By C.J. Rooney
Almost from the day that automobiles took to the streets, accidents became commonplace, with the first recorded injury coming in 1869. The victim of that first accident was an Irish woman named Mary Ward. She was thrown from a steam-powered carriage after the vehicle hit a deep rut in the road, falling under one of the wheels and getting crushed. Miss Ward died on impact, and the irony here is that it was one of her cousins who had invented the steam vehicle.
Automakers have come a long way since those early days, and auto accidents resulting in death have dropped an impressive 50% globally over the last quarter century. It’s also fair to say that governments have played a role in these improved statistics, as they have introduced safety measures as law. These include the implementation of air bags which have been responsible for saving many lives over the years.
Unfortunately, the United States is behind most other nations in terms of injuries and fatalities in vehicles, with those numbers rising in that same 25-year period. Experts believe that there are a number of factors in play here, including an increase in the number of vehicles on the roads, the use of large trucks and SUV’s, and more recently, people using cell phones and other devices while they are behind the wheel. (For a post on WA States new law click here.)
“Rubbernecking” is another cause of accidents and injuries. This occurs when drivers in vehicles passing an issue on the road slow down or stop to get a better look at what is going on. What happens here is that the vehicles behind the slower vehicle end up smashing into the rear-end of said vehicle, often setting off a chain reaction of vehicles further down the line. This is the #1 cause of rear-end accidents in the US, with whiplash and other neck and back injuries the most common in these collisions.
In an effort to reduce the number of auto injuries and fatalities, technology is being brought in that takes current human behavior into account. Modern vehicles now routinely come equipped with proximity and drifting sensors that warn drivers of common dangers. These warnings come via loud alerts in the cabin that let drivers know when they are not paying attention. The results in Europe have been incredibly promising when these technologies are introduced, with a reduction in both multi-vehicle and single-car collisions.
Changing how drivers behave behind the wheel is proving to be a little more problematic, especially in the US where getting a vehicle is a rite of passage. People use their vehicles even when taking short trips, and tend to develop a feeling of invulnerability. Defensive driving in the United States is almost non-existent, which is causing accidental injury number to spike while they drop in other parts of the world.
It may come as a surprise to learn that the states with less restrictive speed limit laws tend to have a lower incidence of accidents and injuries. Part of the reason for this statistic is that there tend to be fewer vehicles on the road in those states. Even when the number is adjusted to take into account the number of vehicles, the edge still goes to those US states with fewer speed restrictions. This somewhat proves that the push to enforce posted speed limits may not be the correct tactic to use when trying to reduce the number of injury accidents.
The goal here should be to put more focus on the two main reasons that lie at the heart of auto accidents, which are age and distractions. Cell phones are becoming a major issue on the roads, with a growing number of states taking the step of banning their use while the driver has their vehicle in motion. Even if it is not illegal where you live, using a cell phone while you drive is a terrible idea. The statistics clearly show that phone use and car accidents are joined at the hip.
The age of the driver also appears to directly correlate with accidents that include injuries and fatalities. It’s not just inexperience at fault, though, as 16-20 years old and the 70+ age group both have a higher percentage of accidents than other age groups. It’s no easy feat to try and improve accident prevention among these groups, but efforts are being made to educate and inform, as well as to look at bringing in mandatory driver testing each year for drivers in certain age demographics. There is also the idea of a magnetic decal being used to show that drivers in these age groups are driving, which would perhaps allow drivers around those vehicles to be a little more aware of the potential for an accident.