A seemingly inexhaustible amount of information is available for consumers searching for an auto insurance policy. Instead of more chatter about the what, how and why of procuring such a policy, what say you we talk about avoiding car accidents altogether—pre-empting the need to pony up a deductible and cover what the insurance company doesn’t for repairs or replacement parts? Plus, when you do purchase a policy, your stellar driving record will help keep your premiums low.
Driving accident-free is not nearly such a pie-in-the-sky notion as you might think—what with the volume of car safety devices being generated by the automobile industry. Even some car insurance providers are using the concept of an accident-free world to sell their services. Maybe you’ve seen the State Farm Insurance commercial about a world where nothing goes wrong—no more accidents, fires, emergencies (State Farm says it will still be there to help you pay for college, your first car … “helping make life go completely right”).
While human travel is coming closer to this ideal thanks to modern safety technology—e.g., tire pressure monitoring, blind-spot detection and dual-stage airbags—becoming standard in many new cars, today’s drivers are still dying in large numbers on the road. In the U.S., more than 37,000 people die in road crashes each year. An additional 2.35 million are injured or disabled.
Many of these deaths are caused by inexperience behind the wheel, speeding (especially under the influence of alcohol or drugs) and plain old recklessness. In fact, the National Highway Safety Administration reports that the majority of all crashes—94 percent—involving injury or death are caused by human error. Here’s how that 94 percent breaks down by type of human error:
- 41 percent—recognition/perception: driver’s inattention, internal and external distractions, and inadequate surveillance. Accidents in this category occur because some critical information was not perceived by the driver. Sometimes the lack of recognition was due to such factors as poor lighting, blinding glare and low contrast (e.g., a pedestrian dressed in dark clothing). Far more common, however, is that the critical information was detectable but the driver failed to attend/notice because his or her mind was focused elsewhere.
- 33 percent—decision: driving too fast for conditions, too fast for the curve, false assumption of others’ actions, illegal maneuver and misjudgment of others’ speed. Here the driver may correctly process the critical information but fail to choose the correct response (e.g., a driver who knows he’s skidding yet turns away from the skid) or make the correct decision yet fail to carry it out (“I meant to hit the brake, but I hit the gas”).
- 11 percent—performance: overcompensation, poor directional control, etc.
- 7 percent—non-performance: falling asleep at the wheel, etc.
- 8 percent—other
How can you protect yourself from contributing to these statistics? After all, we’re all human; we get distracted, we assume wrongly, we misjudge distances and speeds.
You can decrease your chances of ever getting into an accident by avoiding the following five activities when you’re behind the wheel:
- Distracted driving: Don’t take your eyes off the road! To safely drive a car, you must give your full attention to the activity. Driver distractions—from changing the radio station to eating to applying make-up to reaching for an item somewhere in the car—are the cause of most auto accidents. Cell phones rank among the primary causes of motorist inattention behind the wheel. In fact, researchers at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Virginia Tech found that dialing a cell phone increases the risk of a car accident or near car accident 2.8 times, and that talking on a cell phone increases the risk of a car accident or near car accident 1.3 times. Texting is even worse.
- Speeding: Nearly one-third of all car accidents can be attributed to speeding. The faster you drive, the slower your reaction time will be. Plus, you’ll surprise other drivers on the road, whose actions likely won’t take into account your vehicle roaring up on top of them. Speeding simply isn’t worth the pain it may cause. Instead of being a danger on the road, give yourself plenty of time to travel to your destination.
- Drunk driving: It’s illegal and it kills. In 2014, 9,967 people died in drunk driving crashes—one every 53 minutes—and 290,000 were injured in drunk driving crashes. Drinking impairs your senses (vision and hearing) and results in decreased muscle coordination and slower reaction times—not a good combination for driving a car.
- Reckless driving: Do not disregard the rules of the road and put yourself and others at risk. This means, don’t do any of the above, plus don’t tailgate, brake suddenly, run stop lights, turn improperly or engage in other risky behavior. Modify your driving behavior, especially speed, depending on visibility, slow-moving traffic, pedestrian presence and roadway surface. Don’t drive if you’re overly tired; wear your seatbelt and obey all traffic signs.
- Driving a low-performing or unsafe vehicle: Choose a good-performing car with excellent safety ratings. Advanced safety systems on new cars, such as front-collision mitigation, night-vision assist and lane-departure warning, can help drivers avoid accidents or lessen their severity. For example, electronic stability control has been shown to lower the risk of a fatal single-vehicle crash by about half and the risk of a fatal rollover by as much as 80 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.