blind spot or track the movements of traffic on the road around them before changing lanes or making a turn. Blind spot accidents often cause sideswipe collisions.
Many weather conditions, including rain or snow, increase accident risk substantially. Wet or icy roads do not allow tires to grip as effectively, which can significantly increase the time needed to stop or maneuver safely. In poor weather conditions, drivers must exercise extensive care to keep themselves and other drivers on the road safe. Many drivers, however, lack the training and knowledge to effectively handle driving in dangerous conditions, especially unfamiliar conditions or conditions they encounter only rarely on the road.
In poor weather conditions, drivers still bear legal responsibility for any accidents they cause. Drivers must pay attention to the road around them, get the training they need to safely navigate the road, and, if necessary, get off the road when unsafe weather conditions make driving dangerous or difficult.
Many parts must work together to keep a vehicle moving safely down the road. When any of those parts fails, that failure can cause hazardous conditions that may lead to an accident. Potential mechanical problems that can lead to accidents include:
- Tire blowouts;
- Malfunctioning headlights or tail lights;
- Engine trouble;
- Transmission problems; and
- Malfunctioning windshield wipers.
If a mechanical problem causes an accident, you may need to talk with an attorney to get a better idea of what factors caused the accident and, therefore, who bears liability for your injuries. Consider:
The vehicle owner or driver. The vehicle owner or driver bears primary responsibility for maintaining the vehicle. If the driver chooses to drive a vehicle knowing it has safety issues that could cause an accident, from missing or blown-out signal lights to transmission problems that could lead to an accident, that driver bears legal responsibility for the accident. For example, a driver who chooses to drive on bald tires or to overload a vehicle, leading to a tire blowout, may bear primary liability for the accident.
In a company vehicle, while the driver typically bears responsibility for reporting any problems with the vehicle to their mechanics or supervisors, the company is responsible for maintaining and repairing the vehicle. In this case, if the company fails to properly maintain the vehicle or take care of needed repairs, the company may bear liability for the accident.
The manufacturer of the vehicle or a component that malfunctions. Consider the tire blowout example mentioned above. If the driver took care to replace their tires on time and avoided overloading the vehicle, but a tire blew out due to poor tire quality, the tire manufacturer may bear liability for the accident. Likewise, if a vehicle manufacturer allows a defective vehicle to go to market, especially if the manufacturer knows about defects in the vehicle that have already caused accidents, the manufacturer may bear liability for the accident.
A mechanic who recently worked on the vehicle. When a mechanic works on a vehicle, they must take care to properly repair it before returning it to the owner and certifying it as road safe. If a mechanic fails to properly repair a vehicle, leading to a mechanical failure that causes an accident, that mechanic may bear legal responsibility for the accident.
Commercial Vehicle Accidents
From big trucks to delivery vehicles, you share the road with commercial vehicles nearly every time you get behind the wheel. Those commercial vehicles serve vital purposes: delivering people, goods, and materials across the United States. Unfortunately, commercial vehicles, especially big trucks, may also cause devastating damage in an accident. Several factors can cause a truck accident.
1. Drivers required to drive in unsafe conditions.
Commercial truck drivers can only legally put in 11 hours on the road out of a 14-hour shift, after which that driver must take a break away from the road before getting behind the wheel again—ideally to sleep and engage in recreational activities.
Some trucking companies, however, may require their drivers to falsify records, drive longer hours to meet deadlines, or increase their miles driven. Unfortunately, truck drivers who are on the road for long stretches are more likely to give in to distractions or exhaustion, which can substantially increase the risk of accidents. If the company requires this illegal increase in driving hours, the company may bear liability for an accident that occurs while the driver is on company time.
Likewise, drivers must let their employer know if they have consumed alcohol or drugs before their shifts, or if they are ill and cannot drive safely. Under those circumstances, drivers should avoid getting behind the wheel until the alcohol or drugs work their way out of their systems. If the company requires the driver to drive anyway, the company may bear liability for an accident caused by the driver’s impairment or illness.
2. Loading errors.
Many big trucks carry heavy loads. Drivers often do not load the cargo themselves, although flatbed drivers should regularly check straps and other devices used to secure the cargo to ensure that it does not fall from the vehicle. Improperly loaded cargo can shift during transport, causing jackknife accidents or increasing the risk of a truck rollover accident. In the case of a loading error, the party who improperly loaded the cargo may share liability for the accident.
3. Blind spot accidents.
Big trucks have bigger blind spots than many other vehicles. When the truck driver doesn’t clear the blind spots before turning or changing lanes, he or she significantly increases the risk of an accident. Truck drivers must pay careful attention to the road around them to decrease the risk of both blind spot accidents and other types of accidents. When a truck driver causes a blind spot accident due to inattention, they bear legal responsibility for that accident.
4. Excessive speed.
Truck drivers often have tight deadlines by which they must deliver their cargo. Unfortunately, traffic is unpredictable, especially in poor weather conditions. Some truck drivers may attempt to speed to decrease their travel time and meet their deadlines.
At any speed, a big truck needs significantly more room to stop than a smaller passenger vehicle, and the faster the truck is traveling, the longer it takes to come to a full stop. Big trucks also need more maneuvering room than passenger vehicles, whether a turn comes up unexpectedly or another driver performs an unexpected maneuver, including pulling closely in front of the truck. A truck driver who speeds bears liability for any accident caused by that decision.
5. Jackknife accidents.
In a jackknife accident, the trailer swings around independently of the truck cab, leaving the driver unable to control the trailer. The greater weight of the trailer can pull the truck off the road or pull it out of its lane. Once the trailer swings past the cab of the truck, the truck driver has little chance of bringing it back under control. Jackknife accidents often occur when a truck driver attempts to make too tight a turn or drives too fast.
Regardless of what factors caused your auto accident, consulting with an attorney can help you account for all of the factors and maximize your odds of receiving the full compensation you deserve for your injuries. Contact an experienced car accident attorney as soon as possible to begin the investigation into your auto accident and file your personal injury claim.
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